The Fake Glee Of Thousands

Philadelphia Phase-Fuzzers Invent Goth Music; Nobody Notices 'Til Two Decades Later

Most perverse thing I've heard in the last year or so has to be Deadsy: Rigor mortis guitar and synths from Cher's son, a SoCal parvenu who mixed up his mixed-up band's image with the gemütlichkeit of heads-of-der-Reich meetings at the Berghof.

At one time, though, there was a way to do it right. The fellows who coined this style—the electro-sludgy part—were the lads in Bunnydrums. And they worked it out almost two decades ago, on the opposite (as in Atlantic) coast, without the help of an industry to prop them up. PKD Simulacra, a reissue of their material, is listenable like Deadsy could never be.

During their run, however, Bunnydrums were never even well known in Philadelphia, their hometown. Their records—one of which had to come back into the city by way of Holland—could only be reliably found in one place, Third Street Jazz, and the most encouraging words I ever saw on them were about a paragraph or two by Ken Tucker in the Inquirer. Someone who played video guitar on a retired battleship while his Mom capered on the gun deck in a bodysuit would have split after the first EP.

Bunnydrums multiply like rabbits.
photo: David Geork
Bunnydrums multiply like rabbits.

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Bunnydrums
PKD Simulacra
Metropolis

Fu Manchu
Go for It...Live!
SPV

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Bunnydrums were Goths before most knew there was a word for them, trudging through places like the Mudd Club and Danceteria, the CD's documentation says. There were no tattoos, jackboots, or ugly hair— just guys who looked like they hung out in bookstores. Guitars were fuzzy and phasey, the tunes cold, attacking love-like-anthrax screeds or dense grinding workouts where the band sounded like it was prepping the stage for a singer who never appeared.

"Holy Moly"—one of the best—wove a dance of androids into an r&b figure. And the band covered Link Wray's "Switchblade" in a way the old guitarist would appreciate; its one-word vocal climax is killer.


Making Fun of Heavy Rock, With No Jokes and Not Many Riffs

Fu Manchu have made the defining recording of their career—a live album in front of what sounds like 40 mildly excited lifers. Go for It . . . is sort of affirming since it's proof the band has one redeeming feature: honesty. These guys actually resisted the urge to replace a lame audience track with the fake glee of thousands.

With indifferent players and little sense of rock and roll, Fu Manchu have eked out a kindly reputation as a stupid but well-meaning parody of things heavy. But this means nothing of note—as funnymen, they're shitty, too. You're supposed to chuckle and nod knowingly at Fu Manchu's California sci-fi and custom-car-culture concept. But stiff-sounding, illiterate metal of zero catchiness has never uniquely lent itself to hilarity.

As for Fu Manchu riffs, even those fair-to-good are always struck down prematurely by chanting vocalist Scott Hill. Passing off halting recitation as less-is-more eloquence worked only as long as optimistic followers of Fu Manchu didn't know it was the best Hill could manage. Since no one has ever learned the words to Fu Manchu "hits" either, the small audience can't help the man out—except, that is, on their cover of Blue Öyster Cult's "Godzilla."

So, for "Godzilla" the fans sing along and, by forfeit, it becomes the best number Fu Manchu have ever produced. One must overlook the absence of a Buck Dharma, though, and all the little neat things that made the '70s edition so great: for instance, the hysterical "ohmigodohmigodohmigod!"s.

Still, for the small community of Fu Manchu enthusiasts, Go for It . . . Live is a barrel-scraping best. Practice makes perfect, and the road has made the tunes less petrified than Fu Manchu studio versions. "Weird Beard" even acquires a jaunty downhill lurch never apparent in the original.

 
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