Album Review : Fu Manchu’s ‘Clone Of The Universe’

I guess I’ve never been much of a desert rock kind of guy. I’m pretty pale, so the desert holds some pretty painful fates for me. Not even SPF 50 is going to protect me from the raw, naked sun out in Joshua Tree territory, man. I’ll fry like a lobster. Melt some butter and feast on my well-cooked legs. Go ahead, it’s okay. Don’t let me go to waste. Stoner rock? I don’t know. Gangly dudes wearing Uriah Heep t-shirts, bell-bottom jeans, and long greasy hair hanging in their faces posing next to a 1978 Pontiac Firebird(T-top, natch) as they engage a Big Muff and power down on the neck of a beat-up Gibson SG. Smoking up some ditch weed and putting on their best Amboy Dukes-meets-Blue Cheer airs.

Ehh, that’s never been my thing.

Fu Manchu is a band that’s been doing the whole stoner/desert/70s party rock thing for years. Like 24 years, to be exact. Since 1994 these Orange County punks-turned-fuzz rock goons have put out 12 full-length records. Their 12th is the brand new Clone Of The Universe. While I’ve appreciated their bleary-eyed, fuzzy stoner rock from time to time it’s never been something I hit up very often. But with Clone Of The Universe I’ve been reeled in. Maybe it’s a contact high. Maybe I’m needing to be in some other frame of mind. Either way, I’m digging this buzz.

First thing that hits me about this album is it just seems a hell of a lot meatier than their previous output. The guitars are dense and the drums are driving. There’s presence in the vocals, too. “Intelligent Worship” sounds like a song with a purpose. It’s a hefty chunk of desert rock, for sure. But there’s also some Earthless vibes going on here. Before the production always felt a little thin to me. Here, these cats have thickened up their sound. “Bow down, to the one you create”, indeed. “(I’ve Been)Hexed” is just heavy as hell. There’s a paranoid anxiety that engulfs this song, and I don’t think it’s just the weed. Fu Manchu feel plugged into the world around them and it’s coming out in these songs. “Don’t Panic” has some punk rock vibes going on. Scott Hill sounds completely engaged here. I know he says “Don’t Panic”, but listening to this track all you want to do is panic.

“Nowhere Left To Hide” puts me in mind of White Hills with the vocals and the massive wall of fuzzy guitar. Maybe it’s the other way around, maybe White Hills reminds me of Fu Manchu. I don’t know. Either way, this song is all molten riffs and post-apocalyptic doom. Great stuff. “Clone Of The Universe” sports a hell of a groove. You’re in and you’re out. Just how God intended. Finally, we’re treated to a whole side of “Il Mostro Atomico”, an 18-minute epic fuzz explosion that begs the question “When is enough enough?” The answer, when you’re talking about massive guitar squalls, doom-y progressive vibes, and Rush’ Alex Lifeson playing lead guitar is it’s never enough. There’s never really a moment where the vibes wain. This one carries you through from start to finish. Bringing Alex Lifeson in to put some Canadian magic on this track was a righteous move. Nice job, Fu Manchu.

Clone Of The Universe has really sort of opened my eyes to the wonder of Fu Manchu. I’ve given them cursory glances here and there, but not anymore. Clone Of The Universe is a high I’m good with.

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