Fishbone - Fishbone EP/ In Your Face [BGO Records - 2019]During the late 80’s-to-early 90’s bands like Fishbone, Faith No More, and Red Hot Chill Pepper, were pushing forward genre-blending ‘n’ blurring with-in a rock & metal context….and while Fishbone may have not gained the same mainstream appeal as the latter two- they where equally important & distinct, coming from more of a ska/punk/ Soul angle. Here from BOG Records is a well-deserve reissue of the bands early work- taking their 1985 self-titled debut EP, their 1986 full-length album In Your Face, plus a selection of bonus tracks
The jewelled cased CD comes presented in BGO’s house style colour card slip sleeve- inside we get a glossy twenty two page inlay booklet- featuring a new fifteen-page write up about the band, these early recordings, and both of their impacts- as well as full release credits. So another nicely sleek & smart presentation from BGO- who really are at the top of end of the reissue market.
Fishbone began life in 1979, described as a "disparate, all-black oddball crew". The members met in junior high school- bringing together- the Fisher brothers, John( bass, vocals) & Philip(Drums), Christopher Dowd(keyboards, trombone, vocals ), and Walter A Kibby( trumpet, vocals)from South Central LA , and Angelo Moore(vocals, saxophones, theremin, percussion) from San Fernando Valley. After first using the name Megatron, the sextet adopted the name Fishbone, becoming popular in the Los Angeles club scene of the time with their initial blend of ska 'n' funk. As the band progressed, they blended in elements of soul, funk rock, punk, with later the addition of metal & other genre touches too- though the releases here show little or none of their later metal traits.
The single CD is literally packed- with a running time of seventy-nine minutes. And first-up we have the six tracks from 1986's self-titled EP- these go from the playful ‘n’ brightly showy opener "Ugly", which brings together jaunting horn ‘n’ keys bound ska, handclaps & joint chant-along chorus. Onto funk punk-meets- ska chug ‘n’ bounce of “Party Ground Zero”. Through the manic male & female sang broken love Ska song “Lyin’Ass Bitch”. All told it’s certainly a very punchy 'n' vibrate opening shot-sure it largely focuses on a Ska sound, but the band is already starting to add in other genre traits & touches- and the musicianship & passion from all involved is certainly top-notch.
Moving onto the next ten tracks, and these are from the band's debut 1986 Columbia Records full-length debut In Your Face- which is a most fitting title for the record, as it comes across a wonderful collision between Ska, reggae, soul, punk, funk & light rock. The songs here feel more multi-layered & dartingly playful, yet at the same time the compositions are well balanced & clever in their genre-blending- so it never feels like they are becoming unbalanced with their mixing of tropes/styles. We go from the brightly spinning & choppy “A Selection” which managers bring together the strut of reggae with buoyant 80’s synth pop-rock. Onto the horn-laden Ska-meets- carnival funk of “I Wish I had A Date”, which pre-dates similar tracks on Mr. Bungle's self-titled. The sleek & moody “In The Air” with its blend of soul, funk, and atmospheric rock touches. The chugging ‘n’ cheeky ska-rock meets playful keyboard texturing of “Simon Says The Kingpin”. In Your Face really is a ride of a record, and as full-length debuts, it’s pretty damn focused & polished affair- that mangers to switch mood & pace nicely, some of the sampling/ production choices do date it slightly- but not as bad as similar records from this period. The CD is topped off with five bonus tracks coming from around both the EP & full-length releases- and these also worth examples of the band's early genre-blending.
Personally, I didn’t get into Fishbone at this point of their career, as I came into the fold with 1991’s The Reality of My Surroundings- which was one of the classic genre-blending metal/ rock records of the 90’s- up there with the likes of Faith No More's The Real Thing, and The Red Hot Chill Peppers Blood Sugar Sex Magik. And while neither the EP nor the full length is quite up to wonder & scope of The Reality… & it’s equally great 1993 follow-up Give a Monkey a Brain and He'll Swear He's the Centre of the Universe. There is some real greatness present here- making it very worthy of your time- either if you’re a fan of the bands more known/ celebrated albums- or want to investigate the early days one of the great genre-blending bands of all time- you’ll be needing to pick this up!.Roger Batty