6. Fishbone, Truth and Soul
Fishbone decided to open Truth and Soul, their second full-length release, with a track that signaled a clear understanding of their forebears. Their ferocious take on Curtis Mayfield’s “Freddie’s Dead” is a clarion call to the rock ‘n’ roll faithful. Fishbone is going to do right by the mélange of genres in which they traffic. “Freddie’s Dead” is steeped in funk authority, but it also blasts forward like a headlong hard rock anthem. Their earlier releases sometimes got Fishbone pigeonholed as an empty party band, maybe in part because it was all too easy to lump them in with their fellow Los Angeleno hard-smacking funk practitioners Red Hot Chili Peppers (and, to be fair, Fishbone’s very first single was a helluva party song). From the crack of Truth and Soul, they are determined to roar with purpose.
Released right after the band renegotiated their contract with Columbia Records, the album was produced by the guy who got them signed to label in the first place. David Kahne had presided over their previous efforts as well, but there’s an added level of studio polish to Truth and Soul. Crisp, clear, and tight, the album is remarkable for a heavy thumb professionalism that somehow doesn’t compromise the rawness of the band’s performances. Even the songs that could have easily settled onto early releases, like the hearty ska punch of “Ma and Pa” or the raunchy juvenilia of “Bonin’ in the Boneyard,” are less happily ramshackle than they may have been previously. As different college rock bands were teetering between maintaining their negligible cult followings and achieving some level of crossover success, Fishbone was alerting all who cared to listen that they were not to be underestimated. A track like “Mighty Long Way” even sounds like ready-made soundtrack fodder (“Believe me when I say/ Me and my friends/ We go a mighty long way”). That wouldn’t have been an entirely unexpected result. After all, they’d cameoed in the weirdo Frankie and Annette reunion movie Back to the Beach, and, at about the same time Truth and Soul was released, the band showed up in cult classic wannabe Tapeheads, playing “Slow Bus Movin’ (Howard Beach Party).”
In some ways, though, those more eager songs perpetuated the notion of Fishbone as loopy fun, all too easy to dismiss. Other portions of Truth and Soul shatter that perception. Without tempering the rhythmic freedom and horn-blasted spiritedness of their music, Fishbone showed a relatively newfound interest for tackling more politicized material, heard most clearly on the back half of the album with tracks such as “Subliminal Fascism” and “Ghetto Soundwave.” The latter sadly has a lingering pertinence in the lyrics as it sketches out a dire landscape for young black men in the United States (“There’s another cry of murder/ Policeman shoot down baby brother/ Shot him, shot him down/ In the street”). These aren’t quite rallying cries, but nor do they turn a blind eye to the injustices that were happening every day in the band’s home city. It’s a nice bonus that the music still invites pogo-peppered dancing.
As is often the case, especially when a band is taking a stab at greater commercial success, not everything works (invoking precipitation isn’t the only aspect of “Pouring Rain” that makes it sound like warmed-over Prince). That conceded, a remarkable amount of Truth and Soul still comes across as fresh and vibrant. Listening to it now, it’s also an obvious evolutionary stop between their raucous early work and the album that would follow it, 1991’s explosive, complicated The Reality of My Surroundings. They are revving up, testing the engine ahead of a true racetrack blast to come. Though Fishbone has never officially stopped as a going concern (Angelo Moore and John Norwood Fisher are the two band members who have been in the lineup for the duration), that next album would prove to be a clear commercial and artistic peak. The staging for it began with Truth and Soul.
–19: End of the Millennium Psychosis Blues
–16: Ghost Stories
–15: 2 Steps from the Middle Ages
–13: Short Sharp Shocked
–11: Rattle and Hum
–10: Nothing Wrong
–9: Big Time
–8: Invisible Lantern
–7: Every Dog Has His Day