Fake Limbs – Man Feelings
Brazen, boisterous debut album by Chicago based hard rock quartet.
As the writer David Bowman once put it “forming a rock group is a great mythic American tradition. It’s Huck Finn and crew rafting down the Mississippi. It’s teenage boys hunkering down in a suburban garage, strumming electric guitars over the grease spot left by Dad’s Mustang”. Sometimes people arrive late to their true calling. One such person might well be Stephen Sowley, frontman of the brilliantly monikered Fake Limbs. Over the past year, the Chicago-based singer has been leading something of a double life. By day, a mild mannered studio manager, bingo caller and occasional doorman of a small local tavern. By night, a bellowing shirtless satyr of insatiable appetites, boisterous raconteur and fine liquor aficionado. Following a public transformation during a rendition of Pere Ubu’s ‘Final Solution’, Sowley was compelled to find men of similar mettle to provide a musical conduit for his onstage metamorphosis. Answering his call he found guitarist Bryan Gleason, bassist Mat Biscan and drummer Nick Smalkowski and lo, Fake Limbs were born.
The debut album, superbly titled Man Feelings, is a crunching fusion of classic hard rock with a knowing post-1977 twist. Imagine Black Sabbath at their most versatile, with the fuzz stripped back and replaced by the blistering lizard-brained rhythmic overload of original proto-punks The Stooges and you’ll certainly be in the right ballpark. It’s at once louder, funkier and more devilishly brazen than it has any right to be. Great primitive rock music is chiefly about memorable moments, in particular those which evoke the sensations of being front row and centre at a live show. Thanks to some appropriately sympathetic recording by Jon San Paolo in Studio A of Electrical Audio, Man Feelings has a gigantic sonic presence which invokes the spontaneity and impact of a live rock band, not to mention vivid imagery of throbbing amps, dripping sweat and the unmistakable stench of bourbon. It’s easily the most comically rocking album you’ll hear all year, jam-packed with bruising riffs, galloping rhythms and hollered vocalisations. For those tired of style over substance fussiness in modern rock, it’s the ultimate tonic.
At their core, the secret of Fake Limbs is the same as every other great Chicago hard rock band – a powerful but fluid rhythm section, alternately bludgeoning or grinding along. Biscan and Smalkowski are a particularly solid unit, driving songs like the relentless ‘Hanging Kudzu’ with gusto. On the opening ‘Balding But Angry’, the latter nails the beat with such focused brutality that the band bears passing resemblance to a more primal version of Chicago punk rock heroes The Jesus Lizard. Indeed, Sowley’s disyllabic vocal exclamations and avowed fascination with the seedy underbelly of downtown living are occasionally reminiscent of David Yow. Gleason’s playing is especially revelatory, pulling together disparate strands of influence from Tony Iommi to James Gang-era Joe Walsh. Although his nuanced interplay with Biscan is one of the primary strengths of Fake Limbs, the guitarist resists stylistic categorisation by varying his approach from song to song. The Sabbath-tinged, in-the-pocket riffing of ‘No Hands, No Mouth’ is countered by the spit-fire licks of ‘Paris In The 20s’. On the show-stopping groove-fest ‘Girls Know This’, Gleason executes a ferociously sleazy solo which is one of the most astutely realised moments of glorious indulgence.
Amidst the considerable hubbub of his band-mates, Sowley hoots and growls his way through the eight songs which make up Man Feelings. As suggested by the title and accompanying promo shots of the band lounging around a kitchen in various stages of undress, there is a keen sense of humour at work here. However, the songs are delivered with an unmistakeable malice which suits the atmosphere of hazy, alcohol-induced debauchery. Characters rise and fall in brief staccato verses, sullen with the discontentment of their dreary lot. The aging punk of ‘Balding But Angry’, the lonely jock of ‘Can You Spot Me’ and the psychotic strip-club bouncer of ‘No Hands, No Mouth’ are pathetic comrades in arms, perpetually cheated into self-fulfilling, nightmarish existences. Comparatively ‘Girls Know This’ and the aptly titled ‘Your Comments Are Atrocious’ are amusing screeds on the absurdity of online interactions. The other songs give the impression of being journal to tape confessionals, rife with the inebriated confusion, desperation and social awkwardness that you’d expect from an album entitled Man Feelings. Indeed, the burning ironing board climax of ‘Hanging Kudzu’ is recreated on the album cover, which will presumably look just great on vinyl.
Fake Limbs – Man Feelings
2012 – BLVD Records