From the first funky track ("Shakey Ground") on the new Fishbone album, there's a sneaky notion that somehow this labyrinthine-titled disc is going to pay tribute to Sly & the Family Stone (even though it's a remake of an old Temptations hit). That assumption is confirmed three songs later, when the veteran ska/punk/pop/etc. band (now in its 21st year) tosses out a faithful cover of Sly's "Everybody Is a Star." It's slinky, stylish, and on the money. And like everything else Fishbone does, it's a bit overcooked.
Years ago, before every L.A.-based high school band geek packed his horn and headed to the clubs to work up some ska for a public that never knew it wanted it in the first place, Fishbone was hitting those same venues, combining funk, punk, blues, jazz, rock, and ska for a tasty and freewheeling stew. Over the years it amassed quite a cult. Some of those fans -- Gwen Stefani, George Clinton, Rick James, Perry Farrell, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea, John Frusciante, and Chad Smith -- even turn up on Nuttwerx (as does, and I swear I'm not making this up, Donny Osmond). But even with these heavy hitters going to bat for them, there's something a bit empty about Fishbone.
It quite possibly has a lot to do with the fact that Fishbone is best in small doses. Two EPs by the band, 1985's self-titled debut and 1990's Bonin' in the Boneyard, capture what Fishbone does best: quick and often random bursts of noise, stitched together into a post-punk party monster jam. Subsequent records by the band sharpened its pop proficiency (which led to a couple modern rock hits in the pre-Nevermind era) before it developed into a multi-instrument, multi-genred funk machine akin to Clinton's Parliament-Funkadelic (note the rambling title, and this isn't the first instance of such) or Clinton's muse -- yes, Sly Stone. That's made for some pretty serious funkin', but some wildly erratic listens. And Nuttwerx is no different.