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The Fucking Champs - VI

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Artist: The Fucking Champs

Album: VI

Label: Drag City

Review date: May. 21, 2007

There are two easy ways to start a review about the Fucking Champs. One is to pontificate on the band's name, altered from "the Champs" to "the Fucking Champs" sometime in the mid-1990s, whether for shock value or to piss off mainstream radio announcers or simply because that's how their fans referred to them. (Except for the most enthusiastic ones, who now call the band the Fuckin' Fucking Champs). The second lazy point of entry is to speculate on how metal the Fucking Champs actually are, and whether they're serious about their hair metal-ish chugs and Judas Priest-sized riffs.

Well, screw that. If you want to get a sense for what the band thinks about both meta-narratives, I suggest a visit to the "hate mail" section of their web site (click here), where they do battle with Christian fundamentalists and semi-literate metal-heads. It's all very entertaining (though horribly misspelled and punctuated), but it has very little to do with the music.

The music. Oh yeah. That's the hard way to start a Fucking Champs review.

Like its Roman-numeraled predecessors, VI is an all-guitars, all-the-time onslaught of heavy metal riffage ….and a lot of other things as well. The band has been reconfigured slightly; Trans Am's Phil Manley took Josh Smith's place after Smith left to concentrate on the power poppy Makes Nice. Yet it still convenes a strike force of two spandex-worthy guitar players (Manley and Tim Green) and one manic and heavy drummer (Tim Soete). On some cuts – super chuggy "The Loge,” massively fun "Spring Break,” and blistering, stop-start "Play On Words" – they could sneak into the Warped Tour caravan, except maybe for the lack of an eyeliner-sporting, coked-up vocalist. And yet, there's a sharpness, a cleanness, an unmistakable intelligence to even the most air-guitar-friendly of these cuts. They are too smart to be taken at face value … but too good at the game to be dismissed as ironic.

By coincidence, I've been listening to Pissed Jeans CD at the same time as VI, and the two albums are like the before and after photos from a Tide commercial. Pissed Jeans is encrusted in muck, sounds bleeding all over each other in chaotic abandon. By contrast, The Fucking Champs' sound is precise, pristine, ringing with Platonically ideal power chords. It's a producer's record, a testament to Tim Green's skill (and possible obsession) with clarity.

Moreover, it's not really a metal record. There are the outlier cuts, which hint at broad musical interests and a casual contempt for genre distinctions. First up, the band takes an utterly straight-faced stab at "Abide with Me," (my mother's favorite hymn, by the way, the one she wants to be buried to), drumless, slowed to ritual tempo and quite moving, despite the unexpected textures that electric guitars bring to the piece. Equally brief "Insomnia,” wedged between two hard-rocking cuts, is all sustained washes of sound, drones and buried dissonances, and quite lovely. "Dolores Park" is acoustic and flat-out lovely, full of luminous arpeggios and muted flute tones, and Sabbath only in the sense that "Laguna Sunrise" or "Planet Caravan" is Sabbath.

It's music like this, intelligently composed and played, delivered with clarity and purposefully varied, that, finally, makes sense of the Fucking Champs. They don't care what you call them; in fact they're going to make it as difficult and embarrassing as possible to put a name to them. And they aren't interested in fulfilling your expectations for metal or indie rock or anything else. What's important about the Fucking Champs is what's on the record, and what's there is very fine.

By Jennifer Kelly

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