FISHBONE / “Ghetto Soundwave”

MP3 01 Ghetto Soundwave.mp3 (6.26 MB)

In their early days (’86 and ’87), Fishbone’s recorded output was a little too pop, a little too kitsch, a little too goofy for me to take them seriously. Back then, Fishbone sounded like what they actually were: six very young, very talented and very immature pop/punk/ska/funk musicians from South Central Los Angeles. Due in equal parts to the band’s prodigious musicianship and legendary performance antics (naked stage diving, to give one example) Fishbone quickly developed a fanatically devoted fanbase. But things change. A decade later, Fishbone’s sound had become so heavy, so dense, and frankly, so mean, that there was no way for me to listen to them without feeling either irritated or depressed.

Thankfully, there was a time when Fishbone managed to locate a happy medium. The time was 1988; the album is Truth And Soul, my favorite Fishbone album by far. Early Fishbone is silly; later Fishbone is morose. Truth And Soul is reflective. Early Fishbone is frivolous; later Fishbone is pedagogic. Truth And Soul is intelligent. Even the sound engineer stepped up his game. While the early Fishbone albums have a thin, toy-like sound, and the later albums have all the tonality of clanking metal, Truth And Soul sounds just right: warm, yet solid.

The themes of Truth And Soul reflect Fishbone’s then-newfound maturity. “One Day” chronicles the many places “we are waiting”: “In restaurants over there / In cars somewhere over there / …In heaven somewhere up there / In hell somewhere down there.” “Ma And Pa” is an intentionally dispassionate snapshot of divorce from the point of view of an only child. “It’s three the hard way,” sings Fishbone’s lead voice, Angelo Moore, “Doing it the wrong way…. Pa hates Ma / Ma hates Pa… / Why don’t y’all get y’all shit together?” My favorite song from the album is “Ghetto Soundwave,” a ska-inflected lament with a first-verse reminiscent of the Bob Marley classic, “Johnny Was”:

    There's another cry of murder
    Policeman shoot down baby brother
    Shot him, shot him down in the street
    But did they know the mother's grief?
    Were they sure they got the right one?
    Did they know he was her only son?

It’s the small choices—like letting their feelings be known through pointed questions (“Were they sure they got the right one?) rather than sophomoric jokes (as they would have done earlier) or scathing accusations (as they would do later)—that separates mature, middle-period Fishbone from angry, later-period Fishbone and goofball, early-period Fishbone. Truth And Soul also represents the only time the band was able to distill their wildly divergent mix of personalities and influences into a consistent and palatable style of their own. Nearly twenty years later, and I still enjoy the album from beginning to end.

—Mtume ya Salaam

          self-determination music         

These guys are the rest of the band, the cats who missed the Funkadelic tour bus and had to hitchhike their way across America.

Unlike afro punks, for whom music is mainly about the energy of self expression regardless of musical skill and ability, Fishbone can play—really, really play and not just emote with instruments in their hands.

Had a chance to see Fishbone live and though I did not like all that I heard, what I recognized early on was that they were an important element reflecting self-determination in music, hard self-determination, the road seldom traveled because it’s a hard-ass road, and these guys are still on the road, still self-determined, still showing us we can shake our ass if we want to but we don’t have to act an ass in order to do it.

This really is classic music of its genre, Funkadelic without the smoothness of Parliament to make them more palatable, except Fishbone is beyond heavy metal, and though it is not obvious at first, they really are intellectually driven, they really are about promoting a philosophy beyond hedonism.

Mtume, I think there is nothing more I want to add to your succinct albeit thorough summation of Fishbone, except to say, I dig the choices you selected.

—Kalamu ya Salaam

This entry was posted on Sunday, October 23rd, 2005 at 12:20 am and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

5 Responses to “FISHBONE / “Ghetto Soundwave””

Berry Says:
October 23rd, 2005 at 5:13 am

I recently saw them perform live for the first time and hadn’t heard much from them since the 80s. They certainly have a unique style and they were somewhat trailblazers back then. The live instrumentation and the energy they inject into their performances is a refreshing break from the alternative.

Stephanie Renee Says:
October 26th, 2005 at 7:58 am

I got introduced to Fishbone in college because one of my almost-roomies was a huge fan. Although I like their earlier stuff, I am madly in love with “Give a Monkey a Brain and He’ll Swear He’s The Center of the Universe.” From the heavy-duty messages to the ultra-funky grooves, that album captured my whole heart. But I do have a deep appreciation for the selections you’ve included here.

Rosalind Says:
October 27th, 2005 at 3:32 pm

Thanks for reminding me of a true ska/funk classic that has been languishing in my music library. Fishbone were able to take ska and give it enough contemporary relevance that the music of other more popular California ska dabblers–No Doubt, Sublime, literally pales in comparison. Truth and Soul has always been my favorite Fishbone album, thanks for helping me remember why.

Stephen Parris Says:
October 30th, 2005 at 8:55 am

Thank you for including Fishbone on this website. Truth and Soul is definitely one of my top ten albums of all time. Each song is completely different from the others and completely unlike almost anything else out there. Kalamu said at the Gwendolyn Brooks writers conference that most people’s record collections were embarrassing. The depth of this album and its lack of notoriety are proof of that statement.

mike Says:
November 2nd, 2005 at 7:55 pm

the new dvd/cd is really good “fishbone live in amsterdam” have you seen/heard it yet?

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