It has been 25 years since the legendary Flamin’ Groovies released their last studio album Rock Juice. While the band resumed actively touring around the rock ‘n’ roll world in 2013 (Japan, Australia, Europe, U.S.A., Canada), fans have been clamoring for a new full length. They have selectively introduced many of these songs in their recent live repertoire and now have delivered the recorded goods on Fantastic Plastic. Initially I had my doubts as things get off to a pretty shaky start (vs. a shakin’ one). The album opens up with “What the Hell is Going On” that sounds too much like the “Honky Tonk Women” done by a local bar band inspired by the Fabulous Thunderbirds or the Georgia Satellites. “End of the World” is too derivative with its reformulation of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by BÖC hinged upon the Byrds’ “So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star.”
However, things truly click into place when the recording reaches the showcase third and fourth positions. The Beau Brummels’ “Don’t Talk to Strangers” has been a long-time favorite and here the Groovies, place their truly distinctive style on it. With “Let Me Rock,” Chris Wilson is in his element and in full command. I can envision him on the other side of the stage, adorned with his scarf like Snoopy vs. Red Baron, and belting out this exuberant new classic in full rocking mode. Within is an instrumental passage that highlights the power & glory of the rhythm section comprised of Victor Penalosa (the Phantoms, the Quarter After, the Zeros) on drums and original member George Alexander on bass (both who were in this “new classic” lineup from 2013-2016). Additionally, the song reveals the clear influence the Groovies had on their guitar-driven followers ranging from the Dictators and the Barracudas through the Hoodoo Gurus. The “good timey” backing vocals place a smile on the face that reminds me of one their original influences and once label mates-the Lovin’ Spoonful.
As mentioned, the band has always had a knack for well-chosen covers and for making them their own (e.g., “There’s a Place” by the Beatles). Still, it's really surprising to hear them give a 12-string Byrds-ian treatment to the recorded version of “I Want You Bad” by NRBQ. When they unleashed this song in Arizona on the 2016 Labor Day Weekend they played it pretty straight-up, but the emphasis on jangle here takes it to another level. The yearning “She Loves Me,” with its layered harmonies and stacked guitars, takes us back to their yin & yang sound of their Sire & Bomp years -which was all about sonically and visually evoking much needed mid-‘60s majesty in the mid-to-late‘70s. It is an unexpected delight to hear the instrumental “I’d Rather Spend My Time with You.” Instros are somewhat anomalous in their world and they cast it out in a continental Shadows style that lifts off the ground with its jet streamlined sound. “Cryin’ Shame” rolls over the odometer and brings everything back home by encapsulating everything wonderful (lavish harmonies, jingle-jangle guitars and underlying rhythmic propulsion) about this resounding California born and bred band who have been dashing past forward for over 50 years.