"You Better Run" Delivers Substance, But Defies Genre
While the world, the nation and Tacoma are busy resetting expectations and examining what is real, Tacoma, WA’s own The Fun Police (TFP) up their own expectations, grab reality by the horns and step into the contemporary spotlight with their first full length CD. Eagerly anticipated by a growing local fan base, You Better Run does not disappoint with the bullies in blue admirably translating their dynamic live sets to the studio. The disc’s proficiently crafted, variety pack of roots, blues, cool, and Latin beats are catchy, danceable sing-alongs skillfully delivered in a variety of genres that confound the band’s categorization and stokes their local reputation. The TFP vocals draw on their travel, bar band, and life experiences and observations to quickly sketch musical caricatures that capture the everyman experience, mood, situations and characters from a variety of perspectives. That diversity of voice extends to the band’s distinctive sound with the accordion and violin key voices along with the rock solid dual guitar, bass, drums line up.
The contradiction between the band name and the band reality stands out in sharp relief on this disc, as these officers are clearly out to arrest you with their good time energy and fun rather than prohibit merriment. More importantly, they have a finger on the pulse of the nation, a demoralized populace aching for relief. You Better Run explores exactly those themes, but in an upbeat bar band treatment, that celebrates our common misery through the community of music. With a nod to the last deep recession in which the powerful Springsteen everyman formula worked, The Fun Police seem to recognize that as Americans, we are always at our best when we are down. You Better Run exemplifies that trait and additionally nods to the increasingly hemispherical concept of “America” with the inclusion of reggae, meringue and corrido in addition to the smorgasbord of traditionally American styles of blues, ballad and folk. In short, I was rocking out seamlessly between the fusion genres, enjoying each and every track, and stopping to play some over again.
You Better Run launches into the fun with the “on your feet, everybody party” Gringo Meringue a snappy fusion meringue with an infectious Dominican riff and tongue in cheek observations on Americans’ bad, Mexican vacation behavior. Don’t even try to sit still during Ranger Ruffhousen’s break neck delivery of this gem; at the very least have a shot of tequila and strap yourself in for the ride. TFP showcases their balanced musical proficiency with this number, easily trading various instrumental leads with ease all the while being driven by the Sgt Snake and Brigadier B.Ski bass/drum engine.
Ebay, the story of a collector’s marital discord, is a solid introduction to The Fun Police’s brand of Americana showcasing Special Agent Sam’s accordion’s and Major Mullet’s violin’s, unique voices. Mournfully optimistic, a spouse comforts his collectables “Goodbye my love, don’t mind my wife, I’ll buy you all again, in the next life.” It’s a provocative tweet-sized commentary on both the significance of objects and metaphysical beliefs. Complete with a short dirge-like bridge, Ebay is roots or modern folk with humor. Like The Band with a dash of Weird Al Yankovic, the Fun Police are right at home with the roots genre and a homespun tale. One can imagine these former country boys singing the predecessors of these tunes around a campfire in a Pacific Northwest velvet fir forest. In that same vein, if Billy Joel’s Piano Man is the Hope Diamond song of bar life, Barfly is its uncut twin. It’s an unpretentious introduction ‘round the bar to characters we all know, and well, who knows, we may be. It’s an invitation to join the Fun Police party complete with characteristic tempo changes, faux endings and spontaneous party drop ins.
Over a funky bass line throughout Rather be Dead, Cox leads a growing chorus of remorseful prisoners in work song reminiscent of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s pop, western and gospel influenced Sixteen Tons. Driven by Sgt Snake’s distorted bass, Major Mullet’s mournful and memorable violin counterpoint melody and B.Ski’s restrained touch at the drum kit, the tune invokes the shuffle, rhythmic shovel and chain link percussion of a work crew.
TFP aren’t going to leave you in the dumps though as they launch right into the rollicking every man’s dream, I Wish I Was Rich. Captain Cox and Ruffhousen explore and reject various get rich schemes in a call and response exploration sandwiched between an “easy to learn when drunk” chorus. “I wish I was rich, I’m tired of being poor. I can’t afford anything and all I want is more.” It is a song for a the masses; the growing dissatisfaction in an demoralized nation with an uneven playing field; where a lust for objects has replaced respect for community; a nation where the college educated take service jobs, if they can find them, and the bastions of blue collar ranks have been gutted by legislation, corporations, and the quest for cheaper. Yet this is not maudlin self-pity; this is old fashioned, good old boy American watering hole ingenuity. Let’s all bitch about it, drink another beer and dance to a tune that resonates through the ages. With rhythm of a horse race and the traditional underpinnings of a modern jig, I Wish I Was Rich, gallops along then gracefully transitions in and out of an easy going syncopated reggae bridge, before finishing at a breakneck finish.
As if to warn against over indulging in the grandiose plans, a cool flute turns up the chill in Night Beat, the one nod on the disc to The Fun Police’s naughty cop personas. Cox braids his menacing, beat cop’s swaggering innuendos and threats through Ruffhousen’s frosty flute and Sam’s gently understated backing and a late understated and shining solo that would make BB King smile. The unsavory ambiance saturates listeners and generates a slight squirm under the intense bad cop scrutiny. Yet it’s all in good fun as you’ll find yourself singing along “It’s gonna be a long, long night for you.”
TFP lift the mood by borrowing a page from the reggae play book with We Don’t Want No More wrapping unspecified outrage in the joyous, Jamaican dance hall, custom. In their best reggae tradition, TFP distills a mounting anger to booty-wagging, dance hall fusion, joy. Sam’s accordion, Mullet’s violin and Deputy D’s alternating leads are an exciting mélange of reggae and Americana. D’s right on guitar solo captures the soul of reggae with its funky sensibilities and alternates soulfully with violin and accordion leads . It’s a diffuse anger that TFP encourage us to release, “We don’t want no more, what you makin’ us do…We don’t want no more what you puttin’ us thru…” Attribute whatever you are angry about this week and rock away.
Normally a tight ensemble TFP demonstrate they are even more so, at a frenzied pace on Spanish Mullet, a playfully over the top, played hard and fast, corrido to aimless wanderlust that sounds as though it were written over two quad ventis at Starbucks. Always a driving engine for the band, B.Ski powers TFP along with a brilliantly punctuated, pounding beat; whipping the ensemble into a driving musical frenzy that arrives at the big finish with listener and musician out of breath alike. With just a heartbeat’s recovery, TFP dives into a tasty bit of off the cuff fantasy with a Temporary Lapse of Sanity finale . Alternating effortlessly between its soulful instrumental beginnings and a frenetic yakkity scatting strumfest, it sounds like the introduction to the opening number on the next disc.
You Better Run shows significant growth in both group cohesion and production efforts over their self-titled EP; the septet continue to grow into their Fun Police personas, and renowned Seattle producer Conrad Uno (Mudhoney & The Presidents of the United States of America) guided TFP’s studio sessions in his Egg Studios.
Make no mistake, I can shout out TFP influences and comparisons all day long to The Band, John Lee Hooker, Detroit Soul, Johnny Cash, and a lengthy list of seminal American musicians. But the bottom line is this, The Fun Police standing at a unique intersection of time and place with a distinctly American diversity in their influences, their soul and their message. The big finish on the disc is wild; it is out of control, it leaves me wanting more; it sounds like America as we struggle and transcend, as we always do in America; it sounds like the introduction to the opening number on the next disc. I for one will be looking forward to it.