The Return Of Tomorrow

At The Dojo
rating icon 8.5 / 10

Track listing:

01. Dehumanize
02. Loch Ness Wrecking Machine
03. Hands Of The Zodiac
04. Haze The Hides
05. Roads Of The Lowly
06. (Time Is) Pulling You Under
07. Destroyin' Light
08. Lifetime Waiting
09. Solar Baptized
10. What I Need
11. The Return Of Tomorrow
12. Liquify
13. High Tide

For fans of stoner rock, FU MANCHU have been a guaranteed good time for the last 30 years. Many bands have come and gone during that time, and not one of them has bettered the riff-focused formula that the Californians perfected early on and that they have been propagating with great enthusiasm ever since. Their recorded work rate may have slowed slightly in recent times — there have only been two new studio albums in the last decade — but "The Return Of Tomorrow" is the kind of big, bold statement that only a band with plenty of gas left in the tank could make. FU MANCHU's first double album, this may not be a comeback in any meaningful sense, but it has "new chapter beginning!" scrawled all over it.

There is no need to panic, however. FU MANCHU have not abandoned their trademark sound in some late career bid to redefine themselves. Instead, this is an hour's worth of the same, life-affirming, skater-punk heavy rock that they defined back in the '90s, albeit with more variation than ever before and a noticeable uplift in the sharpness of their songwriting. "The Return Of Tomorrow" has been pitched as a game of two halves. The first comprises a bunch of classic FU MANCHU ragers, just as the desert gods intended. "Dehumanize" is an uproarious opening gambit, firmly in the spirit of previous album openers "Evil Eye" and "Hell On Wheels", but somehow harder and tougher. "Loch Ness Wrecking Machine" is a pulsing, blank-eyed stomp that somehow lives up to its proudly goofy title, and with a subtle shimmer of AC/DC dynamics as a bright bonus. Recent single "Hands Of The Zodiac" is fantastic, the classic FU MANCHU sound, doomed out and dusty, but fat with sun-scorched swagger. The track harks back to the unstoppable catchiness of 2000's "King of the Road" album, but with even greater psychedelic intent. Grimy and grim on the slow-burning "Haze The Hides", and possessed by the spirit of sludge-punk on the two-minute "(Time Is) Pulling You Under", these songs are as strong as anything this band has written in more than 20 years.

Remarkably, for a band that definitely have no need to change what they do, FU MANCHU are still evolving. The second half of "The Return Of Tomorrow" is no kind of radical departure, but it does reveal a hitherto unheard side to the Orange County quartet that illuminates and broadens their set-in-stone identity. Although still fuzzed-out and spiky, the likes of "Lifetime Waiting" and "Solar Baptized" take a more languorous, laidback approach to getting the bong fired up, and the slower tempos and acres of available sonic space give riffs more room to breathe and frontman Scott Hill's laconic declarations a less frantic backdrop. In particular, "What I Need" is a revelatory side-step, with roots rock overtones woven into gently undulating waves of rough-hewn psychedelia: it's a FU MANCHU song, but one that eschews the usual tales of weird beards, boogie vans and mutant coyotes in favor of something more melancholic, elegant and personal. After the sparkly-eyed strut of "Liquify", "The Return Of Tomorrow" reaches a blissful conclusion with "High Tide", a wonderfully languid drift into FLOYD-ian space rock with a slight hint of BLACK SABBATH's "Planet Caravan". It is as gorgeous as the rest of the album is joyous and mesmerizing. FU MANCHU are kings and this is a triumphant return to the throne.

Author: Dom Lawson
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