Ruf [Release date 26.02.16]
Often described as a party band full of ‘orchestrated chaos’, Southern Californian outfit Andy Frasco and the U.N. is no such thing on record. They are every bit as organized and astute as Zappa was in exploring an array of different but musically related styles.
Andy Frasco and the UN is basically a well drilled soul band who in between some uncompromising titles, veer from Stax to Motown, via r&b, blues, funk and even reggae.
There’s undoubtedly a hi-energy, alt.humorous strand at the heart of the music that probably reflects Andy’s own wild stage persona, but lurking beneath the musical freneticism and lyrical irreverence is a band searching for a hit record.
Look no further than the superbly arranged, uplifting soul of ‘Good Ride’, which once denuded of the band’s on-stage excesses, is surely a potential radio staple.
Moreover, if you take out the salacious element of ‘Let’s Get Down To Business’ – complete with a sleazy muted trumpet – you uncover the band’s subliminal message, as Happy Bastards’ is clever enough never stray too far away from a potential hit.
In fact Andy Frasco doesn’t even hide that fact, as he pushes the commercial impetus to the front of the queue on the opening white boy soul of ‘Tie You Up’ and the infectious funk of ‘Doin’ It’.
The former is a song with clever lyrical contrast and a beguiling hook, duly delivered by infectious horns and harmonies, but it’s far from being an exemplar of the album as a whole. The band explores soul, blues, funk and rock and roll, under the banner of titles such as ‘You’re The Kind Of Crazy I Like’, which could possibly be their ideal of what they want their fans to be.
The afore mentioned ‘Doin It’ and the equally funky ‘Blame It On The Pussy’, explores the kind of smirky semi risqué lyrics favoured all those years ago by The Tubes, right down to the high pitched harmonies and versatile musicianship.
Certainly ‘Happy Bastards’ pushes the envelope, inviting us to be open minded, adventurous and above all a party animal. All of this is fine if you’ve been primed about Andy Frasco’s hi-energy soul-blues party, which doesn’t just invite you to have a good time, but demands it.
They get commercial again on the sax-led, retro soul and r&b of ‘Make It Work’, which could be on a film soundtrack. It’s also another song squarely aimed at the radio, as part of an album that frequently parodies itself.
‘Here’s To Letting You Down’ slips into a laid back reggae groove with a catchy ‘oh-oh-oh’ hook, while ‘When You’re Lonely (Fill You Up)’ is a head-on meeting between Southside Johnny style soul and Motown, delivered with the kind of passion that would make white boy soul artist Graham Parker smirk.
‘Happy Bastards’ is an undemanding, tongue in cheek, soul party album that is fun but not essential.
‘(Oh My My) Can’t Get You Off My Mind’ provides one more commercial friendly hook with which to subversive the mainstream, though it’s self evident by now that the subtext has been subsumed by the album’s pop aspirations. ***½
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
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