A lot of things happened after Sublime's break-up following the death of frontman Brad Nowell, so here's the Cliff's Notes for the uninformed: First, the extended family of Sublime coalesced to form the Long Beach Dub Allstars, who broke up after two releases due to "too many people and too many egos." Keyboardist Jack Maness, vocalist Opie Ortiz, and DJ/part-time drummer Marshall Goodman teamed up with members of ska band Hepcat to form Dubcat. Meanwhile, drummer Bud Gaugh and guitarist/manager Miguel Happoldt formed Volcano with Jon Poutney of the Ziggens and Meat Puppets frontman Curt Kirkwood. What was left of the Sublime family formed Long Beach Shortbus: Eric Wilson on bass, LBDA singer RAS-1 singing, part-time Sublime drummer Kelly Vargas, and Trey Pangborn, former member of influential skatepunk band Falling Idols that also included Dave Quakenbush who would go on to the Vandals and Randy Bradbury who would go on to Pennywise.
Like Sublime, Long Beach Shortbus draws on an immense set of influences and skips handily between genres from song to song, covering everything from reggae and punk rock to garage, hip-hop, and acoustic. Unlike Sublime, however, LBSB incorporates a heavier influence of rock, experimentation, and, with two guitars, a much deeper sound than the reggae-dub of Sublime. From a band whose live show includes covers from as diverse a selection as the Flaming Lips, Bad Brains, Devo, Minor Threat, Ween, and Descendents, it should come as no surprise that Flying Ship of Fantasy is rich in variety and interspersed with covers.
After a punky rock instrumental intro, LBSB launches into the anti-rockstar anthem "Slim's Song," a funky reggae number that tells the story of a bandmate-turned-rival: "In the end of an age and a star turned stardust / Lined with ashes of dreams and bloody music sheets / The fame killed our friend / We tried again but the chance was slim / A victim of the music industries' beast within." The reggae-rock continues with "Everyone Is Beautiful," which tells off society's obsession with external appearances and builds to a wonderful near-gospel climax with group singing and soaring guitar leads. "California Grace" is the album's "hit," a sunny pop-rock song that gives a nod to LBDA's "Sunny Hours," which was also written by RAS-1.
The band's punk rock prowess is hardly a surprise (you will rarely find bassist Eric Wilson without an Avail shirt or Minor Threat and Black Flag patches), but RAS-1's surrealist lyrics give the punk songs on Flying Ship of Fantasy a brooding quality that make them memorable. "How Could I Be Such a Fool" is essentially a punked out Frank Zappa cover, but the frantic "Slow Down" shows the divergent lyrical theme: "I spilled my gut but I bit my tongue / Bent my mind with a blackened lung / Stuck inside myself with nowhere to run / I've got to face the truth / Carefree times have left with youth / They blew a kiss and rode into the sun." "Odd Walking Man" was featured on the Comedy Central movie "Porn 'n Chicken," and the frenzied music is capped off by impressive double-bass pounding by the band's new drummer Damian Ramirez.
Other superb rock-influenced reggae tunes include the bouncy reggae/punk "Trust," "Stray with Me," a cover of the Stones' "Luxury," the gorgeous "Silver Lining" and "Better than This," which tells of struggling through drug addiction: "I'd do anything to get a little rest / I think a nightmare would be better than this."
Shortbus' take on hard rock complements the album's diverse arrangement, even for someone who doesn't normally care for the style. Guitarist Trey Pangborn shines on "You're Not Alone" and the album's title track "Flying Ship of Fantasy," which is enhanced by some of RAS-1's most imaginative writing: "Lord sits laughing, asking us to have as what we know / Unclothed before the sun sets throne with nothing left to show / Dripping down from milky clouds, tranquil waters flow / Leaving us the room we need to board our ship and go." The only song that doesn't seem to work very well is the band's cover of Ween's "Mutilated Lips," which is pretty hard to listen to under the layers of instrumentation. The album closes with the catchy garage punk of "Three Days and a Night," which features some wonderful talking interludes and a climax that ends the album on its high point with RAS-1 singing, "Every man you will meet / From the bum in the White House to the king on the street / Has a heart that can't be broken / And a mind that can't be changed."
Flying Ship of Fantasy is a diverse, well-orchestrated, and impressive first full-length from Long Beach Shortbus. Don't expect to hear Sublime version 2.0 in Long Beach Shortbus. What you will hear are new sounds, new styles, and a new approach to songwriting. Flying Ship of Fantasy is a stirring effort, and if the band ever stops touring the world long enough to record a followup, it will be interesting to see where the band takes their expansive sound.