Fishbone - Fishbone (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Fishbone (2023)

Bottles to the Ground

Rumblings of a “Fishbone comeback as directed by Fat mike” began some four or five years ago when a delightful clip of Fishbone frontman Angelo Moore and Fat Mike singing “you say tomato” was posted online. The angle was that a veteran punker with some clout could restore Fishbone to their rightful station- that is, Fishbone influenced almost every mid 80s punk/alt-rock band there is (and in the case of RHCP “influenced”) but never received their due. Was it due to them being ahead of their time, systemic bias, bad ‘80s production, or just because the band kind of always has been a mess internally (likely due to the huge personalities within).

So, almost half a decade later, the long-awaited modern strike from one of California’s most under-appreciate band arrives… and to the surprise of many, it’s only an EP… and a pretty brief one at that. A few interviews suggest that while the FB/FB collab started with a blast, it dissolved into disagreements and artistic viewpoint battle.

But, the interesting thing is, while the artists herein may have been ramming horns, Fishbone 2023 is one of the band’s most cohesive releases. Pretty much every other Fishbone release comes across as a stew of music- rock rammed into jazz rammed into soul rammed into ska rammed into funk. While that sometimes can make an irreverent, quirky zip of a track, it can also make a song annoying or washed out.

As per Fat Mike’s method, here, the band sticks to a basic melody and blows that up to its strongest presentation. All five tracks here have separate identities and showcase FB’s strongest assets. “All we have is now” is a posi-vibe call to action that could be a Steel Pulse tune. “I don’t care” is a punk or punk-ish sprint that counters the negative side to the positive of the previous track.

“Estranged Fruit,” built off a Billie Holiday chassis, calls back to early soul and jazz and lets Angelo Moore blaze- the guy is vibrant and full of life and kind of weird. Yet, also interestingly, Moore doesn’t have a single writing credit on the entire EP. “Estranged Fruit” is a particularly tricky knot as it is credited to “Fat Mike” alone. What do you make of a song, written by a Jewish guy, about lynching of black people, made famous by a female black singer, re-worked by a Jewish guy into a song about racial oppresion, but performed by a band of primarily black Americans? Not that every piece of work should be viewed by the race of the creator, but in 2023, we do tend to that and more than anything, this track is a puzzle that can’t be solved with the lenses and linguistic tools of 2023. On that alone, it’s one of the most interesting tracks of the year.

I should mention that Fishbone Norwood, Dowd, and Philips do contribute some of their strongest songwriting. Almost every song leans into ska or reggae, and to a degree, exhibits why Fishbone are so often depicted as early ska champions, despite the fatc that so many of their tunes sound much more like funk. On “Cubicle,” the band really dfoes show how they have mastered the genre more than almost any other band in North America.

Fishbone is over almost as soon as it begins, to the point where you might spin it two or even three times in a row. That is, it really is a great comeback for the band… well, it would have been if we got a whole album of this stuff… but there are a few things more Fishbone than that.