fIREHOSE - Ragin', Full-On LP (SST/1986)
What's the verdict on fIREHOSE in the year 2006? When this, their debut, first came out, Forced Exposure mag raved about it, finishing its last paragraph w/ a line which went something like this: "fIREHOSE may just prove to become a better band than the Minutemen ever were". Or something to that effect. You think Byron's eating his words? Perhaps so, though fIREHOSE, contrary to what many may think, were not a band worthy of dismissal. The beefs people had w/ fIREHOSE were manyfold: it was Minutemen-lite; they'd lost the overt politics of their former band; the music was too collegiate; Ed fROMOHIO was a no-talent putz not worthy of licking Watt and Hurley's boots, and so on. All points containing a hint of validity, though I still beg to differ. Their debut, in particular, holds up nicely two decades after its initial release.
Many of the songs here were actually written by Watt and his wife (at the time) Kira for their duo-bass project Dos, and some of these did indeed wind up in slightly different form (well, it was just two basses) on their debut from the same year, so it's really the most Ed-less disc they ever released. More to the point, if there is any, would the Minutemen, had they survived and continued on, actually have sounded much different from this in 1986? At a guess, I'd say no.
The material here is the strongest the band ever recorded. Take a brief tour of their subsequent work: If'n was their weakest SST effort, a hodge-podge which sounded like approximately half-a-dozen not particularly great bands playing on one disc (though it still has its moments); fROMOHIO was a terrific, rootsy return to form; and then they jumped ship like so many others at the dawn of the '90s and signed to Sony, releasing Flyin' The Flannel then Mr. Machinery Operator in '93 before calling it quits. I never heard those records at the time. I jumped ship from all things SST in 1990, too, and tried to put it all out of my mind for a few years: a 3-4-year overdose hit me hard. Only many years later did I purchase the Sony CDs secondhand for a belated look into what ever happened to what was once my 3rd- or 4th-favourite band under the sun, to see where they went right or wrong, or at least to figure out why it was they never sold any records to speak of. My guess is they simply got lost in the rush at the time.
Ragin'... is a collection of hit-upon-hits. Straight-out Buzzcocksian power-pop ("Choose Any Memory"), Beefheartian funk ("Under the Influence of the Meat Puppets"), more rockin' material worthy of a Minutemen disc ("Chemical Wire") and even a few soppy ballads which don't stink. If anything, I'd compare the sound of Ragin'... to Meat Puppets ca. Out My Way/Mirage: caught in one of the last gasps before the label and many of its bands drifted into a musical no-man's-land. You know I'm biased, but the verdict is in: fIREHOSE coulda been contenders. By this stage, however, I figure that just about anyone and everyone reading this has already made their minds up regarding fIREHOSE. A yay or a nay?
Some people are starting to tire of my penmanship regarding 1st-, 2nd- and nth-rate SST bands of yesteryear. I have but one thing to say: too fuckin' bad You think I get paid for this? Nope, it's a hobby for my own amusement. And in that spirit, I'll inform you that the next issue of Perfect Sound Forever will feature an interview I did w/ Chuck Dukowski, so keep yer eyes peeled.