As cult bands go, the Fleshtones are legendary for a number of reasons, most notably, their live shows. Few can match their uninhibited party spirit, cheesy choreography, and a unique pastiche of 60s trash rock for sheer entertainment value. Unfortunately, no studio effort has ever fully captured the Fleshtones’ raw and rocket-fueled stage presence.
Beautiful Light also falls short of that lofty mark. Despite this minor shortcoming, the Fleshtones’ reckless party attitude remains intact throughout this strong effort. They uphold the mindless-but-never-stupid spirit of “super rock,” and echo their musical forbearers proudly. There’s more than a hint of early Kinks on “Take a Walk With the Fleshtones.” Vintage Stax soul permeates “Outcast,” and even Bob Seger gets a nod on “Big Heart.” The proceedings may be retro by nature, but the end result smacks more of irony than nostalgia.
Recorded mainly in Athens, Georgia, Beautiful Light features the production of Peter Buck. His influence adds a certain early R.E.M. ambience to the mix, emphasizing jangly guitar arpeggios and subtle touches of psychedelia. (The pretty and melodic title track benefits most from this technique.) Michael Stipe himself co-wrote “Whistling Past the Grave,” a melody that rings of Stipe’s own Murmur and Reckoning period works. Nonetheless, the Fleshtones’ identity is never sacrificed, with Peter Zaremba’s caterwauling vocals lending more joyful hedonism throughout than R.E.M. ever displayed.
That joyful hedonism is exactly what makes Beautiful Light so appealing. It is refreshing to see modern rock bands still turning out upbeat efforts. It only goes to show that it’s still hip to have fun.
—James E. Hutter