Week Fulla Black Punk: First Listen #41: Fishbone’s ‘Give a Monkey a Brain and He’ll Swear He’s the Center of the Universe’

Out of the three bands that I’ve talked about this week, Fishbone is the most well-known. Rooted in South Central Los Angeles, Fishbone came to be in 1979 with the original six members: John Norwood Fisher, Philip Fisher, Angelo Moore, Kendell Jones, Walter Kibby, and Christopher Dowd. Between the 80s and 90s, the guys of Fishbone would make a name for themselves more broadly, a journey that included some pitfalls, including the exiting of members, a couple of label drops, an alleged attempted kidnapping, and a few unsuccessful project releases. However, outside of those unfortunate circumstances, Fishbone gave the world a handful of successful, Billboard-charting projects, including the lengthy-titled Give a Monkey a Brain and He’ll Swear He’s the Center of the Universe (1993).

Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fishbonedocumentary/with/4634346747/

1993:Give a Monkey a Brain and He’ll Swear He’s the Center of the Universe

(via Genius)

If I had to put Pure Hell, Death, and Fishbone on a spectrum from “calm” to “chaos,” Fishbone would definitely be on the calmer end of that spectrum, but not by much. Enough, though, to make them more commercially-successful than Pure Hell or Death, and that was pretty clear after listening to the first two or three tracks. The heavy punk sound and influence is definitely there, but it feels a little bit more approachable with the sounds that Fishbone places around those more punk-centric tracks. Give a Monkey a Brain feels more dynamic than …For the Whole World to See (2009) or Noise Addiction (2006). The inclusion of ska tracks (like “Unyielding Conditioning”), funk tracks (like “Lemon Meringue” and “Properties of Propaganda (Fuk this Shit on Up)”), and psychedelic tracks (like “No Fear”) give depth and dimension to the project that I felt like was missing particularly with Noise Addiction. It was a lot easier to tell each track from the last, so I was able to attach myself more to what I was listening to.

Tune out from all that’s happening

Nobody deserves empathy

Nobody feels for me

We’ve all been trained by our worlds

I cannot see no one but me

No one can feel my emptiness

Everybody must fend for themselves

There is no openness

We’ve all been claimed by our worlds

Fishbone, “Unyielding Conditioning”

It’s not a smooth transition from those different musical styles, though. If I had to characterize the entire project with one song, I’d use “Drunk Skitzo” as that track. Outside of the potentially problematic title and equally problematic fake stuttering at the beginning of the song, “Drunk Skitzo” moves the same way Give a Monkey a Brain does from track to track: very jumpy and sporadic. On one hand, the project can feel more like a compilation project, rather than a purposefully put together album because it jumps around so much. But on the other hand, I kind of liked that! I enjoyed the experience of not knowing exactly what I was gonna get on the next song.


Week Fulla Black Punk: First Listen #39: Death’s ‘…For the Whole World to See’

LOL so this week was supposed to be the continuation of the Week Fulla Women in 90s and 00s R&B, but I decided to switch things up. After listening to Death’s …For the Whole World to See (2009) – a project containing tracks the band recorded in the 70s – late last week, I got … Continue reading Week Fulla Black Punk: First Listen #39: Death’s ‘…For the Whole World to See’

I had a few songs that I really enjoyed. I’m listening through “Lemon Meringue” again as I’m typing this, which was one of my quick favorites. “The Warmth of Your Breath” plays before we get to “Lemon Meringue,” and it’s such a hard-hitting and chaotic track that “Lemon Meringue” feels like our moment to breathe. Almost like a palate cleanser; the chorus is also very infectious. “Black Flowers” was another quick favorite. It didn’t feel quite like a punk song, but it’s definitely hard rock. Reminds me of something I would have LOVED in middle and high school – kind of reminiscent to Shinedown, Linkin Park, etc. “No Fear” was another one that I enjoyed; it gave me STRONG Prince Graffiti Bridge (1990) vibes. I wouldn’t put “End the Reign” in my list of favorites, but it was a really good song. My mind immediately went to “End of Daze” from Spillage Village’s Spilligion (2020), while listening to it. Then, I was reminded of “No Control” from the Spongebob Squarepants musical soundtrack, and I’ve decided that that’s a much closer match than “End of Daze” LOL; there’s something similar about how the drum set and guitars come together on those two tracks.

Overall a good project! Goofy, funky, punky, and fun. Apparently, this was the last project that had all of the original six members on it, before things went left. Fishbone’s next album, Chim Chim’s Badass Revenge (1996) was put together with all of the original members except for Kendell Jones and didn’t do as well as the group’s previous project. They went from peaking at #99 on the Billboard 200 to #158. From what I read, Chim Chim‘s musical base was more dependent on rock and punk influences, rather than funk and soul like there previous two projects, Give a Monkey a Brain and Truth and Soul (1988) – the group’s first project to receive wide critical acclaim. I started thinking about Pure Hell and how part of the commercial downfall of that group was their unwillingness to switch over to being a funk/soul band. Because they weren’t interested in sticking in the very narrow lane that Black musicians were (and have been) allowed to exist successfully in, the fire behind the group went out. I’m wondering if the success of Fishbone’s first two projects depended heavily on their inclusion of funk and soul, and if they went a different route – the one they’d take about a decade later – would they have been overlooked like Death and Pure Hell. Especially being from South Central. My mind is saying “yes,” but I’ll keep thinking on that.

Either way, they did what not a lot of Black rock bands at the time were able to do: be well-known during their prime, rather than decades later.

Overall Project Rating

Featured Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fishbonedocumentary/with/4634346747/

(listen to Give a Monkey a Brain and He’ll Swear He’s the Center of the Universe on spotify by clicking the image below)

here’s something else you might like…

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