It’s always a shame when once-great bands outlive their usefulness. Though some artists have forged lucrative careers by hammering away for years, even decades beyond their prime, there are some whose back catalog simply won’t allow for such half-assing. Fu Manchu is one of those bands, and Signs of Infinite Power is the final salvo of a mostly impotent decade for the band. In the last half of the 1990’s and into 2001, Fu Manchu excelled at igniting thrumming, grease-covered gobs of distortion, creating asphalt-grinding rock that reeked of both tire and bong smoke. There’s hardly a dull moment among their must-have albums – 1996’s In Search Of, 2000’s King of the Road, and 2001’s California Crossing. But On Signs of Infinite Power, leader Scott Hill’s once clever, cool, cruise-ready tunes are swapped for lyrically vapid fare like “Bionic Astronautics,” where the rhymes are nearly as predictable as the distortion-fest that they are set to. It’s not the band’s fault – this is how they sound now. You can’t blame them for preserving the same formula, and there’s no questioning that this album is Fu Manchu through and through. Unfortunately, time has not been kind to their songwriting, and much of the album treads in knuckle-dragging riffs and throwaway lyrics. The inexplicable vibrancy that used to separate their sound from the rest of the sludge-stoner rock crowd is gone, replaced by mostly uninteresting music that never quite reaches out of its own murk. Longtime Fu fans will surely find a few minutes of enjoyment here. “El Busta” is a slice of the band’s trademark irreverence, and “Webfoot Witch Hat” reaches a satisfying altitude. But Signs of Infinite Power is a good look at what happens when a band full of potential doesn’t evolve musically (they’ve evolved plenty otherwise). If anything, the inclusion of songs like “Gargantuan March” – one of the least consequential songs I’ve heard in recent memory – is a pronounced step backward for Hill and company.
Rating: 4.8 out of 10