Pardon My French

By Sam Hurwitt

Published July 15, 1997 7:00PM (EDT)

Whatever you expect of a band called Fuck, it probably isn't this. Though the name may suggest a garage punk group, the San Francisco combo is a more slow and languorous Fuck than one might expect. "Pardon My
French," the foursome's third full-length CD and its first on Matador, is a lazy, hazy progression of mellifluous melodies and an excellent introduction to the band. It lacks the cute packaging of previous releases -- "Pretty... Slow" came in a box with little toys and a coloring book, and "Baby Loves a Funny Bunny" was packaged as a giant matchbook -- but though both are well worth heavy rotation, "Pardon My French" coheres better as an album. In fact, it's not immediately apparent on first or second spin whether a song has ended or merely moved on to another stage, as half the songs are less than two and a half minutes long.

It's music for sleepyheads, soporific and yet far from boring. Beneath, or rather over, guitarist Timmy Prudhomme's softly murmured lyrics, the band mixes lo-fi indie-rock instrumentation with folk and country structures and a hazy shade of psychedelia, like the view from deep underwater on a sunny day -- at times sounding like Pink Floyd without the soaring guitar solos, at others like Robyn Hitchcock in his more airy numbers or Babe the Blue Ox's labyrinthine rhythms.

The quality that distinguishes Fuck from all the other muted, groggy heroin-rock bands around is that its songs never dissolve into blobby muck; so many bands just pile the reverb and effects on and let the ear sort 'em out, whereas Fuck uses just enough instrumentation -- an echoing electric guitar note here, some organ there -- to keep the melodies crisp and distinct amid the jangling and burbling and mumbling. The most pared-down numbers are the strongest, like the delicate flamenco guitar and softly moaning violin on "Compromise," or the old-time acoustic guitar-and-kazoo ditty "Raggy Rag."

The divide between the acoustic and electric numbers is a subtle one, as Fuck doesn't indulge in the guitar wanking that a lot of bands do to spice up their albums or sets, which often sounds as hokey and boring as the "obligatory ballad" does, only louder. These guys don't show off. They don't rock out. Even the more upbeat numbers, like "To My Gurl" and "Fuck Motel," are subdued and throbbing. The former has a Doors-like wild keyboard solo, but its li'l burst of chaos is quickly subsumed into Ted Ellison's bass in the meandering instrumental "Thoroughfare," supplemented by bits of tinkling piano and occasional R&B horns.

The lyrics tend to soften the sound further still. Leaving aside a whole song in baby talk (and French) like "Scribble Dibble," the songs have a tender, introspective lilt, like "Raggy Rag": "Wake up where we belong/Down below the deep blue me/That's where my love goes wrong/Can't they please get a two-dollar kiss from me?" "Compromise" takes a darker turn: "I've compromised myself enough/To know when someone else has given up/I waste my time on childish rhymes/You say you've had enough."

"Is obscene a dirty word?" Prudhomme sings in "Dirty Brunette." "Can you take the time to show me?/And if I hurry toward the earth/Will you be the one to slow me?" Fuck doesn't need much slowing, but it's as far as one could get from obscene. In a better world than our own, Fuck would be all over the radio dial. Alas, on our slowly spinning sphere, it remains the band that dares not speak its name.

Sam Hurwitt

Sam Hurwitt is a regular contributor to Salon.

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