The Fucking Champs VI

The Fucking Champs VI
After 2004’s one-off album from the Fucking Am (where the Fucking Champs joined with Trans Am), Champs’ six- and sometimes nine-stringer Josh Smith departed for pop band the Makes Nice, and Trans Am’s Phil Manley stayed on as his replacement. Enter the new Champs, playing their signature indie/progressive strains of arena rock, but on the new VI, the music’s as epic as 2001’s IV. Numbers aside, "The Loge” and especially "Spring Break” wail on the hard’n’heavy chords with chaotic yet controlled tempo changes. With an unclear reference to either the Muppet bear or the power-metal band, "Fozzy Goes to Africa” takes a lighter touch in expanding its prog dynamics. Their genre nods are most impressive: the 19th century sacred prelude "Abide With Me” (and later "Champs Fanfare”) approaches film soundtrack heaven, specifically Queen’s score for Flash Gordon, while "Insomnia” dips into Vangelis’s back catalogue. "A Forgotten Chapter in the History of Ideas” boasts Pink Floyd-like ambient interludes, while "That Crystal Behind You? (Are You Channeling)” could be a snippet of an unfinished Genesis composition. The soloing in "Earthen Sculptor” and, particularly, "Column of Heads” smack of late-career Rush (the latter adding Metallica-like classical strings), and "Dolores Park” is derived from Islands-era King Crimson. While surrendering their metal heart to develop their prog aesthetic, the Champs have easily submitted their finest record in VI without sacrificing their creative soul. (Drag City)