The Fleshtones have been among America's great unsung heroes of rock & roll since the late 1970s; they've been playing sweaty and inspired shows and making good-to-outstanding records on a regular basis for well over three decades, but outside of a loyal cult of true believers, they've failed to gain the larger following they deserve. Adding to this dilemma has been the state of the Fleshtones' back catalog; their best-known and most widely circulated albums were cut in the early '80s for I.R.S. Records (around the same time that lead singer Peter Zaremba was hosting MTV's "new wave" showcase The Cutting Edge), but their I.R.S. material has been out of print for years, and outside of a rare 1989 compilation, none of those recordings have appeared on CD. The excellent Australian reissue label Raven Records has thankfully given the Fleshtones' I.R.S. catalog a new lease on life with It's Super Rock Time!: The I.R.S. Years 1980-1985, a single-disc compilation that cherry-picks the highlights from the group's tenure with the label. Except for "Chinese Kitchen," all 11 songs from 1982's Roman Gods make the cut, while 1983's Hexbreaker is represented by six of its eleven tunes, two solid tunes from the spotty but spirited 1980 EP Up Front are included, and the disc is rounded out with a rare, single B-side (a rowdy cover of Titus Turner's "All Around the World"), the group's contribution to the Bachelor Party soundtrack ("American Beat ‘84"), and five live tracks from the two versions of Speed Connection. The Fleshtones were one of the first bands of the new wave era to celebrate the virtues of classic garage rock, but they never limited themselves to fuzztones and Farfisas, and there's plenty of classic R&B, a side portion of psychedelia, and even a dash of funk in their formula. The litany of great American bands in "American Beat ‘84" finds room for James Brown, the Modern Lovers, the MC5, Mary Wells, and Lou Costello, along with the Kingsmen and the Wailers, and there's an intelligence and wit in the Fleshtones' originals that puts them several yards ahead of the garage revivalists who would follow in their wake. While the sequence mixes up the material, there's enough stylistic unity to give this album a solid and consistently rollicking feel, and while full reissues of the Fleshtones' I.R.S. catalog would be welcome, this covers the high points remarkably well, and David Laing's liner notes tell the tale of their career in the '80s very well, too. The Fleshtones have always been a band who approach their music with heart, soul, passion, muscle, smarts, and a sense of history and humor, and all these virtues are on display in It's Super Rock Time; considering how many good albums followed this (including several great recent releases for Yep Roc), this is hardly the definitive Fleshtones collection, but this sums up their first five years as recording artists with flying colors, and will satisfy old fans and newcomers alike.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming