It's tempting to speculate if Frank Sinatra would have formed Reprise Records in 1960 if he knew that the label would be sponsoring gleefully foul-mouthed and drug-addled rabble like the Fugs by the end of the decade, but in 1967, America's first great underground rock band found themselves signed to a bona fide major label, and this CD features the group's first two albums for Reprise, 1967's Tenderness Junction and 1968's It Crawled into My Hand, Honest. Tenderness Junction was the Fugs' first album with a new lineup that found Ed Sanders, Tuli Kupferberg, and Ken Weaver joined by a fresh trio of backing musicians, guitarist Danny Kortchmar (here billed as Danny Kooch), bassist Charles Larkey, and multi-instrumentalist Ken Pine. While the album was musically more ambitious than anything the Fugs had attempted in the past, the new guys were clearly determined not to let their chops get in the way of the vocalists' purposefully ragged approach, and the album sounds at once rich and spare, well-crafted yet casual. It was on It Crawled into My Hand, Honest that the Fugs truly dove head-first into pop record making; Sanders produced with Alderson, and the album is awash with horns, strings, massed vocal choruses, and polished arrangements that sometimes make the Fugs sound as if they wandered into someone else's recording session by mistake. But as grand as It Crawled into My Hand, Honest appears on the surface, the album has a sense of mischief that marks it as the work of the Fugs, especially when Sanders gets in touch with his inner hillbilly on "Ramses II Is Dead, My Love" and "Johnny Pissoff Meets the Red Angel," and the barrage of short tracks on side two gives them the chance to engage in some truly inspired silliness, while the wobble of the Fugs' massed vocals compensates nicely for the moments when the arrangements seem a bit too pristine. The Fugs' Reprise recordings were collected on the limited-edition box set Electromagnetic Steamboat, but this disc marks the first time Tenderness Junction and It Crawled into My Hand, Honest have been available on CD in brick-and-mortar stores; hopefully, Floating World will soon do the same for the group's other two Reprise efforts, the studio set The Belle of Avenue A and the live album Golden Filth.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming
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