The Fugs began their career as a gaggle of post-beat era bohemians whose talents were as poets and activists first, musicians second, but after recording a handful of unexpectedly successful albums for Folkways and ESP, the group found themselves signed to Reprise Records, and had to face the prospect of becoming a genuine, professional rock & roll band. Tenderness Junction was the Fugs' first album for Reprise, and also unveiled a new lineup, with founders Ed Sanders, Tuli Kupferberg, and Ken Weaver joined by three capable young rock & rollers, guitarist Danny Kortchmar (aka Danny Kooch), bassist Charles Larkey, and multi-instrumentalist Ken Pine. While the early Fugs albums often made a virtue of the limited abilities of the musicians on hand, Tenderness Junction proved they could add a bit of polish and firm up their sound without losing touch with what made them memorable; the music is strong and expressive without being unnecessarily flashy, and Sanders clearly enjoyed having more reliable accompanists for his pastiches on various musical conventions, such as blues ("Knock Knock"), doo wop ("Wet Dream"), country ("War Song"), and traditional English folk ("Fingers of the Sun"). The Fugs also made the most of Reprise's pledge not to censor the group's material by including a recording of their appearance at an anti-war event in Washington D.C., in which they conducted an exorcism of the Pentagon in the midst of a "Grope for Peace." Tenderness Junction puts greater focus on the extended poetics of "The Garden Is Open" and the five-part "Aphrodite Mass" over short, funny songs like "Slum Goddess," "CIA Man," or "I Couldn't Get High," presumably because they could, and they had collaborators with the chops to make them work musically, but this also makes this album less immediately engaging than the Fugs' earlier works. Still, it's musically ambitious while still allowing Sanders, Kupferberg, and Weaver to sound like themselves, and it's the rare album where chaos and discipline both get their moment in the spotlight and bring out the best in one another.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming