My favourite band of the original Sub Pop grunge explosion did not even come from Seattle. They came from Denver. And they really weren’t grunge either. The Fluid were for all intents and purposes, a garage punk band but they were really ahead of their time. When Punch N’ Judy came out in 1986, I think the term “garage” was really used for neo-60′s bands like The Chesterfield Kings. Punk was kind of a dirty word at this time. And punk is what the Fluid were all about. Pure unadulterated Punk Rock-n-Roll. The most obvious influence being Kill City era Iggy Pop. Just look at the cover of Freak Magnet. Whaddya think these dudes were going for?
Any music fan with some years behind them knows that there are bands that take you to a certain time and place every time you hear them. Some bands are so closely tied with a certain moment in your life that you cannot ever listen to them without the baggage (good or bad) of the past again. You revisit them years later and you are amazed at how quickly the sounds can transport you. When I hear The Fluid, I am instantly delivered back to 1989. I’m living in a shit-hole in Tulsa, smoking pot all the time. I’m eating a steady diet of Ramen Noodles and the smell of cat piss and incense fill the air. My favourite music is The God Bullies, Nirvana, Helios Creed, The Melvins, The U-Men and The Fluid.
I am stricken today at how totally “on the nod” a lot of this music sounds. Singer John Robinson was not much of a screamer. He liked to mumble his lyrics as if it was taking all he had just to stand upright and deliver them. Freak Magnet was one of my favourite late night, cigarette albums back in 1989. The music is just so debauched and detached sounding. My favourite album by The Fluid however, is their first Sub Pop release Roadmouth which I bought back in 1989 on tye dye vinyl cuz I’m a pretentious asshole. The Jack Endino production really brings out the band. Even John belts out a few on this one. The band itself, who were made up of ex-Denver scenesters including former members of the proto-grunge outfit The Frantix, really lay it on thick. It and the follow-up EP, Glue, really had “it” whatever “it” was. One more album, Purple Metal Flake Music was released a few years later but by then the moment had passed. It’s a good album but y’know how zeitgeists are.
Punch N Judy (RayOn Records) 1986. This is the first album by The Fluid. I didn’t actually get to hear it until a few years ago because back in the day it was ridiculously rare. It was on my want list back then even though the general vibe was that they hadn’t yet found their sound. I dunno. I think they sound pretty kick-ass on this release. And the production is really punchy for a local Denver release. I think this thing is still pretty hard to find or has it been re-ished?
Clear Black Paper (Glitterhouse) 1988. This is generally where Fluid historians (all three of us) see the start of something. Clear Black Paper was released I believe, solely in Germany on Glitterhouse Records who at the time were sorta like a German co-conspirator with Sub Pop. It’s a good album but I actually prefer Punch n’ Judy. I think it’s a bit too sludgy and nondescript. The best songs on it ended up on Freak Magnet anyway.
Freak Magnet (Glitterhouse) 1988. Freak Magnet was another release on Glitterhouse. It compiled the best tracks on both previous albums and is a damn good listen. This is definitely the Fluid at their most druggy and slinky sounding. Check for instance, the song Don’t Wanna Play. John barely mumbles the lyrics, the drumming is pretty monolithic, and the twin guitars just reverberate through the track. Rated best album to get your cat stoned to in 1989 by none other than Joe Stumble hisself. Nahh…I wouldn’t really do that. Or would I?
Roadmouth (Sub Pop) 1989. Roadmouth is THE album to get by the Fluid. Like I mention above, the Jack Endino production really brings out the band. Even John belts out a few on this one. The songs are the best ones they have written. They are more structured and interesting. The lyrics more thought out. The whole thing feels fully formed as if the band had put down the collective hash pipe and decided to focus on recording an album. Sub Pop would go on to release this with the follow-up EP Glue on CD and it would definitely have been one of the top releases in the Sub Pop library for me had I not already bought the albums on vinyl.
Glue (Sub Pop) 1990. Glue continues the tempo set by Roadmouth. Another Endino production job. Great songs. Super punchy. Listen to Black Glove and compare it to Static Cling. They are very similar songs. Still there is so much more to Black Glove. I honestly think the Fluid were influenced by the Sub Pop grunge moment as much as they influenced it. They just sound super-inspired on these releases. Like they were a band with something to fucking prove.
Purple Metal Flake Music (Hollywood Records) 1992. A few years later and the musical landscape was so different. I had moved on. Sub Pop was already past its prime. It’s sad really. The Fluid make one final bid for the big-time on Hollywood Records before fading into obscurity. Personally, I never really got into this album much. I never liked the production and I think John Robinson’s vocals sound different than on other releases. Kind of a sad end to a great band. Not so much because of the music which is good but because they just sort of died with a whimper. The fact that bands like Collective Soul would go on to make lots of filthy lucre a few years later by bastardizing a lot of this sound would probably have turned me into a complete misanthrope had I been in The Fluid.
And that was the end. Here I am 25 years later at a show in Denver and folks ask me what my favourite band from Denver is. Without hesitation I reply “The Fluid” and nobody knows who I’m talking about. Even Frankie. And Frankie knows everything. I’m sad. How can a band as great as The Fluid be forgotten? Or were they? They recently reunited to play a couple of cool shows in Denver as well as the Sub Pop 25th Anniversary Festival. The reviews are good. Fuck. 25 years. Now I hear they are playing in Hoboken on the 16th of January? The week I am up in New York? How fucking cool is that?