Otis Barthoulameu, who chooses to be known simply as O., was the renaissance man of the early ’90s San Diego scene. Besides fronting fluf and playing guitar in Olivelawn, the hefty singer/guitarist has been a roadie (for the Muffs), oft-published skateboarding photographer, record producer (for further, among others), van driver, stagehand (Ministry’s Psalm 69 tour), 7-inch single manufacturer (Rocket From the Crypt, Tanner) and a T-shirt hawker at his own shows — all in the name of no-bullshit rawk’n’roll, the music to which he’s zealously dedicated.
Olivelawn’s two albums are, for the most part, forgettable exercises in coming-of-age, post-punk riffage. Lifting MC5, Sabbath, Iggy Pop and even ZZ Top licks (the Texas trio’s “Heard It on the X,” covered on the Jack Endino-produced Sophomore Jinx, is an homage to San Diego’s alternative-radio station 91X), the short-lived band was important mostly for including O. and bassist Jonny Donhowe, who formed two-thirds of the far superior fluf.
Fluf’s strength lies in its to-the-point songwriting, namely O.’s gift for combining ultra-heavy hooks and tender pop strains (“happenin’ melodies with friggin’ raw, heavy guitar,” is how he describes it). And it’s a good thing the songs are so damn catchy, because the sound is often derivative. Mangravy‘s Hüsker Dü-like Soundgarden tribute, “Kim Thayils Paw,” and a version of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” which somehow sounds like a dead-on Social Distortion cover make up in unpretentious fancy what they lack in originality. (On cassette, the album is titled Shooting Putty at the Moon; Wasting Seed is a 10-inch vinyl abridgement of it.)
Home Improvement (issued on vinyl with an extra track as Whitey on the Moon and on cassette as Stocking the Lake With Brown Trout) moves beyond the debut’s limitations with subtlety and nuance. “Sticky Bun” has a hook you could snare a sperm whale with, while “RK Wins,” an odd, spastic Rodney King homage, lightly confronts racism. Recorded live in the studio, the album bulldozes away a clearing while erecting memorable structures. “Mark Andrea,” a shameless Neil Young theft, and “Page 3+1” (which nicks a Pavement beat) are, in context, forgivable sins. “Rooked,” which somehow combines Bob Mould and Jimmy Page, is a more indictable offense.
With the band being courted by major labels, The Classic Years was assembled to round up most of fluf’s indie singles. The big deal never came, but the twelve-song compilation (there’s a bonus track on the vinyl) did. While omitting “Garbage Truck” (fluf’s first released song) and including some previously unissued material, the set does include such must-haves as the roller-coaster “24-7 Years” (dedicated to Kurt Cobain), the high-octane slammer “Skyrocket” and a riotous, if ironically faithful, take on PJ Harvey’s “Sheela-Na-Gig.” The line “gonna wash that man right outta my hair” was never funnier.