Review Summary: Speedo and Co. delve into the Rocket vaults for some more lost classics...Rocket from the Crypt
should have been HUGE. Often described as one of the best live bands of all time, their unhinged rock racket and punk agression pre-empted the garage-rock explosion of the early 2000s by nearly a decade, their inclusion of a horn section was an original and brilliant twist on the genre, and they were performing in matching uniforms way before The Hives
, The Locust
and their ilk. Rocket were also one of those bands who played the major label game with style and panache, without sacrificing their independent spirit. When they signed to Interscope in 1993, they managed to work several interesting clauses into their contract: firstly, the heavily sought-after "complete artistic control" clause; secondly, the condition that Speedo's side-project Drive Like Jehu
be signed to the label as well; thirdly, and most remarkably, a clause which allowed the band to self-release as much material as they liked, either by themselves, or through small independent labels they had a hand in. Immediately taking advantage such a coup, they didn't finish recording their first album for Interscope (the critically acclaimed "Scream, Dracula, Scream!"
) until late 1995, instead releasing several 7" singles, "The State of Art Is On Fire"
EP and the "Hot Charity"
album in the interim.
This double reissue, courtesy of mainman Speedo's Swami Records imprint, takes the latter well out-of-print and completely self-released album, and pairs it with the similarly rare "Cut Carefully & Play Loud"
EP, a vinyl release from 1999 which featured the last recorded appearance of powerhouse drummer Atom Willard among the Rocket ranks.
Listening to the first nine tracks which make up the "Hot Charity"
album, it's hard to fathom why the band didn't release it with Interscope's major-label backing, as it's an album of such brilliance, both in songwriting and recording quality, that it could have easily become a huge hit with the right promotional push. Musically it expands on the raw garage-punk sound of "The State of Art..."
which was their first recording with a full horn section (trumpet player JC2000 having joined sax player Apollo 9 prior to the recording), by utilising more refined guitar work, fuller use of the horn section and, as the Chinese takeaway menu-styled artwork would hint at, they've added a subtle oriental influence to the proceedings.
This oriental sound permeates the entire album, giving it a subtle X-factor which separates it in style from the rest of Rocket's discography. Foot-stomping instrumental opener "Pushed"
sees guitarists Speedo and N.D. playing melodies reminiscent of those you might hear in the mood-music at a Chinese restaurant, garnished with some tasty horn flourishes, and served on a bed of deep-fried and unrelenting rhythms courtesy of Atom, and bassist Petey X. This oriental theme, while subtly present in most of the instrumentation of the album, is revisited heavily in the lead guitar parts of the handclap-heavy mid-tempo rocker that is "My Arrow's Aim,"
and again in the frantic "Shucks"
with its oriental piano and varied use of wooden percussion.
Having said all that, I don't want to give the impression that "Hot Charity"
is a martial-arts film soundtrack, as the signature foot-stomping rock'n'roll sound that later brought the band huge success is here in spades too. And unlike the majority of rock bands with horn sections (let's face it, we're talking mainly about ska bands here...), Rocket avoid fast parpy sections of sax and trumpet blasts or solos, instead using the horns to accentuate the guitar and vocal melodies, and add a sort of menacing crescendo effect to various parts. "Guilt Free"
and "Lorna Doom"
are melodic little numbers, which stand as two of the band's catchiest offerings to date, reminiscent of the poppy sound they'd later explore on the "RFTC"
album, and "Cloud Over Branson"
is host to a foot-tapping rhythm, and an infectious exchange between Speedo's lead vocals and the backing gang vocals from the rest of the boys. Special mention should go to "Feathered Friends"
for mixing things up even more with its low tempo, spooky chord changes in the verses, and epic chorus featuring the whole band harmonising their vocals to create a sort of gospel-choir effect.
To be completely honest, its almost impossible to pick favourites from "Hot Charity"
as it stands as a glowing example of the straight-up rock, varied songwriting, and successful experimentation that have always made Rocket such an interesting proposition. So why haven't I given this disc a 5/5 you ask? Its overall quality dips slightly during the final five tracks, which comprise the "Cut Carefully & Play Loud"
This EP was recorded amidst a period of turmoil for the band. They'd been dropped from their record label, and friction between band members had slowed their legendary work ethic to the point that practices were becoming more scarce, and drummer Atom Willard was on the brink of leaving the band. The five songs fall in the middle ground between the poppy and melodic sound displayed on "RFTC"
and the rawer sound that the band would go on to perfect two years later on their "Group Sounds"
release, but lack some of the cohesive and catchy songwriting of both. Having said that, all five tracks, particularly "Blood Robots," "Hot Wired,"
and the storming keyboard-bolstered closer "Who Let the Snakes In??"
are far from bad, they just lack some of the energy we've come to expect from Rocket from the Crypt, and pale in comparison to the "Hot Charity"
Overall, this disc is definitely a worthwhile proposition, and a good place to start for those who aren't too familiar with Rocket. Its also nice to see that they aren't one of those bands who like to keep their best material permanently hidden on limited releases, and with this double reissue, they've unearthed a nice little collection of solid gold stormers that might otherwise have gone sadly unnoticed.
Hot Charity ---> 5/5
CC & PL ----> 3.5/5
OVERALL ---> 4.5/5