Part Four of Five
One might suspect that Ratt’s decline in sales (peeling off approximately 1,000,000 buyers every album), they decided to change things up a bit. The first three Ratt platters were very much in the same mould. Little variation, just repeating that “Ratt N’ Rott” formula. Initially they ditched producer Beau Hill to work with Mike Stone, but the record label wasn’t happy and brought Hill back to finish.
Indeed, the opener “City to City” does sound like a new rodent. You can’t mistake them for anyone else once Pearcy starts yowling, but the slick song is fresher. Chugging away in a mid-tempo style, it’s a bangin’ start. But it’s the second track (and second single) that really kicks. “I Want a Woman” retained the sleaze but contained more focus on melody with an arena-sized chorus.
The third track, and first single, was the controversial “Way Cool Jr.”. Ratt with horns; oh my! It was the biggest leap for the rodents and it did give them a minor charting hit. Dipping into the blues, and eschewing the heavy histrionics. Letting the groove of the song work, and not overpowering it. Truth is Ratt should have tried stretching out a long time before.
Now that the big tracks are out of the way, how does the rest of the album hold up? Not too badly. Old-style Ratt returns on “Don’t Bite the Hand”, but at least with more melody than Dancing Undercover offered. They go ballady on “I Want to Love You Tonight”, kind of a new thing for Ratt, and one they’d explore again in the near future. That’s side one.
A heavy shuffle called “Chain Reaction” kicks off the second side, a welcome return to velocity. They return to the mid-tempo zone on “No Surprise”, which sounds like something Gene Simmons might have written for an 80s Kiss album. Good song, adequate hooks. “Bottom Line” is in a similar ball park. If it sounds like Ratt had help writing these songs, it might be because Beau Hill has a credit on most of them. He only had one on Dancing Undercover. That could be why this album has so much more melody and attention to songwriting. The hit-ready “What’s It Gonna Be” is a prime example, almost sounding like Van Hagar. A little too hard-edged for OU812, but perfect for a Ratt. A foreshadowing of the kind of songs they would write for their fifth album.
The album closes on a hard rocker that Hill didn’t co-write called “What I’m After”. A decent closer that doesn’t quite gel fully, but close enough for rock n’ roll. Or Ratt N’ Roll.
Of all the discs in The Atlantic Years box set, Reach for the Sky has one of the best bonus tracks. It’s an acoustic version of “Way Cool Jr.” from MTV Unplugged which chronologically happened in 1990 with Michael Schenker on guitar, filling in for Robbin Crosby who was in rehab. The unforgiving unplugged format can separate the men from the boys, and Ratt make the grade. Pearcy proves he can do that Ratt voice without layers of overdubs and effects. Meanwhile, Bobby Blotzer plays some interesting non-drum percussion parts. With Schenker on board, the mid-song acoustic segment really smokes. Ratt could have had a whole new side to their career, had they pursued this swampy acoustic direction with Michael instead of breaking up.
But that is still in Ratt’s future; there is one more album to go on this series. Reach For the Sky sustained Ratt’s sales. There was no decline this time and they sold a million. That still wasn’t good enough. Phone calls were made and Desmond Child, Dianne Warren, Sir Arthur Payson, and one Jon Bon Jovi were about to enter the picture.
Whether Reach sold enough copies or not is irrelevant to the quality of the music, which polished the sound up to a necessary level after the disappointing Dancing Undercover. It was a step towards the commercial, but they couldn’t do two tuneless albums in a row and survive.
The Atlantic Years 1984-1990: