The Atlantic Years 1984-1990

REVIEW: Ratt – Detonator (Part Five of The Atlantic Years series)

Part Five of Five

RATT – Detonator (Originally 1990, 2020 reissue — The Atlantic Years 1984-1990 box set)

Hit the emergency breaks!  If Ratt were spinning their tires commercially, then Atlantic sought to change course.  Producer Beau Hill was given the deep six, and new stewardship was sought.  Desmond Child was one of the most successful writers of the 80s, and so Child was hired to co-wrote every song on Detonator.  From his stable of talent came co-producer Sir Arthur Payson.  Even Jon Bon Jovi showed up for a backing vocal.  (Returning the favour, Ratt’s Robbin Crosby played on Jon’s own Blaze of Glory.)

Needless to say, the fifth and final Ratt album on Atlantic was a change in direction.  The album split fans, with some balking at the new commercial sound of the band.  Others appreciated the slicker, tighter songwriting.

Opener “Shame Shame Shame” (and its “Intro to Shame”) is a gleaming example of the new collaboration, bearing sweet fruit.  The bite of the old rodent remains, and the song is trimmed of any fat the old Ratt was carrying around.  Warren’s guitar tone is buttery beauty.  While DeMartini shines, Robbin Crosby was noticeably less involved with this album.  He was suffering from addiction and only has two credits on Detonator.  He had six on Reach for the Sky.

“Lovin’ You’s A Dirty Job” was the lead single, and indicates even the squeaky clean Desmond Child couldn’t scrub Ratt free of sleaze.  He helped make them more effective at it, and the result is a song reminiscent of “Lay It Down”, but without the menace.  The next track “Scratch That Itch” has a hint of the heavy Ratt from Dancing Undercover.  The guitar smokes even if the melody does not.  But then, “One Step Away” is virtually all melody!  It is nothing like the Ratt N’ Roll of the past, but is an undeniably catchy summer rock tune.  It sounds more like a Poison single, but with more bite.  It could even be the album highlight.

The album has some surprisingly tough deep cuts.  “Hard Time” is simple and effective.  Pearcy shows his fangs and Desmond keeps it melodic.  “Heads I Win, Tails You Lose” is…less effective.  You can definitely hear Jon on it, and at least Warren’s lead guitar tone is brilliant.  Otherwise it is filler.  “All Or Nothing” and “Can’t Wait On Love” are the two Robbin co-writes.  These are some of the most Ratt-like tracks.  Quite a lot stronger than the usual Ratt album cuts.

“Givin’ Yourself Away” is quite un-Ratt.  This is not a band known for their ballads.  Pearcy isn’t that kind of singer.  “Givin’ Yourself Away” only works in its context:  a song written for radio in the last dying days of the hard rock era, right down to the contrived key change at the end.  It is thick with backing keyboards.  Diane Warren and Desmond Child co-wrote it with Pearcy, so you can use your imagination.  The people it was written for (Bon Jovi fans) will love it.

Closer “Top Secret” is closest in sound to old-school Ratt.  It could have been on Out of the Cellar for the vibe it exudes.

This CD, more than the others in the series, is packed with bonus tracks.  Two tepid remixes of “Lovin’ You’s A Dirty Job” are here for the collector.  But what some people forget is that before they split, Ratt released one more amazing tune:  “Nobody Rides For Free”.  This stripped-back gem was from the Point Break soundtrack in 1991 — the opening track on it, in fact.  It was the first music video to feature Ratt as a four-piece without Robbin Crosby.  Yet it remains a tough, mean Ratt track with great lyrics and chorus.  Maybe better than anything on Detonator itself.

Detonator, like most Ratt albums, is a bumpy ride.  This time the valleys are deeper, but there is also less pure filler.  The result is a Ratt album that is a more consistently entertaining listen.  The slicker production isn’t an impediment to enjoyment.  But it didn’t save Ratt’s fortunes.  Crosby was out, and the band was put on ice shortly after.  But like most rodents, Ratt was hard to get rid of!

3.5/5 stars

The Atlantic Years 1984-1990:

REVIEW: Ratt – Reach for the Sky (Part Four of The Atlantic Years series)

Part Four of Five

RATT – Reach for the Sky (Originally 1988, 2020 reissue — The Atlantic Years 1984-1990 box set)

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.

3.5/5 stars

 

The Atlantic Years 1984-1990:

REVIEW: Ratt – Dancing Undercover (Part Three of The Atlantic Years series)

Part Three of Five

RATT – Dancing Undercover (Originally 1986, 2020 reissue — The Atlantic Years 1984-1990 box set)

Ratt’s fortunes continued to fall on their third album Dancing Undercover.  Their debut went triple platinum and the second album went double.  You didnt need an expert prognosticator to predict that the third album would go platinum and no further.  Which is still very respectable, but the trend was not good.

Opening single “Dance” was solid, with a poppy melody and stuttery 80s guitar lick.  Sleazy pop, rodent style.  A stock Ratt prowler comes second, called “One Good Lover”.  It packs punch, wicked guitars, and a few decent hooks.  Without missing a beat, they accelerate into “Drive Me Crazy” which has a speedy Hollywood-built engine.  Drummer Bobby Blotzer impresses with the machine gun fills.  Unsurprisingly, the drummer has a writing credit on it.  Decent tune, with a clunky arrangement.

The band slides into “Slip of the Lip”, which made for a pretty cool live-style video.  It is a clear album highlight, and most successfully nails the sleaze rock vibe that Ratt peddle in.    They end the first side on the incendiary “Body Talk”; straight-up Ratt thrash.  Probably the heaviest Ratt track ever, even “Body Talk” made for a wicked video.  It was hard to picture Ratt pushing it this fast and hard, but they did, and successfully so.

“Looking For Love” had to be a sleaze rocker. The second side doesn’t open on a great song, but it certainly is a Ratt song.  You couldn’t mistake it for any of their peers.  It does boast a pretty good chorus, even if the rest of the song doesn’t quite nail it.  On the other hand, “7th Avenue” has a menacing vibe and not much else.  “It Doesn’t Matter” has some life.  Unfortunately the second side just doesn’t have enough bite, nor enough good songs.  “Take a Chance” borrows a few chords from “Slip of the Lip” but isn’t nearly as good.  At least the closer “Enough is Enough” has a nice clean guitar part for variety’s sake, but side two is virtually without hooks.

This edition comes with a single edit of “Dance” as the bonus track, which at least allows the album to end on a good song, albeit a repeated one.

2.75/5 stars

The Atlantic Years 1984-1990:

 

 

REVIEW: Ratt – Invasion of Your Privacy (Part Two of The Atlantic Years series)

Part Two of Five

RATT – Invasion of Your Privacy (Originally 1985, 2020 reissue — The Atlantic Years 1984-1990 box set)

Going triple platinum on their debut album, Ratt had a lot of expectations going into a followup.  They resumed working with producer Beau Hill and didn’t change up much in their formula.  The result was a double platinum second record, another sales success.  But what about the tunes?

Lead track “You’re In Love” was chosen as a speedy, sleek, metallic and melodic single.  A step up in songwriting, “You’re In Love” packs power and horny Stephen Pearcy passion.  Wicked solo by Warren DeMartini.  The simple riff/melody combo was all the rodents needed to score a hit and a career highlight.  As an album opener, it revs the engine but it is also the fastest track you’ll get on Invasion of Your Privacy.

A tasty heavy riff opens up “Never Use Love”, a nice chugging album track.  Nothing here in terms of a memorable chorus, so strictly album filler.  Not road tape worthy without a decent chorus.  Great Robbin Crosby solo though.  Fortunately the slick first single, “Lay It Down” comes in for the save.  Take “You’re In Love” and slow it down to a sexy locked groove, and you get “Lay It Down”.  Pearcy was not one for subtlety.  “I know you really want to lay it down,” he beckons, and no points for guessing what “it” is.

Track four, “Give It All”, is a decent album cut, with the hooks and chugging Ratt N’ Roll style riffs that people expected.  A track with single potential, had they released another.  Another pretty good album track, “Closer To My Heart”, slows it down but not quite into ballad territory.  More like a slow dirge to close side one.

The second side opens on “Between the Eyes”, a disjointed tune that needs some tightening up.  Some cool hooks but nothing to tie them together into a song.  “What You Give Is What You Get” boasts a cool, tough little chorus and some quality guitar.  Great tune other than a misfitting pre-chorus.  It has a dark, foreboding vibe that Ratt rarely nail this well.   “Got Me on the Line” is a pretty solid deep cut, typical uptempo Ratt N’ Roll.  The solo in particular smokes.  “You Should Know by Now” is a bit clunky, but you can hear what they were going for.  They were trying for a big pop rock chorus, but they welded it to the wrong song.

Closing on “Dangerous But Worth the Risk”, the album comes to a strong ending.  It chugs along with that Ratt N’ Roll groove that embodies the sound of Motley Crue assimilating all of Hollywood California in a single night.  Though Ratt’s sound is not something as unique as they used to sell it as, it does have a niche.  It rarely squirms out of that niche.  Invasion of Your Privacy does not stray far from the debut, and doesn’t add any new wrinkles.  It’s the next batch of songs and all but equal in strength to the first batch.

Each CD in this box set comes with bonus material from singles, and this time it’s a single edit for “What You Give Is What You Get”.  The guitar solo is sadly trimmed by 20 seconds for the radio, but no problem hearing this cool song twice.

3.5/5 stars

 

RE-REVIEW: Ratt – Out of the Cellar (Part One of The Atlantic Years series)

Part One of Five

RATT – Out of the Cellar (Originally 1984, 2020 reissue — The Atlantic Years 1984-1990 box set)

Ratt’s first full-length Out of the Cellar was a multiplatinum smash.  The band didn’t come out of nowhere, with a successful EP already under their fur.  Though an undeniable commercial success, was Out of the Cellar that great?  Let’s listen with fresh ears to the recent reissue in The Atlantic Years 1984-1990 box set, and see if we can hear with objectivity what those rodents were up to.

The disorienting sound of backwards drums heralds in opener “Wanted Man”, an inventive way to make their introduction.  These Ratts were cowboys, although they wore too much makeup for the ranch.  A simple, slow, chomping riff is menacing enough while Stephen Pearcy growls though.  The capable harmonies of the band and especially Juan Crocier help nail the melodies that Pearcy alone can’t.  A great track worthy of a multiplatinum album.

“You’re In Trouble” is…less worthy.  Clunky bass, chaotic guitars.  But “Round and Round”?  Still as great as ever.  As regal as these rodents are ever likely to sound.  A keen sense of melody, rhythm and vibe mixed together with a sweaty Stephen Pearcy.  Brilliant solo work from Warren DeMartini, and perfectly layered harmonies under the production of Beau Hill.

A nice choppy guitar bodes well on “In Your Direction”, a slinky number that serves Stephen’s style well.  Square, head-bangin’ rhythm from Bobby “Da Blotz” Blotzer.  Decent song, but with only one trick.  “She Wants Money” is more fun, a fast upbeat blast on a familiar theme.  Robbin “King” Crosby on lead guitar here.

The second side opens “Lack of Communication”, a biting track just missing one key ingredient:  a decent chorus.  The saw-like riff smokes, the verses are great, but it never resolves into a definitive hook.

“Back For More” is a little disjointed but salvages it with a killer chorus.  Screamin’ Pearcy and the rodent choir give it the final polish.  Brilliant solo work here by Warren.  Then, one of the best non-singles “The Morning After” will leave you drenched.  It has a bit of a Quiet Riot vibe (Carlos Cavazo ended up in Ratt much later).  “I’m Insane” is mindless fun; just bad boy rock with the popular “I’m crazy” theme that their pal Ozzy was milking for millions.  Finally the album closes on “Scene of the Crime” which has a neat guitar hook that unfortunately is all but unrelated to the rest of the song.  Some cool melodies with the patented Ratt harmonies here.

The box set comes with minor bonus tracks on each disc.  This one has a single edit (3:46) of “Round and Round”.  No problem hearing “Round and Round” twice, but missing most of the solo?  Ugh.  Really bad edit.

Good start to the Ratt The Atlantic Years 1984-1990 box set, and better than memory served.  Rest in peace to Tawny Kitaen: the cover model on this album, the first EP, and the box set itself.

3.5/5 stars