Rocket From The Tombs
The first album of new material in nearly 40 years for the Cleveland, Ohio, rock band is known as a major influence on punk and alternative music.
Think about waiting for 37 years. Standing at a bus stop. Sitting by the telephone. Looking out the window. Waiting for the postman. Day after day. Year after year. Thirty-seven years… The legendary Rocket From The Tombs, born in 1974, flamed out in 1975, have finally recorded a studio album, delivering “Barfly,” and closing the circle on an incredible journey. The received wisdom (at least in America) goes that punk rock was invented in New York by the Ramones, who reconfigured Midwestern hard groove rock and 60s garage singles, into a formula that defined punk: short, fast, catchy, and unstoppable. But in some weird parallel universe, punk might have traced its roots to Rocket From The Tombs, a Cleveland band that lasted less than eight months, and never made a studio recording. Three things went wrong for Rocket From The Tombs: a level of drug and alcohol abuse to worry even Keith Richard; a band volatility that rivaled that of The Troggs; and a turnover of drummers that would’ve flummoxed Spinal Tap. One thing went right: in those eight months they wrote songs that would become punk anthems: “Ain’t It Fun,” “Sonic Reducer,” “Final Solution,” “So Cold,” “What Love Is,” “30 Seconds Over Tokyo,” “Amphetamine.” And they played them like there was no tomorrow. There *was* no tomorrow. They’d used up tomorrow. The band blew apart in July 1975, after an apocalyptic soundcheck that scared the bejeebers out of headliners Television. One faction went on to create the avant-garage rock group Pere Ubu, the other, punk stalwarts The Dead Boys. That might have been the end of the Rocket story, except that over the next 25 years, a frantic international trading of bootlegs bestowed on the band a legendary status. An album of live and rehearsal tapes, “The Day The Earth Met The Rocket From The Tombs” (2002), led to a nervous reunion in 2003. The core of the band – David Thomas, Cheetah Chrome and Craig Bell – remained from the old days. They were joined by Television’s Richard Lloyd, who replaced Peter Laughner (died 1977). Pere Ubu’s drummer Steve Mehlman was drafted. The fire still burned. For good and bad. Two tours produced extreme, brutal concerts, but also plenty of late night dust-ups in the parking lots of cheap roadside motels. “We got that bad attitude thing in our blood,” singer David Thomas said. “Can’t shake it. But at least we’re not young, loud and snotty anymore. We’ve moved on. Now we’re *old*, loud and snotty.” Taking that attitude in to the studio produced “Barfly,” an unreconstructed, unapologetic, re-affirmation of the power and glory of guitar rock: guitar solos traded between two masters of the craft, an inventive rhythm section devoted to Midwestern groove mania, and a singer who learned all there is to learn from channeling Rob Tyner and Don Van Vliet. “I will amblify you,” Thomas growls in the middle of the album’s fierce opening track “I Sell Soul.” And whatever that might mean… he means it. The bitter irony of “Romeo & Juliet,” the Cleveland / Detroit nexus of “Sister Love Train” / “Love Train Express,” the manic-obsessive drive of “Maelstrom,” the Robert Calvert sci fi dystopian romance of “Butcherhouse 4,” and the Bukowski grunge of “Pretty,” reflect the 70s revisionism that is at the heart of the album’s production. Delivering a sound that’s not dated, or restricted to any passing fad or marketing infatuation, these men are ugly, old, and have not mellowed in any conceivable way. They’ve devoted their lives to raging against the boundaries, and they have been willing to pay the price. “Barfly” dismisses the last 37 years as a waste of time. Cuts it away without a second thought. That, in itself, makes it worth the wait.