❉ Lee Terry relives the heyday of glam metal behemoths Ratt, in this 5 disc box.
The glam metal years, that was a funny old time. While the UK’s rock scene became swelled by legions of the bedenimed headbangers of the NWOBHM, over the pond in California an entirely different metal mutation had taken over. Los Angeles – in particular, the myriad rock clubs of the Sunset Strip – was awash with throngs of hopefuls in full slap, vacuum-packed spandex, glittery scarves and enough hairspray to choke the Western Hemisphere, clutching pointy guitars and battered copies of Desolation Boulevard and the first Van Halen album. Glam metal was wild, hedonistic, party-at-all-costs hard rock, perfectly suited to the newly emerging MTV. Motley Crue were the first out of the gate, but close behind them were Ratt.
Ratt’s roots lay much earlier than that, with the nascent Mickey Ratt first hitting the boards in 1976, with the lineup changing over the years – at one time featuring future Ozzy Osbourne axe-wizard Jake E Lee – until the shortened name and the classic line up of Stephen Pearcy (vocals), Warren DeMartini and Robbin Crosby (guitars), Juan Croucier (bass) and Bobby Blotzer (drums) materialised by ’83. The first release, a six track self titled EP, came out that year on an independent label, spawning a bonafide hit single in You Think You’re Tough and caused enough of a stir that Atlantic Records, colossus of the music business, snapped them up. Which is where this box set comes in.
So, what we have here is a five CD set comprising the albums Ratt released while signed to Atlantic. First up is ’84’s Out Of The Cellar, and seconds into Wanted Man, Ratt’s signature style is clear; slick, mid-pocket, chant-along pop-metal with Pearcy’s libidinous rasp over DeMartini’s squalling VH-esque lead work and Crosby’s chugging rhythms, with backing harmonies layered over the lot. To be brutally honest, Ratt never deviated far from this template, but then sticking to a formula never harmed the Ramones, AC/DC or Motorhead that much.
Three songs in, we come across Ratt’s signature tune and biggest hit, Round And Round. Boasting a hook big enough to land a Megalodon, Round And Round, with its heavily MTV-featured promo video featuring veteran comedian Milton Berle, was just the launch pad Ratt’s career needed. Other highlights here include You’re In Trouble, the guttural lurch of Lack Of Communication, the soaring Back For More and the comparatively quick-tempo’d She Wants Money. There’s also a bonus track here in the form of a single edit of Round And Round that, personally, I can’t distinguish from the album version.
Invasion Of Your Privacy (1985) follows the design laid down by its predecessor and almost matched its performance (both albums peaked at number 7 in the US charts, but while Out Of The Cellar went platinum three times over, Invasion only managed a measly double platinum award). You’re In Love crashes in purposefully with another massive chorus and a beat that hits the spine without ever approaching the brain. Lay It Down, the biggest hit from this album, oozes in on a bump ‘n’ grind riff and a sinuous bass-drum pattern, with some glorious guitar frills.
Elsewhere, Closer To My Heart is Ratt’s first attempt at the dreaded Power Ballad, What You Give Is What You Get struts along convincingly enough but doesn’t really do enough else, and You Should Know By Now ticks all the boxes on the Arena Anthem checklist, right down to the cowbell-led breakdown.
Dancing Undercover (1986) leads off with another excellent hit single, Dance, with the down-and-dirty Slip Of The Lip and the pummelling Body Talk also being well up there with the best material they ever produced, but much of the rest of the album seems to blur together a bit. Dancing Undercover still sold well, but only into single-platinum figures this time.
1988’s Reach For The Sky featured the playful I Want A Woman and the rather surprising Way Cool Jr, an unusually rootsy half-time shuffle of a song, as well as the somewhat cliched ballad I Want To Love You Tonight, the thunderous double-kick barrage of Chain Reaction, and the hard-swinging Bottom Line. The bonus track here, rather than just another single edit, is a tasty acoustic version of Way Cool Jr from their MTV Unplugged session. Reach For The Sky still just managed to hit platinum levels, but its performance was significantly below previous levels and it proved to be the last time they worked with long-time producer Beau Hill, who had recorded all the albums thus far and was seen as the architect of their sound.
By 1990, it was clear that something had to shift. The poppy glam-metal sound that had served them so well over the years had either been co-opted by young upstarts like Poison and superceded by the harder-edged likes of Guns N’ Roses and Faster Pussycat. While the Grunge tsunami that annihilated most of the entrenched glam acts was still some time away, Ratt took a good look at their approach and decided to beef up their act a bit, although it’s debatable whether hit-maker Desmond Child (collaborator with Bon Jovi and Alice Cooper at their most chart-friendly) was the right producer to achieve that. Detonator opens with a wail of feedback, leading into the mean sixteenth-note stomp of Shame Shame Shame, followed by the slow-grinding, gloriously salacious Lovin’ You’s A Dirty Job.
Scratch The Itch kicks along enjoyably, One Step Away and Heads I Win, Tails You Lose both have choruses that match anything they did in the peak years, while Giving Yourself Away is, at last, a genuinely great stab at The Big Ballad. Unfortunately, by this time Ratt were seen as old hat and regardless of the quality of the album – it’s certainly a better collection than Reach For The Sky – the returns were unavoidably diminishing. Three bonus tracks on this disc: two bafflingly pointless and terrible remixes of Lovin’ You’s A Dirty Job and their final single Nobody Rides For Free (a track from the soundtrack to Point Break).
Post-Detonator, things got messy in the Ratt nest. Atlantic issued a greatest hits package called Ratt ‘N’ Roll 1981-1991 and then dropped the band, who went on hiatus. Guitarist Robbin Crosby, after a number of incidents on tour, started treatment for his substance issues (He would be diagnosed HIV+ in 1994, and died in 2002 of a heroin overdose). Drummer Bobby Blotzer started a carpet cleaning business. Stephen Pearcy started a number of other band projects. The classic lineup never played together again as a whole, although various reconvened lineups have played sporadically ever since, inbetween fighting and suing each other over the rights to the name, with two further albums creeping out in 1999 and 2010.
Ultimately, this box set is unlikely to win over Ratt-sceptics or dislikers of the glam-metal genre, and casual fans may prefer to pick up one of the hits compilations, but for completists and old fans who want to pick up the back catalogue again, this is a very good way to do it.
❉ ‘Ratt: The Atlantic Years 1984-1990’ (QHNEBOX132) is out now from HNE Recordings, part of the Cherry Red Group, RRP £21.99. Click here to order from Cherry Red Records.
❉ Lee Terry is a regular We Are Cult contributor and a member of The Kingcrows, Leeds’ scuzziest sleaze-punk-n-roll maniacs.