- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2004

Rocket From the Tombs

Rocket Redux

Smog Veil Records

Richard Lloyd likes to offer a helping hand. The ex-frontman of the New York ur-punks group Television, Mr. Lloyd and his choppy lead guitar put a satisfyingly gritty spin on middle-of-the-road songwriter Matthew Sweet’s best albums.

Now he has taken on a tougher but more commendable job: resurrecting Rocket From the Tombs, one of the meteoric legends of Cleveland’s mid-‘70s punk underground.

A quick primer on the genealogy of the album: It’s new, in the sense that it was recorded in a studio last year in sessions produced and engineered by Mr. Lloyd. (Every one of its songs was released on 2002’s “The Day the Earth Met the Rocket From the Tombs,” which was actually the band’s first real album.)

Confused?

Suffice it to say that in RFTT’s case,”underground,” that vaunted term of snobby approbation, for once is completely warranted.

The band never recorded anything beyond live rehearsals and rough demos, and, in less than a year, splintered into bands such as Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys. One of its songwriters, Peter Laughner, died in 1977.

“The Day the Earth …” was a long-overdue official collection of the extant material. “Redux” boils “Day” to 12 cuts, all rerecorded by singer David Thomas, guitarist Cheetah Chrome, bassist Craig Bell and drummer Steve Mehlman. Mr. Lloyd plays guitar in Mr. Laughner’s absence.

So, what’s been wrought? “Redux” homes in on the spirit of ‘75 and all its lo-fi, discordant trashiness and lifestyle decadence. If there’s something more to be said for Cleveland’s punk scene, it’s that, perversely, it was more musically catholic than New York’s.

RFTT drew most obviously from the early proto-punk of the Stooges but also from Southern rock sources and the classic British rock that the anti-idealists of the Sex Pistols and the Clash said they were consigning to the remainder bins.

The Thomas-Laughner chugger “What Love Is” is a glorious rip-off of Led Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown,” and the die-young anthem “Ain’t It Fun” is as good as anything from early Lynyrd Skynyrd.

It would be funny if, as in co-composer Mr. Laughner’s case, it didn’t prove so prophetic.

“I don’t need a cure, I need a final solution,” Mr. Thomas chants in his sub-Bon Scott, nonthreatening growl on “Final Solution,” striving for the ignorant conviction of a 25-year-old.

It’s this faux-youthful vibe that makes “Redux” seem contrived, an exhibit in Madame Tussaud’s Museum of Punk. Really, what’s being accomplished here? Isn’t this project — essentially, a self-tribute album — a tad tasteless?

Mr. Laughner’s ballad “Amphetamine” is the most affecting of the bunch. It has a pulse that doesn’t depend so heavily on atmospheric reproduction, unlike the self-destructive “Never Gonna Kill Myself Again” and the labored metal of “So Cold” and “Muckraker.”

Some tombs are best left unvisited.

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