Barfly – Rocket From The Tombs

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Rocket From The Tombs began life in 1974 and ended it in 1975. These Ohio-based aliens (mysteriously) became underground legends and they are the quintessential “more talked about than heard” band. That is primarily due to the fact that the two splitting factions went on to form Pere Ubu, led by singer Dave Thomas, and the Dead Boys, led by guitarist Cheetah Chrome. How’s that for capturing lightning in a bottle twice?

In the short time they were together RFTT wrote a platter full of songs that resonated in a universal way and became punk/rock staples. Songs like “Ain’t It Fun” and “Sonic Reducer,” immediately recognizable by title, have an unsettling quality that still holds up, and still makes fifteen year old alternative music geeks shit themselves a little when they first hear them. Just the various cover versions of the songs they wrote speak to the universality of what they were able to squeeze out despite the ridiculous band-drama they lived with.
Television’s Richard Lloyd is now playing guitar, replacing Peter Laughner who died in ’77. It’s taken 37 years to get this out of their systems, but here it is: a studio album! If you’re hoping for a record by a band that will change the music world once again, it won’t be this one. Keep looking. If you’re hoping for a moderately entertaining specimen that might have you saying, “they could have squeezed something more out of this song,” then this is your baby. “Sell Soul” cranks things up with a big hook, and Dave Thomas lets out his phlegm-ball-in-the-throat vocals, which became his trademark in Pere Ubu. The guitars are not earth- shattering, but they replicate the revisionist garage-isms of some good 90s bands. It’s an up and down affair, “Birthday” loses its way early, “Sister Love Train” sounds sort of like The Cult, with Thomas offering more conventional vocals, and “Love Train Express” could be the Fabulous Thunderbirds, but “Maelstrom” is pretty damn groovy. In the end, Thomas always reverts back to the phlegm ball that has made him (in)famous, and that’s usually the final impression they leave you with. It turns out that there is just a patch of wild blossoms in this garden of dandelions, but dandelions have their place too.