Armed with the swagger of Motley Crue, the crunch of mid 70s Sweet and a bunch of great choruses, Ratt briefly became massive stars in the US during the mid 80s. With a couple of videos gaining heavy rotation on MTV and a best selling debut album, they were among the melodic metal/glam scene’s most successful acts.
None of that applies in the UK, even though Ratt got of lots of positive press from the rock magazines. With MTV Europe barely off the ground, they were without an outlet for their videos and a rock-averse radio system meant the singles got no real airplay. As a result, Ratt were unknowns outside of the keener rock fans’ community; the closest they came to a hit was having their second album scrape the top fifty of the album chart in 1985. It’s hardly a surprise that, for UK record buyers, most of their albums have spent most of their life in an out of print limbo. For those British fans, most Ratt discs – save for 1990’s ‘Detonator’ – were procured on vinyl, as cheap imports from cut-out bins.
‘The Atlantic Albums: 1984-1990’ fills a massive gap in the market by making all of the Ratt essentials available in one handy hit. Although a fairly no-frills package, it’s the music that counts and the opportunity to upgrade ‘Out of The Cellar’, ‘Invasion of Your Privacy’ and ‘Detonator’ from those half-worn vinyl copies will be a welcome one for many.
Several decades after appearing on US store shelves, ‘Out of The Cellar’ retains all of its teeth. Beau Hill’s production has plenty of crunch, and although a few of the elements sound a little echoey in comparison to, say, Motley’s ‘Theater of Pain’ or Skid Row’s later ‘Slave To The Grind’, that only seems to add to Ratt’s all round rawness at this early stage. Aside from two massive US hits (‘Round & Round’ and ‘Wanted Man’), the album is home to various other classic tracks that really show off the band’s musical chops. ‘In Your Direction’, especially, is the kind of number that has an MTV friendly edge with its full compliment of metallic guitars and a semi dirty riff that shows Ratt’s heavier side nicely. Vocally, frontman Stephen Pearcy is in good shape, applying a glam inflected tone to a really sneering delivery – something that he would make his trademark sound. ‘Back For More’ retains the mid-paced moodiness but doesn’t feel like a straight retread, while ‘Scene of The Crime’ shows how Ratt are capable of the occasional musical deviation as they blend their usual, vaguely sleazy style with a few more AOR flourishes in the guitar department. The way Robbin Crosby underscores a great lead from Warren DiMartini during the instrumental sections shows off some really thoughtful playing from everyone concerned.
Taking speed and swagger to their most extreme, ‘She Wants More’ preempts the much glammier Poison with a huge chorus and gang vocals applied to the kind of riff you might find tucked away on a Sweet disc circa 1976. By applying those elements to a tune with a tough vocal and blistering lead guitar break, it gives the album another fine workout. Also great, ‘The Morning After’ rattles apace via a superb drum part from Bobby Blotzer, very much capturing an 80s feel throughout, while a multi-layered vocal injects a very important sense of melody. If there’s anything that makes this track a true stand-out, though, it’s the featured guitar solo where Robbin and Warren absolutely shred their fretboards into oblivion before coming together on an especially tasteful twin lead to finish. In a little over three minutes, all of the hallmarks of Ratt’s best work are found here.
With no filler and chorus after chorus packed into ten tracks and a lean thirty seven minutes, ‘Out of The Cellar’ is the archetypal Ratt disc. It’s one the band never really matched in terms of consistency, although ‘Invasion of Your Privacy’ runs it pretty close – mostly by sticking to a similar formula. ‘Invasion’s lead single ‘You’re In Love’, in particular, works an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” process by delivering something that isn’t a million miles away from ‘Wanted Man’, but for all of its over familiarity, it’s still brilliant. It’s a track that’s used to great effect, opening what could have been a difficult second record with a perfect blend of hard rock, glam and MTV-destined sheen. With a bigger focus on backing vocals, too, it marks the start of an album that sounds more expensive. The album’s other single ‘Lay It Down’, too, merely reinforces Ratt’s natural abilities with a very simple chorus hook and a giant attitude. It’s very much the kind of thing other bands would polish up a couple of years later, as the big haired melodic rock boom found itself in full swing, but as one of the original pioneers of the heavy glam sound, Ratt should be applauded for giving the world something close to a timeless piece.
‘Invasion’ is an album that really isn’t short of highlights: ‘On The Line’ pushes forward Juan Croucier’s bass in a way the debut never had and the way he busies himself beneath a hard, glammy guitar riff and a great vocal is a real pleasure to hear, but for most it’ll be another massive chorus and impeccable guitar solo that leaves the strongest impression; ‘Never Use Love’ captures a Motley Crue-ish heaviness and AOR chorus and smashes them together in a way that feels completely natural for Ratt, with Pearcy curling his distinctive vocal around every note and although ‘Give It All’ taps firmly into the blatant misogyny of the era (lyrics like “she got me high / she showed me her thighs” fall somewhere between crass and laughable when heard years after the fact), the sense of drive and punch makes even the most crass lyrics sound like classic Ratt. Even at the point where most 80s rock albums might tail off towards the end of side two, ‘You Should Know By Now’ keeps the end up with a cracking chorus, a Sweet-meets-Motley trashiness, an obtrusive cowbell and blistering guitars. While the more commercial sound, perhaps, strips Ratt of some of their earlier rawness, in terms of from end to end brilliance, this album is a career best.
If there’s any proof that a formula can only take a band so far – unless that band happens to be AC/DC – it comes with ‘Dancing Undercover’, Ratt’s third outing from 1986. Maybe three albums in three years (plus a touring schedule) had worn the band a little thin, but in comparison to the previous records, ‘Dancing’ Undercover’ is…a little uninspired.
It starts well enough with the intro to ‘Dance’ featuring DeMartini throwing out muted notes and harmonics and shredding like never before, before everyone launches into a harmony driven hook that sounds like something you’ve heard from Ratt at least a dozen times previously. Unfortunately, it takes a dive pretty soon after. ‘One Good Lover’ is also fine enough musically, revisiting the sounds of the previous LP with a little more of an AOR sheen, suggesting Ratt are happy to explore even more commercial waters, but the triple whammy of terribleness that follows does some irreparable damage. ”Drive Me Crazy’ has a great speed and a solid guitar solo, but in every other respect is a terrible song – bad chorus, easy sexual overtones and very much the kind of thing that gives the genre a bad rep; ‘Slip of The Lip’ is worse with a whole world of Faster Pussycat crassness and a clichéd chorus that detracts from an otherwise great riff and ‘Body Talk’ – although released as a single – is little more than Ratt ripping off an old Van Halen riff while delivering an average song on autopilot; everything seems to value the cock-rock attitudes of the era over everything else.
The second half of ‘Dancing Undercover’ is, perhaps, better than the first but, a couple of cool riffs aside, there’s very little that reaches the same quality as ‘Wanted Man’ or ‘Lay It Down’. One notable exception comes via the swaggering ‘Take A Chance’ which gives the band something more interesting to work with. DeMartini’s playing absolutely drips with attitude, while a fierce gang vocal on the chorus draws far more inspiration from the early days which, in the main, makes it a cut above most of this wobbly album. The closing number ‘Enough Is Enough’ has something about it, thanks to a slightly more AOR bent to the arrangement, but between a few terrible lyrics and the toll of touring now starting to show on Pearcy’s voice, it isn’t quite as good as it should have been. Overall, it’s fair to say that this is an album for fans only…and even then, it’s only going to be favourite for those isteners who arrived into Ratt’s world with this record without hearing anything previously.
With Ratt’s career already taking a dip in quality, it comes with a relief that 1988’s ‘Reach For The Sky’ is an improvement. Although another hit and miss elpee that seems to steer a little further away from the all round sharpness of ‘Invasion’, it benefits from a few much better songs – including ‘Way Cool Jr.’, a single that’s up there with the best of the band’s tunes.
It’s one of those albums that needs a little more time to appreciate and a lot of its best material appears much later in the running order, but on the whole, it’s an album with a reasonable amount of clout. An instant stand-out, the AOR punch of ‘No Surprise’ lends a commercial edge that looks forward to ‘Detonator’. With a spacious verse that delivers a great guitar riff, it’s got all the hallmarks of Ratt’s previous greatness, but it really comes alive with a chorus chock full of gang vocals and a lead guitar break that always keeps one ear on a strong melody. Likewise, the swaggering ‘Bottom Line’ is a brilliantly sleazy hard rocker that has enough swagger within its main riff for Pearcy to curl his voice to the max, before an even punchier chorus demonstrates Ratt’s more cock-sure aspects. The fact that this could be slotted into most of the band’s albums somewhere more than shows how it has all the makings of a classic, while ‘What I’m After’ isn’t shy in presenting a huge shout-along hook. Even with a tried and tested approach to the chorus, it’s the playing that shines; in particular, the guitar interplay between Robbin Crosby and Warren DeMartini, which was rarely better than this…at least with regard to anything after 1985. Also great, ‘What’s It Gonna Be?’ finds Ratt going about their band going about their business as usual, at least musically, but injects a little more radio pop into the chorus. The catchier hook shows how potential hits were always on the agenda, whether or not the songs connected with the record buying public.
The aforementioned ‘Way Cool Jr.’ rounds out the best of the album’s material with a timeless hook and a ferocious desire to keep the glam flame burning, along with the kind of swagger beloved by Aersomith circa 1987. This allows Pearcy to sound especially mean while the rest of the band deliver on a superb groove. Beyond that, there’s a fair bit of filler, including the Ratt-by-numbers of ‘City To City’ which is practically interchangable with most of the previous album and the ropey ‘I Want To Love You’, a low point of low points. Even the biggest of Ratt fans couldn’t love this massively uninspired plod. It almost sounds as if it’s been dragged from the vaults to pad out the album. Too slow to have any real energy, but too moody to be any fun, this sits in a boring no-mans-land where Ratt truly go through the motions on a half-melody that is in desperate need of an interest injection. It’s so dull that even an impeccably played lead guitar break fails to lift it for any real length of time.
In some ways, ‘Reach For The Sky’ struggles to reach the former glories of ‘Invasion’, but the fact that it’s a hundred times more fun than ‘Dancing Undercover’ shows that the band weren’t entirely out of great songs just yet. There are more than enough great songs to make this a very enjoyable forty minute romp, but despite best intentions, the tide was turning…and at the close of the 80s, Ratt were at a career low point. Various dates on the proposed ‘Reach For The Sky’ tour were cancelled due to poor sales and they found themselves in need of a rethink. Salvation came after calling Desmond Child on the Childish equivalent of the Batphone. Having already co-written massive hits for Bon Jovi and Robin Beck, as well as having completely rejuvenated the careers of Aerosmith, Cher and Alice Cooper between 1987-1989, Desmond was a man with a golden touch. There was every chance he could save Ratt’s flailing career.
…And so, he set to work. He co-wrote ten songs with the band and in August 1990, Ratt’s fifth album ‘Detonator’ was released to a mixed response. Predictably, some fans disliked how far the band had strayed from their original roots, while others – presumably those who loved Bon Jovi and the singalong qualities of Alice Cooper’s ‘Trash’ comeback – heralded the more commercial style.
Looking back, ‘Detonator’ is a very enjoyable album. Yes, it’s shiny. Yes, it’s commercial. Yes, it plays heavily towards the MTV friendly sounds of the time – something very much dictated by Child’s heavy, guiding hand – but it’s far more memorable than anything the band had released since ‘Invasion of Your Privacy’ all the way back in ’85. From the very beginning of ‘Shame Shame Shame’, a track that flaunts a very 80s drum sound and a massive, cheesy chorus, ‘Denotator’ is shameless in presenting its more commercial appeal. Pearcy is in much better vocal shape than before and the rest of the band sound more than comfortable in their new and shiny musical shoes. Mixing glam, sleaze and a healthy dose of AOR, Ratt sound truly invigorated through ‘Loving You’s A Dirty Job’, ‘One Step Away’ and ‘Heads I Win, Tails You Lose’ – each one an integral part of a great record. None of them will do it for you, of course, if you’ve somehow decided (wrongly) that Desmond Child isn’t a great songwriter, since each one almost feels like Ratt’s own spin on the Alice Cooper fare du jour. For those who missed the older Ratt grit, all is not lost, as ‘Scratch That Itch’ sounds more like a throwback to the ‘Dancin’ Undercover’ days with a more forthright vocal and a full compliment of sleazy, almost bluesy lead guitars and a heavy drum part. There’s also a little more salvation in the swaggering ‘All or Nothing’ with its punchier style, although this owes more to Aerosmith’s swagger than any previous Ratt tunes. ‘Can’t Wait On Love’, meanwhile, could be something left over from the Skid Row debut, something which – at least in terms of the era – is no bad thing. Predictably, Child made one huge change: he introduced Ratt to the power ballad and ‘Givin’ Yourself Away’ sounds pretty much like you’d expect – it has all the hallmarks of the Desmond Child/Diane Warren style and would fit seamlessly onto an album like Robin Beck’s ‘Trouble Or Nothin’. The big surprise is that Ratt sound like old hands at the style, despite never having gone there before. The guitars soar with a huge melodic flair and even Stephen Pearcy, a man blessed with a somewhat limited voice, sounds entirely at ease.
Mixed responses aside, ‘Detonator’ was a reasonable success, hitting the Billboard top 30 and eventually selling enough copies to achieve gold status. This might seem like slim pickings compared to ‘Out of The Cellar’s eventual triple platinum status, but it’s a huge improvement on a cancelled tour and musical lethargy. If you haven’t heard ‘Detonator’ in a while, a revisit is very much in order – it might not quite be as evergreen as Child’s other works (Bon Jovi’s ‘Slippery When Wet’ has a lot to answer for), but as a document of a time, it’s great. It’s certainly a strong a finish as you could hope for, when applied to a box set chronicling Ratt’s major label heyday.
Obviously, there isn’t much here for the hardcore Ratt fan or collector – if there is such a thing – as they’ll have these albums already. It would have been brilliant had the 1983 ‘Ratt’ EP been included as bonus tracks (not strictly an Atlantic recording, but licenced and reissued by Atlantic on an impossible to find CD in 1991), but looking at this from a basic reissue perspective, with three classic albums and a handful of other good tracks available in one place, it does a fine enough job, all told. If, somehow, you don’t own ‘Out of The Cellar’, ‘Invasion of Your Privacy’ and/or ‘Detonator’ on CD, picking up this collection should be a no-brainer.