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Rocket From The Tombs: The Day The Earth Met The...The Day The Earth Met The... (2002)
Reviewer Rating: 4.5
Contributed by: seekseek
(others by this writer | submit your own)
The Cleveland, Ohio (and Akron, OH) scene of the 70’s spawned some of punk rock’s first, most nihilistic and/or creative groups. Groups like Electric Eels, Pere Ubu, Dead Boys, The Pagans, Rubber City Rebels, Devo, and Rocket From The Tombs. The Electric Eels came first, but Rocket From The Tombs was the group that left the most impact. They were a lethal combination of explosive, stooges-esque sleaze ‘n’ roll and television’s arty sensibilities. In fact, this caused a conflict within the group. Two of the members, front man/singer Crocus Behemoth (David Thomas) and guitarist Peter Laughner (whose extreme talent wasn’t fully realized when he died very young) wanted to further explore the depths of art-rock. Drummer Johnny Blitz (Johnny Madansky) and bassist Cheetah Chrome (Gene O’Connor) wanted to stick to the gritty Stooges sound. When the group disbanded sometime in early 1976, the former pair went on to form the excellent group Pere Ubu. Laughner only stuck with Pere Ubu long enough to record their first two singles, which were first Rocket From The Tombs songs, “30 Seconds Over Tokyo” and “Final Solution”. Laughner died shortly after leaving Pere Ubu. Cheetah and Johnny went on to form the nihilistic Dead Boys, along with Stiv Bators (Steve Bator), who once tried out for Rocket From The Tombs. Second guitarist Craig Bell seemed to have faded into obscurity. For years it was quite difficult to get your hands on Rocket From The Tombs material; they never recorded anything in a studio. In 1990 the CD “Life Stinks” was issued but quickly became hard to find itself. Finally, in April of 2002 came “The Day the Earth Met the Rocket from the Tombs”, the most comprehensive collection of Rocket From The Tombs material available.
“The Day the Earth Met the Rocket from the Tombs” doesn’t have everything Rocket From The Tombs ever did, but it comes as close as one could hope for. Tracks 1 – 9 come from a rehearsal in February 1975. Tracks 10 – 16 are from a July 1975 live performance and don’t feature Thomas on lead vocals. Tracks 17 – 19 do feature Thomas on lead vocals and are from a May 1975 show. The quality on the rehearsal tracks is really quite bad, but it doesn’t bring down the sonic value too much, first considering that these are pretty much the only copies available and due to the fact that the musical style on most of the songs is the lo-fi Stooges kind anyhow. The quality of the two live sets is a good deal better, though not entirely exceptional.
A great thing about Rocket From The Tombs is the spread out creative duties amongst the band members. Several songs are written by Laughner, some by Bell, and many by various combinations, chiefly Laughner/Thomas and Laughner/Thomas/O’Connor.
Laughner’s tracks deal more with the feelings of bleakness and emptiness that led him to the substance abuse that ultimately robbed him of his life. “Ain’t It Fun” has a great passage of lyrics that support my case: “Ain’t it fun when you feel that you just gotta buy a gun // Ain’t it fun cause you’re takin’ care of number one // Ain’t it fun when you just can’t find your tongue // Just stuck it way too deep in something that really stung // Somebody came to me and just spit in my face // But I didn’t even feel it, it was such a disgrace // I broke the window, smashed my fist right through the glass // But I couldn’t even feel it, it just happened too fast // It was fun // Such fun”. “Life Stinks” (which was later done by Pere Ubu) is lyrically simple but harsh and to the point, “Life stinks; I need a drink”. As far as this song is concerned, the power lies mostly in the insane music, complete with explosive guitars and a freak-out organ. His swan song “Amphetamines” obviously dealt with the very drug that played a large part in his pancreatitis. A very melancholy, “sad but true” type of song, which is really an autobiographical explanation of what led him to his substance abuse and what kept him there.
Thomas’s hand in songwriting is most prevalent in Rocket From The Tombs, and pretty much every song he penned on this album, either by himself or collaboratively, became a classic. “Life Stinks”, “30 Seconds Over Tokyo”, and “Final Solution” later became three of Pere Ubu’s best songs. “Down In Flames” and “Sonic Reducer” became known as the Dead Boys’ flagship tunes. The only two songs Thomas wrote that weren’t later used were by no means chump-songs, What Love Is (co-wrote by O’Connor) and So Cold (co-wrote by Laughner) are very good in their own right.
There are some cool covers here, though they are mostly cut short. There is a short, fiery instrumental version of the Stooges’ classic “Raw Power”, which features the occasional grunt. The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” is unfortunately only 19 seconds long, making it a rather pointless addition. However, there is a really cool cover of the Velvet Underground song “Foggy Notion”, which was at the time unreleased and nearly impossible to find, even on bootleg (until it was featured on the compilation of unreleased Velvet Underground material, VU, in 1985). The album ends with another Stooges cover, “Search And Destroy”. This is pretty much a prerequisite for every band that came after Iggy Pop, but they definitely do a unique, if haphazard, job of covering it.
Rocket From The Tombs’ important role as proto-punk pioneers has long been recognized, but it is just now that the masses are able to hear exactly why Rocket From The Tombs was such an important band. It is this album that allows people to do so and anyone who gives it a listen will agree with The Tombs’ given position in music history. Their unique arty sound and songwriting talent stuck, and actually improved, with Thomas and Laughner’s move to Pere Ubu. Their uncompromising attitude and punk rock energy was passed on to the Dead Boys, who spread it like a wildfire from Cleveland to their new homes in New York City. The five songs on this album that were redone by Pere Ubu and the Dead boys were done much better. However, that lies much in the fact that they were sat on for a few more years, which gave ample time for improvement, and then professionally recorded. Rocket From The Tombs shouldn’t be respected simply as a band that became two better bands. As this album shows, there was a reason those two bands became so great.
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