The nicest thing about the new music dead zone surrounding the holiday season is the opportunity it presents to finally listen to albums that you never quite had time to get to during the more hectic months. For me, and I suspect many others, Rocket From The Crypt's (RFTC) Circa Now! reissue was one of those albums.
Most people with any exposure to independent music are familiar with RFTC. Over the years they've amassed a crazed legion of fans through consistently impressive studio releases and intense, revival-influenced live shows. They've also managed to spin off roughly half-a-dozen other good bands (most notably Drive Like Jehu). If you've never heard of RFTC, perhaps because you've been living in a cave in Darkest Peru with a talking bear for the last fifteen years, their sound is best described as a punked-up take on Elvis-era rock with horns and obtuse lyrics. And Circa Now! is a great place to get into their catalog.
Reissues have proved to be controversial on this site, and are often derided as nothing more than money-grabs. In this case, however, it was absolutely for the best. Circa Now!'s reissue features the classic Circa Now remastered to surprising effect, plus four songs that didn't make the original album and slightly extended liner notes, though the liner notes are pretty much irrelevant. The remastering process has restored to the original recording's sound clarity and enhanced the listening experience by emphasizing the jagged energy which RFTC brings to their live shows. The sound isn't overproduced; instead it's become "sharp." This improvement highlights the importance of dynamics and contrasts in RFTC's sound. It has also changed the relationship between Speedo's vocals and the music, emphasizing the significance of his voice as an instrument that complements the guitars and sax (particularly on "Sturdy Wrist").
The four new tracks also enhance the original Circa Now! experience. Punk Planet's review of the album gave the new songs short shrift, and while "Lamps For Sale" reminds me of a slightly under-baked "Hairball Alley," the rest are essential. "Crazy Talk" is a short tune with a strutting riff that wraps up in just over a minute. "Flight of the Hobo" is a phenomenal song with catchy lyrics and sax blasts that are vaguely reminiscent of Pezcore-era Less Than Jake. Finally, "Over The Rail" is a scorching RFTC masterpiece that belongs among the album's highlights.
Fans are often the ones who are left in the most difficult position when an album is reissued, both because they've already invested in the album and because of the constant fear that the band will have pulled a "George Lucas" and destroyed a masterpiece. As an RFTC fan, I can say that those fears are completely unfounded in this case - and I'd recommend that Circa Now! the reissue replace the original in your collections.
And now that I'm thinking about it, I'd also like to recommend that RFTC be placed in charge of any future reissues of "Star Wars." I can virtually guarantee that with Speedo at the head, there'd be none of this "Greedo shoots first" crap…and wouldn't it be cool to see a digitally-rendered brawl between Luke Skywalker and Bela Lugosi?