Ray Rocket - Do You Wanna Go to Tijuana? (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Ray Rocket

Do You Wanna Go to Tijuana? (2016)

Rise Records

I wish I knew a little more about Ray Rocket’s solo debut Do You Wanna Go to Tijuana?. Was it something that he’d been planning for a long time? Was it something he did to fill the down time while Teenage Bottlerocket was in limbo following the death of his brother? Was making the album cathartic for him as he mourned? There is one thing that I can say for sure, Ray Carlisle has made an album that gives us a good idea of what TBR would have sounded like on MTV Unplugged. Tijuana is catchy, acoustic pop-punk songs and even comes complete with Kody Templeman on backing vocals.

While many aging punk singers have gone the alt-country route in their solo careers, Ray Rocket is sticking to his Ramones-core roots. Do You Wanna Go to Tijuana? strips down a bunch of Teenage Bottlerocket songs, but doesn’t radically change the arrangements. What it lacks in ambitiousness, it makes up for in listenability. It helps that many of us already know and like most of the songs here.

The tracks from last year’s Tales From Wyoming seem to respond really well to the acoustic treatment. My personal favorite is “Nothing Else Matters (When I’m With You)”. It’s a love song of sorts, with no less than a dozen references to Metallica in its clever lyrics. My second favorite would probably be the fairly depressing “TV Set”, with its scathing indictment of the media. At first, all the songs kind of blur together, but after a few listens they start to separate themselves.

The differences between the songs can be quite subtle. It might be some handclaps here or an extra instrument there. The title track uses acoustic guitar, mandolin and even a little xylophone. “Please Feel Free” is very old-timey sounding. One of the album’s highlights has to be the cover of the later era Ramones’ classic “Pet Sematary”. It starts with a creepy sample and and incorporates some creepy keyboard. “Todayo” has some tasty organ licks, while “Rebound” is drenched in a reverb effect. “Radical” has some bongos and “Radio” utilizes violin. On album closer “First Time”, Rocket flips the script and plays a full band electric version of the acoustic TBR track.

Teenage Bottlerocket has always been good about putting stuff out between proper albums, and that’s what this feels like to me. It’s something to hold fan’s attention while they wait for the new TBR LP. It’s a showcase for Carlisle’s songwriting. Stripping the loud band away exposes how bittersweet a lot of these songs really are. Even the breezy pop-punk songs have a touch of darkness. Ultimately, Do You Wanna Go to Tijuana? is an album that’s going to make fans happy. It’s an enjoyable listen from start to finish. Not everything has to be a big artistic statement. This may end up being the soundtrack for the Summer of 2016.