Monday, May 20, 2019

Stray Cats - 40

NOW we’re talking!
I remember when the Stray Cats first burst onto the scene back in 1979, hurtling out of nowhere with youthful, swaggering braggadocio, all quiffs and tattoos and throwing off sparks like a Catherine Wheel.  And now here we are 40 years later, they’re back with a new album, and it’s like they’ve never been away.  Once again resistance is useless – prepare to be pulverised, people.
Stray Cats - the rock'n'roll insanity resumes
Pic by Suzie Kaplan
‘Cat Fight (Over A Dog Like Me)’ crashes out of the speakers with a blast of Brian Setzer’s rock’n’rolling guitar, then gets swept along on a tide of clattering snare drum from Slim Jim Phantom and runaway stand-up bass from Lee Rocker, telling a typically daft lyrical tale to the accompaniment of spiky chords from Setzer and culminating in an ever-so-Chuck-Berry solo.  It’s only track 1, and I’m breathless.
Across 12 tracks in just 35 minutes, like days of yore, the Stray Cats are plugged into a high voltage rock’n’roll generator, and have a direct line open to the greats of their musical ancestry.  ‘Cry Danger’ is built around a ‘Daytripper’-ish riff, and has “HIT” written all over it.  Setting the apocalyptic scene with an atmospheric verse that builds to the lines “The ground is shaking underneath, I’m too close to the edge,” it then ignites a dayglo Sixties party vibe to rival the B-52s’ ‘Love Shack’.  And they follow that up with ‘I Attract Trouble’, sucking you into a Link Wray-like vortex that emerges into an infernally catchy, two-part undulating chorus, illuminated by some very Dick Dale scudding twangery from Setzer.
A bit later they conjure up another stone-cold killer with ‘That’s Messed Up’, kicking off with a strutting riff that Mick Green might have cooked up for The Pirates, and adding some Jerry Lee Lewis-style shivering vocal into the mix, en route to a scrabbling solo from Setzer.  ‘When Nothing’s Going Right’ then picks up the baton with a riff like a gunning engine on a Mustang, added handclaps for a lark, and another explosive solo.
They cool things off a bit with ‘Desperado’, which is a descendant of the Shadows’ ‘Apache’ melding into some more Dick Dale-ery on guitar, before they bust into a high tempo country-ish shuffle, all tumbling guitar lines, on ‘Mean Pickin’ Mama’ – or as it should really be titled, ‘Meeeeaaaann Pickin’ Mama’.
Sure, there are a few tracks that don’t hit the heights of some of the above, but they still have enough wattage to light up Piccadilly Circus, from the jangling guitar and rasping vocal on the chugging ‘Rock It Off’, to the twiddly guitar breaks tossed hither and yon on ‘I’ve Got Love If You Want It’, and more besides.  And they finish strongly with the punk-ish refrain and chanted backing vox on ‘I’ll Be Looking Out For You’, with its plunging riff that crunches to an emergency stop, and the closing ‘Devil Train’ – the bastard offspring of ‘Rawhide’ and ‘Ghost Riders In The Sky’, with ripping chords and crashing cymbals.
Get this album.  Turn the sucker UP!  And party like it’s 1979, people!

40 is released by Mascot Label Group on 24 May.
You can find a 'Flashback' recollection of Stray Cats playing live in 1981 here.

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