It’s not hard to see why American pop metallers Ratt were popular; Years spent dues-paying on the legendarily competitive LA metal scene culminated in an independently-released EP (which many people, this writer included, still regard as the best thing the band ever put out) which astonishingly shifted a hundred thousand copies. These were the sort of numbers that the major labels couldn’t ignore, and so the monolithic gears of Atlantic Records shifted into action. Why were Ratt popular when, say, Legs Diamond, a great band in their own right, were less so? Because Atlantic Records said so…

That’s a little bit cynical of course; Listening back now to this highly entertaining box set, it’s hard to argue with the band’s first two albums, the double-platinum shifting Out of the Cellar and Invasion Of Your Privacy. There’s nothing as heroic as the heavy metal thunder of the EP’s best track Sweet Cheater, obviously, but the finely-honed (remember, most of the band were ten year vets by the point that the big time was met head on) mix of Dokkenesque vocal quirkiness and Scorpions arena-assaulting guitar mayhem meant that really, given the prevailing musical winds at the time, the band couldn’t fail.

And fail they didn’t. In all honesty, tracks like Wanted Man and Give It All are just as good as the well-known hit singles, and there is very little in the way of wasted notes to be found across the first two records, which constitute some of the best music to come out of the States in the world of hard rock in the mid eighties.

In hindsight you’d say that the slide started with 1986’s Dancing Undercover, though any cracks appearing were barely visible at the time. Opening track Dance was a bona fide Ratt n’Roll ripper, with Stephen Pearcy in fine form out front, backed by the funky strut of Juan Croucier‘s bass, Bobby Blotzer‘s blitzkrieg bop at the back and the wall of sound that was the guitars of Robbin Crosby and Warren de Martini. However, fast=paced rocker Body Talk aside, the supporting material felt a little jaded when placed against the all-killer-no-filler nature of the first two album.

But if Dancing Undercover saw the band treading water, 1988’s Reach For The Sky saw then caught completely in that nasty little patch of reeds you can see by the bank over there… Opener City To City fails to ignite the album and the band never recover from the false start, despite the efforts of spirited romps like the Aerosmithy I Want A Woman and Chain Reaction to save the day.

Atlantic’s accountants were alarmed enough by the drop off in sales for RFTS to demand action; that action constituted drafting in names like Desmond Child and Diane Warren for 1990’s Detonator; But the trouble is Ratt were a genuinely tight-knit unit, and diluting the songwriting chemsitry of the band – albeit with giants of the trade – was never going to pay dividends. The resulting album sounded great was was very low on the gritty soulfulness and cheeky sleeve so prevalent in the band’s best material. So whilst Lovin’ You’s A Dirty Job was state of the art radio rock, 1990 style, it’s production line nature ensured that Ratt fans were looking elsewhere or the jollies in increasing numbers.

Crosby never played on another Ratt album, finally succumbing to AIDS in 2002, and Croucier jumped ship for a while before returning when the lure of a nostalgia-fuelled second coming became to strong. This box set reminds you most of the good days, however, of which there were many when the band were on their game.

The Atlantic Years releases on June 9th.