Not content with appearing in the ever more ridiculous farrago that is the eighteen-month long struggle over who actually owns the rights to the name Ratt, that band’s erstwhile (and some might say current) frontman, Stephen Pearcy, has elected at this point to release a new solo album, entitled, as you see from the headline, Smash.
Of course, it’s not totally a smashing record, though it ain’t without it’s subtle attractions. I know subtle isn’t a word you’d normally associate with Stephen Pearcy, but there you go. Inexplicably for a man so firmly ensconced upon the hair metal nostalgia bandwagon, Smash opens up with I Know I’m Crazy, a tedious run through the grunge songbook (always amusing how hair metal exponents resort to grunge when they want to show how current they are isn’t it?) before kicking things into much higher gear with the actually excellent Ten Miles Wide, which sounds for all the world like something from the classic Ratt canon circa 1985. It’s bereft of the sparky rhythm guitar of the late, lamented Robbin Crosby, of course, which would really have sent the song into the stratosphere, but it really has the bones of a great Ratt n’roll song.
Not so Shut Down Baby, a so-so Led Zeppelin stomper that actually ends up sounding more like LA never weres Salty Dog than Page and Plant; Likewise Dead Roses half inches the riff from Skid Row’s Piece of Me to no good effect, leaving the album hanging in the balance a bit as you search for a half decent and/or original idea to latch onto. So it’s left for the utterly superb Lollipop to restore order, which it does in no uncertain terms. A strutting, cocksure piece of Pearcy preening in the great tradition of the Ratt’s most shamelessly Aerosmithy dabbling, everything clicks on this track. Guitarist Erik Ferentinos really comes into his own here, peeling off the riffs and licks like Joe Perry (or is it Warren DeMartini?) incarnate.
You’re still on a high at this point so Hit Me With a Bullet gets a pass even though it sounds like an Ace Frehley cast off; Former Anthrax/White Lion drummer Greg D’Angelo props things up with some beefy playing (maybe that’s what gives it the Frehleyesque New York Groove?) and when he leads with similarly muscular playing into the excellently riffy Rain, you’re starting to think that, against all the odds, ol’ sweet cheater himself might be coming up with a surprise corker of an album…
Rain is, in all honesty, a tremendous song. The sort of thing that would have been all over American radio and TV if we were still living in 1989, it’s tear-jerking piano-led ending being right up there with the best of the best in hair metal balladic dynamics. I’m almost weeping as I type…
Want Too Much is heavier but a bit mundane if you want the truth, and when What Do Ya Think locks into another Zeppelin-inspired shuffle your raised expectations will start hissing a little as the air starts to escape from the balloon of hope. Ferentinos and fellow guitarist Chris Hager lock down the groove with D’Angelo and bassist Matt Thorn (who you might remember as Rough Cutt’s Matt Thorr from another life…), but Pearcy is no Plant and it’s silly to suggest he is. It’s not horrible, but it’s no good. Let’s move along…
Jamie gets back to the Ratt n’roll template, which predictably leads to more pleasing results, with Thorn contributing some magnificent four string work and that man Ferentinos unleashing another superb solo. I Can’t Take it continues in the same freewheeling vein, a real summertime blaster this one, taking you back to 1984 and not caring one jot whether you want to go or not; The fact that we do, of course, is neither here nor there. Isn’t this what we want from Ratt-related music? I think it is. Leave the Zeppelin albums at home next time guys!
Penultimate track Passion Infinity is an unassuming rocker that’s not going to change the world – or appear again on my stereo, probably – and when wishy washy ballad Summer’s End winds things up you’re left feeling a bit deflated again after some of the highs the band touch elsewhere in the album.
So there you have it. Pearcy has pulled off a major coup by getting Beau Hill – the man who produced the first four Ratt albums – behind the desk for this project, he really does recapture some of the Ratt spark here, and with the news that Pearcy is back in cahoots with Warren DeMartini and Juan Croucier (though not, obviously, with drummer Bobby Blotzer) and writing an all-new Ratt album, the future looks pretty bright for one of rock’s most recognisable – and unfairly maligned – frontmen.
Smash will be released by Frontiers Music on January 27th