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[whitespace] Rocket From the Crypt
This Bad Check Is Gonna Stick: Angst and anger in primal punk terms keep Rocket From the Crypt's music fresh.

Punk Fueled

Rocket From the Crypt keeps the garage-band ethic in orbit

By Gina Arnold

RECENTLY, A FRIEND and I got into an argument over whether shock rocker Marilyn Manson's music could be considered "punk rock." My friend insisted that he was a punk, while I held out that Manson and his ilk--Nine Inch Nails, Twizted, Insane Clown Posse--had nothing in common with the term.

To me, Manson isn't a grassroots artist. He doesn't hold with the D.I.Y--that's "Do it yourself"--ethic that punk rock was based on and still ought to uphold. His main interests are theatrical and commercial. "He has never played 'Steppin' Stone' in a garage in his life," I added truculently. Case closed, I thought.

My friend, however, still disagreed. "Lots of punk bands were theatrical. What's a Mohawk, if not an act? Anyway, punk rock isn't a sound, it's an attitude. Any band can be punk rock, as long as it's not some bland radio confection. That's why bands like Hüsker Dü and R.E.M. and Nirvana qualify as punks--because they played what they felt like and not what the market dictated."

Grrrrr. I still disagree, but not long after this argument ended in a stalemate, I received the new record by Rocket From the Crypt, which my friend and I agreed instantly was the living embodiment of both our punk-rock ideals. Rocket's antecedents are as authentic and as grassroots as they come, while their present-day incarnation is thoroughly credible. Most of all, though, they just sound like our idea--like anyone's idea--of punk rock: loud, fast, infectious and imbued with the kick-ass spirit of the three-chorded beast. You know what I mean?

Indeed, compared to the numerous "punk" bands on the radio that merely sound clean and adolescent and sprightly, it's a real pleasure to hear a band this gritty. There's no other way to say it but this: Rocket rocks.

The group began in 1988 in San Diego and has in those 12 years released nine records, two of which were on the major-label Interscope. (The band briefly benefited from the post-Nirvana label feeding frenzy, when crazed pundits speciously declared that San Diego was "the next Seattle.") Now Rocket is back on an independent label, this one called Vagrant, and ironically, in the interim the band has become sort of tuneful.

GRANTED, THIS was a band that always had a firm grasp of the fact that even a punk-rock group needs a good drummer, but now its songs are catchy as well as super-rhythmic. Rocket's sound is inspired by '70s proto-punk bands like Rocket From the Tomb, the MC5 and the Big Boys. Rocket's singer, "Speedo" (Jon Reis), sounds like one of those gravelly voiced old men--Southside Johnny, Mitch Ryder or Iggy Pop--and the music sounds like the Sonics or the Standells, only on speed.

Rocket's big innovation is having a horn section, which blasts away behind all the songs like an angry Greek chorus. Many songs are also augmented by furious chants--similar to Rocket's one near-MTV hit, "On a Rope," but even more intense.

Rocket's subject matter is your basic punk stuff: a blend of angst and humor expressed in words of one syllable, as exhibited in titles like "Straight American Slave," "Heart of a Rat," "This Bad Check Is Gonna Stick" and "Venom Venom." (The exception is the practically poignant "SOS," which is what passes for a ballad in the high-speed world of Rocket.)

It's all pretty simple stuff--but no less fun for that. I admit to going through a phase when this stuff bored me. I got pissed at them once for inviting a stripper on stage, and besides, they've put out a lot of records and their raison d'être (and sound) has barely changed a whit. Nowadays, however, when the world abounds with crappy boy pop and mean-spirited hate rock, that seems like a virtue.

In fact, Rocket is a mix of every single attribute my friend and I like to see in bands. They are intense. They are tuneful. They are theatrical, and loud, and hilarious. What they aren't is meaningful. There's no sensitive singer/songwriter stuff on here, no Creed-like faux sincerity. Listening to Rocket is a more visceral experience, like listening to the Ramones. One-two-three-four. Cretins want to rock some more. And the crypt is open for business.

The truth is that Rocket From the Crypt is a band best seen live to appreciate its charms, preferably in a really smoky club like San Diego's Casbah. Nevertheless, Group Sounds does capture the band's particularly pungent take on an art form--punk--that never seems to run out of steam. And thank God for that.

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From the February 1-7, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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