Rocket From the Tombs

The Day the Earth Met the Rocket From the Tombs (Smog Veil Records)

Like Bob Hope or a common housefly, punk music outlived its usefulness in a hurry, subsisting on bland, discarded jokes and stale cheese. By the time the Sex Pistols called it quits in 1978, an isolated American youth was finally coming to grips with the budding romance of not caring -- or else finding fashionable reasons to seem that way. But before safety pins adorned faces in Stateside strip malls, Rocket From the Tomb expanded on the lumbering sludge of heavy riff-oriented metal, briefly putting Cleveland on the map in 1975 as ground zero for a new, unnamed primal expression. And before flaming out after eight months of drunken jocularity, stubbornness and fisticuffs, the band managed to record a few decent, muddy-sounding demos.

Heralded by Jon Allan in the liner notes as "one of the greatest albums never recorded," these dusty artifacts, salvaged from old rehearsal tapes and two live sets, capture the band with all the charm and clarity of a long-lost Polaroid. Though the group's defining lineup would eventually split into artsy Pere Ubu (featuring Dave Thomas, Peter Laughner and Craig Bell) and the punkier Dead Boys (with Gene "Cheetah Chrome" O'Connor and "Johnny Blitz" Madansky), The Day the Earth Met the Rocket From the Tombsdemonstrates that RFTT managed to turn some unsung soil before devouring itself.

Chubby Thomas went by "Crocus Behemoth" in those days, wore judge's robes and scribbled music columns for The Scene. And while he sang the lion's share of songs here (opting for a raspier growl and some organ noodling on cuts like "Life Stinks" over the bizarre falsetto that he'd later discover fronting Ubu), it's Laughner's distinct and fluid guitar playing that launched two of the band's most enduring anthems, "Sonic Reducer" and "Final Solution." Laughner likewise offers a creepy premonition to his own death in 1977 of acute (read: self-inflicted) pancreatitis on the bluesy ballad "Ain't It Fun," asking some of punk music's most rhetorical questions ever: "Ain't it fun when you're always on the run/Ain't it fun when your friends despise what you've become/Ain't it fun when you get so high that you can't come/Ain't it fun when you know that you're gonna die young/It's such fun." Driving the irony home further on "Never Gonna Kill Myself Again," the members of RFTT appear to have known what they were doing all along: honoring the Stooges, seeing how many cooks they could cram into one kitchen, and, above all else, doing it blissfully for themselves.

 
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