Quality comeback by one of rock’s most antediluvian of trios
Following 1983’s Rant N’ Rave With the Stray Cats, Brian Setzer (guitar), Slim Jim Phantom (drums) and Lee Rocker (bass) chose to call it a day (at least until 1986’s Rock Therapy), leaving behind a small but exceptional body of work that was the antithesis to the majority of music being created in the same era. Yes, The Stray Cats borrowed deeply from their rock ‘n’ roll/rockabilly forebears, but they had a style and swagger which was very much their own. From their post-punk pompadours to the band’s eclectic vintage wardrobe, slavish copy cats they weren’t.
1989’s Blast Off! may not be of the same musical calibre as the group’s earlier efforts, but it is fun, and probably far better than some critics thought at the time. Dave Edmunds was brought in to produce, a wise move considering he had worked with The Stray Cats on the band’s debut, whose knowledge of the studio would prove to be invaluable when it came to capturing their unique sound.
Things get off to a seriously energetic start with the title track, where Setzer declares himself to be “the rockingest cat in the galaxy” while giving “Mr. Spock a pompadour.” One thing’s for sure, the whole song is an absolute hoot from beginning to end. Along the way they pay homage to Buddy Holly (“Gina”), Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent (“Everybody Needs Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Gene And Eddie”), and cause a rockabilly riot on “Rockabilly Rules.”
Clearly little on Blast Off! was designed to challenge the listener’s neurons, but rather take you back to an era when rock ‘n’ roll was more concerned with primal energy (i.e. teenage hormones) than astrophysics, hence the delightfully nostalgic “Bring It Back Again,” the Sun Phillips sounding “Slip, Slip, Slippin’ In,” and the enthusiastic “Rockabilly Rules,” during which Setzer sizzles on the old Gretch.
“Rockin’ All Over The Place” may not be the most imaginative of titles, but like everything else on the album it serves its purpose, namely to get the toe tapping and the head bobbing. Although perhaps the finest song here would have to be the jazzy, late-night cool of “Nine Lives,” a tune which bears more than a faint similarity to their other classic number “Stray Cat Strut” (in other words, classic).
Overall, Blast Off! is an enjoyable, entertaining document that is in no way detrimental to the group’s catalogue. The CD reissue on the Hep Cat label is welcome, but contains no bonus material, so anyone who owns the original vinyl might as well stick with that. Once again, The Stray Cats proved that there was nothing wrong with keeping behind the times. Never in fashion, yet never out of fashion either. Just the way true rockabilly ought to be.