Wednesday 11 March 2020

Rose Tattoo - Outlaws (2020)

Country: Australia
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 6 Mar 2020
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I was wary about this release, because it's not a new album from the Aussie legends (we haven't seen one of those since 2007's Blood Brothers) but a re-recording of their iconic debut from 1978 with a new line-up. Lead vocalist Angry Anderson describes the goal of the project as "honoring the past and respecting the present", so I can only presume that the Tatts are treating this as a new beginning. Let's see where it can take them from here. It'll certainly take them here to the States for the first time since 1982.

If you don't know Rose Tattoo, you should. They come from the same old time bluesy hard rock school as fellow Aussies AC/DC, Cold Chisel and the Angels and their first couple of albums are as good as anything that ever came out of Oz. They never reached the same heights of fame as AC/DC, with whom they shared the producers Vanda and Young, but they've been a huge influence on bands you know. Guns n' Roses wouldn't sound remotely like they do without Rose Tattoo and more than one of its members has said that they were set on the rock 'n' roll path by the band.

So yeah, you should listen to Rose Tattoo. But, given that it isn't tough to get hold of Rock 'n' Roll Outlaw and it's one of the essential purchases in the genre, is there a real need for this re-worked version? That's the real question here and, while I was ready to dive in to find out, I was prepared for the answer to be an emphatic no. Fortunately it's a yes with caveats.

It's cleverly structured, for a start, because this isn't the same playlist, even ignoring the three "new" songs, which I should emphasise aren't new. It kicks off with One of the Boys and Tramp isn't far behind it. Both songs are similar enough to the originals to seem pointless, though the production is great. I just sang along like I had thrown on Rock 'n' Roll Outlaw.

But after each is a "new" song that keeps us on the hop. There are three on this album, all written back at the time of the first album and demoed, but none made the album. I'd only heard Snow Queen before, having been included on the original album's 1990 re-release. The other two are Sweet Love (Rock 'n' Roll) and a ballad, Rosetta, that closes out the album. The early couple are decent songs. Rosetta isn't bad either, highlighting just how much the early Tatts were influenced by the Stones, but it can't follow what's gone before. No wonder they left it off the original album.

And then we really shift things up. Rock 'n' Roll Outlaw is a sleazier song than it used to be. It's the first track here to sound completely different from the original. Then it's the old story song, The Butcher and Fast Eddy, which starts out shaky and fails in comparison for a while, before finding a new life through rewritten lyrics. It isn't the original but it is able to find its own identity and that's crucial when covering such an iconic song.

It's worth mentioning that, even knowing these songs so well, I didn't sing along (much) because I wanted to listen to these new takes. And much of the reason they work is because the band is of serious quality and very willing to grow the songs. On bass is Mark Evans, of early AC/DC fame; he played on the Let There Be Rock album, among others. Bob Spencer on guitar has played with the Skyhooks and the Angels. Drummer Jackie Barnes is the son of Jimmy Barnes of Cold Chisel fame. I don't know what Dai Pritchard has done but I do like his slide guitar.

By this point in the album. I wanted to see how this line-up would take on a couple of the hardest hitting hard rock songs of the era, such as Remedy and Astra Wally, songs that simply cannot be too loud. I turned this up until my eyeballs rattled; my ears haven't recovered yet. And the new Tatts do well, but both pale in comparison to their originals. Remedy, in particular, has a mix that places each guitar in a different speaker and jumps back and forth, leaving one always too quiet. It's like they need another guitarist in there to bolster up the wall of sound. The mix benefits the slower, bluesier songs that play up the slide, like Stuck on You.

A couple of the more iconic songs are left towards the end, namely original single Bad Boy for Love and the most famous song on the record now, courtesy of some high profile covers, Nice Boys. The former is slower and stalks more than the original. The latter turns into reminiscence of old rock 'n' roll standards: Heartbreak Hotel, Lucille, Tutti Frutti, Blue Suede Shoes. It's a great way to reinvent a song that's a classic all on its own. Both songs are twice as long as the versions we know. The 1978 album ran 36:33 for only ten tracks. Omitting the three new songs to match it, this runs a dozen minutes longer. Add those three back in and it lasts over an hour.

All told, this isn't the original, even with over forty years of advances in studio recording technology to benefit it. But it's a good album nonetheless and it's made by a good band. Frankly, it's better than I expected it to be. Anderson's voice may not be quite as huge as it used to be but it's still a heck of a lot bigger than he is and he has evolved these songs over a forty plus year span so that some of his delivery is actually better here.

His new backing band is solid as a rock too. They're more than able to take on and reinvent an iconic album. Sure, this isn't the Tatts of 1978 but then AC/DC aren't the band they were in 1978 either. Without a time machine that can take us back to the days to when Bon Scott, Malcolm Young, Peter Wells, Mick Cocks and others were still strutting the boards, I'm not complaining about this bunch. They still kick so much ass that most of the other bands out there ought to be scared to follow them.

And, if I was in Australia right now, where they're touring in support of Live, Bush and Stone Temple Pilots, I'd be there for Electric Mary and the Tatts and then I'd hit the pub to recover.

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