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Rocket from the Tombs

By the time the Sex Pistols called it quits in 1978, the isolated youth of America were coming to grips with the budding romance of not caring -- or finding fashionable reasons to seem that way. But before safety pins adorned faces in Stateside strip malls, Rocket from the Tombs expanded on the lumbering sludge of heavy, riff-oriented metal, putting Cleveland briefly on the map in 1975 as ground zero for a new, unnamed primal expression. Before flaming out after eight months of drunken jocularity and fisticuffs, the band managed to record a few decent, muddy-sounding demos. Heralded in the liner notes as "one of the greatest albums never recorded," these artifacts, salvaged from rehearsal tapes and two live sets, capture the band with the charm and clarity of a long-lost Polaroid.

Though the group's defining lineup would eventually split into the 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), RFTT managed to turn some unsung soil before devouring itself. The heavyset Thomas went by the moniker Crocus Behemoth in those days, wore judge's robes, and scribbled music columns for the Cleveland Scene, now a sister paper to New Times Broward-Palm Beach. And although Thomas sang the lion's share of songs here (opting for a raspier growl and some organ noodling on cuts such as "Life Stinks" over the bizarre falsetto 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 of 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 further home on "Never Gonna Kill Myself Again," RFTT seems to have known what it was 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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John La Briola

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