Eleven years after their last album, Ratt returns with a new record that few people thought they had in them.
We all remember how the grunge explosion of 1992 so swiftly put a dagger through the heart of hair metal, but although it instantly rendered the sound and image totally irrelevant about four years after the pop metal wave crested, putting all the mousse abusers and poodle-heads on the unemployment line, for those bands from that era that did decide to tough it out, the negative effects ran far deeper. Take a look at the music recorded by the pop metal holdovers in the 1990s: bands like Mötley Crüe, Dokken, and Kiss all felt it was necessary to "darken" their music to keep up with the times, utilizing boring, down-tuned riffs and subject matter they considered "serious" or "introspective". So sudden was the fall of pop metal that the bands left hanging around were so desperate to sell records that they totally forgot what made their music so great in the first place. It was fun, plain and simple, and it took a very long time for those bands to realize that energy and attitude was sorely lacking on record.
For Ratt in particular, it's been ages since we last heard a good album from them. Between 1983 and 1986, while Mötley Crüe grabbed all the headlines, Ratt was actually the class of the Sunset Strip scene, a perfect example of what pop metal was all about. On one side, they had the looks, the fashion sense (as weird as it seems today), and the undeniable hooks that won over the girls; on the other, they had the swagger, the sharp, deceptively heavy riffs, and the shredding solos to attract the guys. Their first three albums, 1984's Out of the Cellar, 1985's Invasion of Your Privacy, and 1986's Dancing Undecover sold a ton, but the ten singles those records spawned were the true strengths, "Wanted Man", "You're in Love", "Dance", and the ubiquitous "Round and Round" a perfect balance between classic heavy metal/hard rock and pure pop songwriting. After that, though, subsequent albums quickly slipped into hair metal self-parody, and their 1999 attempted comeback yielded a drab, blues-based self-titled album that couldn't hold a candle to their phenomenal early work.
So why on earth should we even care about Ratt now as they start to hit their 50s? Well, somehow they all realized that the smartest thing to do is go back to those records from a quarter century ago and rediscover that classic sound that had fallen by the wayside, and as a result, the band has come through with a very pleasantly surprising seventh album. In fact, not only does Infestation avoid embarrassment, but its eleven tracks fully deserve to stand alongside Ratt's best work.
The taut, crisp riffs and dual guitars are back intact, with Quiet Riot's Carlos Cavazo proving a good replacement for the late Robbin Crosby, who passed away in 2002. Singer Stephen Pearcy sounds 20 years younger, his trademark snarl on full display and displaying more range than on Ratt's early '90s material. Warren DeMartini is once again unleashing solos that are both nimble enough to attract the guitar geeks and disciplined enough to never lose their melodic touch. And best of all, the songs are wickedly catchy. The furious rhythm riff that drives "Eat Me Up Alive" sounds like it was lifted straight off Invasion of Your Privacy, Pearcy's charismatic delivery during the verses carries "A Little Too Much", the lively "Last Call" is a well-executed and often facetious rave-up, while "Look Out Below" cranks up the sleaze factor considerably, caring not one iota about political correctness.
"Best of Me" is even stronger, Cavazo and DeMartini nicking a snappy, sunny riff from Van Halen as Pearcy takes some undeniably goofy lyrics ("I'm not a liar and I don't care / I'm gonna make you play truth or dare") and sings them ebulliently, without a trace of irony. Even better, though, is the terrific "Lost Weekend", which is built around a nasty riff in the vein of 1984's "Lack of Communication", its lascivious chorus highlighted by drummer Bobby Blotzer, who brings back the trademark tom fills and ride cymbal bell pings that made his drumming style so identifiable way back when.
If Infestation came out 25 years ago it would have been massive, but while its sales numbers will be but a fraction of those obscene '80s sales numbers, it's still a very welcome return to form by a band that has been creatively stagnant for far too long. For those who grew up back in the day when mainstream hard rock and melodic metal was fun, rather than the dreary corporate rock sung by bearded dudes that inexplicably continues to sell, you won't find a better soundtrack for your summer than this one, even though your summers these days might merely entail chauffeuring your kids around all the time. Well, that's what CD players and iPods are for. Pop this sucker on, put it on repeat, and ignore the kids' pleas to turn it down.