CD Reviews

Rose Tattoo - 'Rose Tattoo' / 'Assault & Battery' / 'Scarred For Life' / 'Southern Stars' Hot

Added by Central Electronic Brain     April 14, 2018    
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Bad boys sure play Rock 'n' Roll and way back when, Rose Tattoo were as bad as they came.

It's all too easy to dismiss anyone who followed AC/DC out of the Aussie Rock scene as mere clones of the Young brothers. In fairness it's an affliction more than a few suffered from, Rocked up Bar-room Boogie undeniably a staple of the club scene "down under". One of the (many) bands who had much more going on – while still retaining strong Bar-room links – were Rose Tattoo, a group of genuinely dangerous dudes with prison time and other assorted brushes with the law behind them.

Their music – at least initially – sounded just as dangerous, the 1978 self-titled debut barely concealing that they might cause a fight to break out at any minute. 'Rock 'N' Roll Outlaw', 'Nice Boys', 'One Of The Boys' and 'Bad Boy For Love' are snot-nosed Rock 'n' Roll that verged into Punk in its attitude, if not so much its delivery. By the time the band put this album together they'd already shed three fifths of their original line-up, meaning that the version of RT that most people got to know was fronted by Angry Anderson, powered by bassist Geordie Leach and drummer Dallas "Digger" Royall and infused by the only original Tatt's remaining, guitarists Peter Wells and Mick Cocks.

Quickly building a fearsome live reputation (one of those bands that you'd need to be brave not to show your appreciation for...), the instability would continue, Cocks and Leach dropping out before returning for the follow-up, 'Assault & Battery', in 1981. For many, it is the band's defining moment where their Punk Blues found the perfect sweet spot between juggernaut Rock 'n' Roll and fist-fighting in a parking lot. If you're not knocked sideways by the sheer, yet controlled, aggression of 'Manzil Madness', 'Out Of This Place' or the chanting title track, then tough and rumble Rock 'n' Roll was never for you. Anderson, while rough around the edges, was a true talent; an excellent singing voice always kept just out of sight by his spitting, "in-your-face" vitriol, while Wells and Cocks hammered home the band's advantage through some of the cleverest, grittiest riffs you could hope to imagine. 'Chinese Dunkirk' also uncovered a more sophisticated side that, while hidden deep under bulging biceps and bravado, was always there to be found. That said, it wasn't any sort of sophistication that made an impression at the band's appearance during that year's Reading Festival, Anderson repeatedly head butting the amps until much blood could be seen being the main talking point...

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine For Melodic Rock Music

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Teaming up again with Harry Vanda and George Young (who had been with the boys from the start and who Anderson credits in the in-depth liner notes that accompany all of these re-issues for massively improving the song-writing of every band they worked with), album number three, 'Scarred For Life', found Cocks moving on to join the band Heaven, his replacement, Robin Riley, slipping into place nicely. However, if there was a hint of refinement on '...Battery', by the time '...Life' hit the shelves, it was almost a blatant tool being used to reposition Rose Tattoo into slightly more commercial climes – think the difference between AC/DC's 'Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap' and 'For Those About To Rock' and you won't be far away. You know it's the same band, but the shift in tone is noticeable, if not entirely unwelcome. 'Branded' and 'We Can't Be Beaten' are perfect examples of the styles the band were now straddling. In ways, compared to the first pair of RT albums 'Scarred...' is a compromise, but not a wholly unsuccessful one.

The final of the four re-issues comes in the shape of 1984's 'Southern Stars' and what a different shape it is. If 'Scarred...' was an evolution, then '...Stars' was the unwanted revolution. Wells, Royall and Riley had all departed leaving Anderson and Leach to recruit guitarists Greg Jordan and John Meyer alongside drummer Scott Johnston. Despite Vanda and Young still being behind the console, the damage was done and '...Stars' became a Boogie-AOR hybrid that's every bit as dissatisfying as that description suggests. All the rough edges are carefully chiselled away from the guitars and Anderson's decidedly un-Angry vocals, leaving the likes of 'I Wish' and 'The Pirate Song' as neither one thing or the other. Most disappointingly, with the sole figure of an (unevenly drawn) Anderson on the front cover and the other four band members reduced to one small photo on the back, what once struck you as the tightest, most dangerous gang in the southern hemisphere, suddenly felt like a group of strangers in search of stardom.

Although they never quite made the breakthrough into the big leagues their first two (maybe three) albums deserved, RT still had relative success in the UK, making a strong mark in the Heavy Metal charts, while in the US their influence has been sighted as key by the likes of Guns 'N' Roses, no less. However, what hasn't helped the band's hard hitting legacy is their fifth (and not part of this re-issue series) album, 'Beats From A Single Drum' – a ballad heavy Arena Rock effort that spawned the massive international hit 'Suddenly' (yes, the theme for Scott (Jason Donovan) and Charlene's (Kylie Minogue) wedding in Aussie soap Neighbours...) which finally heralded the band's demise both in terms of reputation and existence. A brief reformation did take place in 1993 and there is still an Anderson-fronted version running to this day. With Wells, Cocks, and Royall sadly no longer with us, the best way to remember RT is through this excellent re-issue set featuring detailed liner notes and copious bonus cuts (although, frustratingly, not as many as previous versions have) including the decidedly tasteless 'I Had You First', which lyrically was near the bone even for the late seventies.

Bad boys sure play Rock 'n' Roll and way back when, Rose Tattoo were as bad as they came.

Steven Reid

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