here’s trouble in Rocketown.
1. The liner notes for Live From Camp X-Ray trumpet the band’s obsolescence while also making sarcastic references to the undeserved popularity of the Hives and the White Stripes. No member of Rocket From the Crypt actually wrote the liners, but by accepting and printing them, their agreement does seem implied.
2. The CD version of the album is being distributed (in Canada, at least) by TVT/Universal, which as we all know is the blanket under which Interscope strokes its member. Interscope was the label that squandered RFTC when they were at the height of their powers, leaving the band in musical purgatory, suckling on debt and begging to be released. Their last album, 2001’s fantastic Group Sounds, which was also on Vagrant, had no ties whatsoever to Interscope.
3. The new album’s lyrics are infused with what seems to be music biz bitterness or, at the very least, desperation. “Last chance to get rich off the shit that makes me sick...Last chance to get fucked off this shit that we can’t trust” (“Get Runnin’”), “I’m not invisible” (“I’m Not Invisible”), “Go enter the workforce and never quit” (“Bucket of Piss”). I hope I’m wrong when I assume that RFTC has finally come to the inevitable conclusion that they will never break through like they deserve to.
4. Live From Camp X-Ray is only 26 minutes long.
Looking at this list of grievances, you could easily assemble a theory that RFTC, hoping to cash in on the recent successes of inferior, somewhat similar bands, rushed into the studio, banged out a handful of songs and are now hoping that their timing and the major label distribution of X-Ray will finally pay off. While unlikely, I hope that’s the case, because I need to believe that something external is responsible for these songs, because this album sucks.
Once the greatest rock and roll band in the world, RFTC is now indistinguishable from John Reis’ less-than-rad side projects Beehive and the Barracudas and the Sultans. Gone is the urgency, density and electric ballsweat upon which the RFTC sound was built on. These songs are stupidly simplistic, musically and lyrically. The Rocket of yore -- Jesus Christ, the Rocket of last year -- even at their most basic, had levels of cleverness and intensity that made the band seem more intricate and thoughtful than any other. The horn arrangements, which had been growing in prominence and complexity since Scream, Dracula, Scream have been relegated to the periphery; no longer piranhas, the sax and trumpet lines pass by like stunned bass. And the edge is gone. RFTC, once nomadically prolific, dropping muscular discordance wherever they pleased, now sounds like a band that should be on Vagrant: indistinct, poppy punk that is sort of fast and melodic to a fault.
There are exactly three good songs and two good choruses to be found on the album. “I’m Not Invisible” is brilliant; an immediate, blazing two-and-a-half minute epic that blows away anything else on the album. Too bad it’s X-Ray’s first song. “I Wanna Know What I Wanna Know” is good as well; a sweeping, bordering-on-cheesy update of the Group Sounds highlight, “S.O.S.” Album closer “Too Many Balls” is funny and light -- a bouncing goof of a song -- but it’s also extremely well constructed and memorable. Outside these songs and the choruses of “Bucket of Piss” and “I Can’t Feel My Head”, Live From Camp X-Ray is an endless field of clichés, lazy lyrics and forgettable songs that bring to mind visions of a young band influenced by Rocket From the Crypt, not the masters themselves.
Your guess is as good as mine as to why this album is so awful. I hope it’s not because of the hypothetical situation mentioned above; I hope it’s not because RFTC has lost their touch; but most of all, I hope this isn’t the band’s last album. Rocket From the Crypt is better than this, and they need to do something -- the quicker the better -- to rescue their catalogue, their reputation and their legacy because Live From Camp X-Ray is a heartbreakingly bad album.
Reviewed by: Clay Jarvis
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01