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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Metal Framework Is Ratt's Creative Cage

September 07, 1998|STEVE APPLEFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Heavy metal is a fickle science. Worthy musical ideas are not required for great popular success, but without them careers are short. Fans move on.

That's been a harsh lesson for the members of Ratt, who roared out of the Los Angeles metal scene in the early 1980s with a pair of million-selling albums. In those days, the quartet headlined arenas. On Friday, Ratt entertained a far humbler crowd at the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana, playing the same limited metal formula with unlikely gusto.

Ratt wasn't a tired echo of its former self at the Galaxy. Unlike many of the band's contemporaries, its members still appear young and healthy, and they played with real energy. When the band hit on a rich metal groove, the charged chords were surprisingly effective. But, as in Ratt's heyday, most of the material was hopelessly monotonous.

Only a few songs stood out with worthy rock hooks. Songs like "Way Cool Jr." were filled with enough attitude to keep the headbangers up front singing along and thrusting their fists ecstatically through the entire 90-minute set. And yet, too many songs were tuneless and instantly forgettable.

Ratt could often craft a rock-solid rhythm, but the band was rarely able to add anything memorable to the songs. Guitar solos had no noticeable personality or dynamics. They tended to be brief and anonymous, as if played more out of obligation than inspiration.

Singer Stephen Pearcy carried himself as if Ratt were still playing to arena crowds, twirling and juggling his microphone stand like a majorette. Dressed in baggy leather jeans and T-shirt, Pearcy sang in the same harsh whine, a vocal approach that inevitably keeps the band tragically tied to the faded '80s.

Early that decade, Ratt was the prototypic L.A. metal band and was among the first to find broad popular success. The band scored an early hit with "Round and Round," a Van Halen-like knockoff that helped open the doors for the more substantial metal of Guns N' Roses and the crowd-pleasing pop metal of Poison. By the time that scene peaked in the early '90s, it was more a business than a creative enterprise, more about proven poses than songwriting.

Even if Ratt's days as an arena act were numbered, the band retained some flair on Friday within its limited chops and musical ideas. The best moments tended to emerge when Pearcy picked up a guitar, helping provide a fuller, richer rock sound.

The band's cover of "Walking the Dog" fell short of Aerosmith's 1973 version. And new songs like "Lovesick" and "Trouble" only offered more of the same, not a progression--a self-defeating move since '80s metal is long dead. And with neo-metal acts like Korn and Limp Bizquit filling the needs of '90s headbangers, it's not likely to come back.

Opening act Liquid Circus offered high volume but low-wattage songwriting. The Orange County-based quintet found some occasional fire within its plodding groove, but was hobbled by the macho strut of a lead singer who appeared vaguely Marky Mark-ish in his open shirt, leather pants and backward baseball cap.

Before performing a song called "Daddy's Crying," he was inexplicably compelled to announce: "It's nothing. It's just a song." So much for sentiment. So much for music as a form of expression. If he doesn't care, why should you?

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