I grew up fast on a working class street
First thing I learned was life don’t come cheap
Technical school it was a waste of time
Makin’ robots for some factory line
Fancy some rage? Go on, I’ve got some of the good stuff here, 100% proof, raw from-the-mean-streets of Coburg, Melbourne? Some real ‘you fucking lookin’ at me’ aggression? as a leftie vegetarian pacifist* this is just like playing dress up for me, so let’s crank Rose Tattoo Scarred For Life and party like its 1982, we haven’t bathed for a week, we’ve just been laid off from the logging plant and we’ve been drinking cleaning products cut with orange juice since 3am yesterday morning.
If you don’t know Rose Tattoo, a quick scan of the cover will give you most of what you need, 5 really bad-ass hombres who just happened to make some real blue-collar hard rocking boogie for your delectation, but not in a cissy way, alright? I mean come on, look at ’em you’d definitely cross the road to avoid them – remember they got these tattoos way back when, way before every MF on earth had two whole sleeve tattoos and they truly marked you out as a dangerous outlaw.
Got my first tattoo when I was 16
The rebel had lost his teenage queen
I’d taken a stand for an outlaw’s life
My ma’s words kept ringin’, “Angry, you´re scarred for life”
Scarred For Life isn’t quite up to the same mark as Assault & Battery, but it’s a close run thing. The title track kicks things off with a tale of heartache, rebellion and tattoos (natch!). I really like this one, it’s a fist-in-the-face challenge right from the off with that jack hammer riff, before the melody hits – the Tattoo boys at their best always had a real knack with a good tune and this has one, I’ve peppered this post with the lyrics from this one, but there is just one bit most of the way through where Mr A. Anderson, who sings brilliantly on this one, sings the lines, ‘I fought tooth and nail, every inch of the way / I got scars…to prove it’, that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
I spent some time a guest of the state
I got out and wanted to go straight
People don’t forgive, the police force don’t forget
I was jailed for crimes I did not commit
Then its time for one of my big teenaged anthems ‘We Can’t Be Beaten’, I used to play this all the time on my Walkman when our school team was on the bus to matches, over and over again** to psych myself up. It’s simplistic, antagonistic and very simple, in quite a brilliant way, those gang-backing vocals just hit the spot for me, and man that bit where the music drops away … look you get the picture.
Next up, after establishing their hard-man outlaw bona fides, Rose Tattoo turn their steely eyed gaze on the fairer sex on ‘Juice On The Loose’. Oh yes, Mr Anderson is looking straight at ya baby, he likes what he sees and he’s got a subtle metaphor all, umm, cocked and ready, all he needs now is a bouncy rhythm and some slide geeetaww! Watch out here he comes!
I need a trick, I need a kick
To get me runnin’ make my motor tick
Oh mama, c’mon stroke my goose
Yeah, stroke – stroke
Don’t need a pill, I need a thrill
I need a job where I can use my drill
Hmm, we’re not exactly talking Omar Sharif levels of sophistication here. This is far more threatening than the fighting songs! Imagine, it’s your first night in prison on a 9-year stretch and you just realize that the 6’9″ Mexican transvestite body-builder who’s your new cell mate, wants to take your relationship to the next level; that’s the overall effect here.
The next few tracks hit their straps with plenty of endeavour but not a huge amount of star-dust. The bluesy ‘Texas’ comes on like ZZ Top’s developmentally arrested angry cousins and features yet more great slide guitar, ‘I’m goin’ down to Texas where the big breasted women grow’^. I’m also pretty keen on the, you guessed it, angry ‘Dead Set’, but there are maybe 5 tracks here that are just filler and don’t really do it for me at all, mostly for tune-related deficiencies (T-R.D), which is why I don’t quite rate Scarred For Life as a whole.
I was scarred, Scarred for life
Been knocked around had a hell of a life
I was scarred, Scarred for life
I fought my way through the trouble and strife
But there is one I do have to mention, one that gives me a big chuck of disquiet, the last track on the album, ‘Revenge’. It certainly isn’t crap, the music is a real evil dirty blues number and Anderson barks and hisses out the lyrics in a way that shows they mean a lot to him. I’m not really a naïve chap, I know that an image like Mr Anderson’s tends to pitch you over into a very hard-right line of politics and here it is laid bare in all its venom. Unions? evil; Immigrants? evil – particularly those from the East it would seem, ‘parasites‘; Government? evil. It’s prophesied that blood will run in the streets. Interesting stuff given that it’s barked out by a man who was himself half-Mauritian. It’s the bands ‘One In a Million’ moment, as far as I’m concerned.
It all conspires to leave a bad taste in my mouth, it always has for as long as I’ve owned this. The band can write songs about whatever they want to, they have that right. I’m not saying you have to share my own brand of lesbian pinko commie pro-environmentalism to find favour with me and I am conscious that had the band been singing against fascists, oppressive policing and corrupt capitalism, in exactly the same terms then I’d be cheering along loudly. I recognize my essential hypocrisy here. Maybe the difference is essentially one of societal power relations, ‘Revenge’ rails against minorities from a position of majority strength (albeit camouflaged behind that eternally self-justifying myth of the oppressed working man) and that is what rankles, I will always stand up against a bully, proudly.
So what does this say about the rest of my liking for Scarred For Life? That I’m happy to go pick certain bits out of the mix and glorify the attitude and clenched fists, to laugh at the daft sexist bits in a knowingly ironic way, until it hits out at something I deem unacceptable? I think I do and that as long as you are aware of the completely arbitrary, often contradictory processes and decisions involved then that’s an okay thing to do.
Hell, I’m 1537, king-of-all-kings, ultimate arbiter of rock, bestower of accolades, slayer of giants and ruler of the nine planes and if I say there are 5 really good tracks here, a couple of them absolutely brilliant, then that is so.
*although not when there’s an oval ball involved.
**sadly, Mr Anderson and chums got it wrong, we very often were. I wasn’t going to go and ask him for my money back though.
^I have been unable to verify the truth of this statement at the time of going to press, it seems implied that they’re being specially cultivated that way down near Amarillo. I may have to investigate further.