My 22nd birthday was a bit different to all my previous ones, I had something new to contend with – work. Working on my birthday? how crap was that?! Still I made the most of it by jogging across Leeds, literally, treating myself to two LPs and jogging back. One of them was a replacement for a tape, Leatherface Mush so I knew it was genius before I handed my cash over, for the other one I risked a chunk of my (newly) hard-earned on an LP the guy at the shop recommended to me Rocket From The Crypt Circa: Now! I’d read they were great, I loved the slightly strange Thunderbird-esque cover and the fact one of the tracks was called ‘Killy Kill’. Plus any band whose members go by the names Speedo, Atom, ND, Petey X and Apollo 9, just had to be dang good news. I was in.
What I found when I got home threw me for a bit of a loop, I’d never heard anything like it. RFTC* were very loud, that was okay everyone I like is, their sound was like a punk hot rod revving hard at the lights, held, but only just on the brake. They had some cool horns, a real muscular, almost ham-fisted guitar sound, gruff tough but very intelligible vocals, traces of rockabilly and some great concealed harmonies too. It was puzzling for me. At their best RFTC had mastered the technique of just bludgeoning you with a riff, or more likely a phrase, until it just became a wave of sound, the overall effect being a bit like being clubbed slowly unconscious by a lovely soft pillow**. The nearest musical comparison I have is with Fugazi, but only in the sense that it is the diametric opposite of their attack; Fugazi slither and slice, RFTC just lower their collective heads and fucking charge. This is a good thing.
I actually played ‘Killy Kill’ first, despite it being track 5 because I liked the title so much, it didn’t disappoint. A brief crinkle of surf guitar and they knuckle down to a whiplash smart tune that flashes past you, leaving you snatching at the lyrics ‘killing ain’t wrong/ Killing ain’t wrong!‘ and a bizarre ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ ‘woo – woo’ section; it’s truly great and bands really don’t write ’em like that anymore. Circa: Now! has far more up its sleeve than a gonzoid speed-fix though, my favourite track is the 8 minute final one, ‘Glazed’. I was quite shocked tonight to learn how blood-curdling the lyrics were, but that’s by the by. ‘Glazed’ starts off fairly normal, well RFTC normal anyway and after about 3 minutes hits what sounds like the song’s coda, a repeated softening riff and a fade out, that never really does fade out. Instead over another 5 minutes it hits trance-like proportions of repetition, the vocals fading in occasionally before ending with a horn-backed chant^ of ‘Smoke pot, smoke pot, everybody smoke pot!‘, it is simultaneously a bit daft and quite majestic – rather Beatlesy in fact. I’ve played it 4 times tonight so far.
There is so much to enjoy in here, the pulverizing swing of ‘Short Lip Fuser’, the snarl of ‘Don’t Darlene’, the sarcasm of ‘Hippy Dippy Doo’, the sheer force of ‘Dollar’ … I won’t go on, but Circa: Now! is one big, mostly unsubtle-until-the-harmonies-get-you treat.
They were the sort of band who gave lifetime free admission to their shows for anyone who got a RFTC tattoo, you should have seen the hassle I got when I tried that with my Fuck Buttons facial tattoo. You can’t really see from the LP cover but I also really dug RFTC’s aesthetic, that tight black bowling-shirted greaser look^^ – they came on like a tribute act to the golden age of rock and roll, but were almost good enough to found their own. Worth working my birthday for.
PS: Their next-but-one album was even better!^*
*as they shall be known henceforth. I hath decreed it thus. Let it be so.
**1537 quality control would like it to be known that an overtly sexual metaphor was considered here, but rejected on the grounds of common decency.
^obviously not endorsed by your humble, law-abiding writer.
^^think of the character Sue (played by Patrick Van Horn) in 1537-fave film Swingers.
^*except I’ve never got around to buying Scream, Dracula, Scream! on vinyl, yet.