WHAT IF PHIL Spector had made his mark scoring John Waters flicks instead of '60s girlgroups? What if the hiccup-throated Alan Vega (of Suicide) fronted the Bad Seeds instead of Nick Cave? What if '70s cabaret art-rockers Cockney Rebel had crashed in that plane instead of Lynyrd Skynyrd, leaving mainman Steve Harley to regroup with a buncha hirsute Southern rockers? What if the music world genuflected before Jon Spencer & the Spiders From Mars Explosion?
These and other musically macabre ruminations slither through the mind while listening to the fifth Rock*A*Teens album. The Georgia combo has been slyly reinventing itself over the past couple of years, moving away from its signature reverb-drenched lounge jazz-cum-psychobilly toward a denser, more cinematic--if no less cacophonic--sound.
The group's trash aesthetic, now refined in the direction of "glam," still holds sway; the carnival swagger and alcoholic swoon of "Betwixt or Between" offers its dueling protagonists the option of being kissed or killed, and it's probably the only tune ever to rhyme late soul king Marvin Gaye (the kissing part) with British gangsters the Brothers Kray (the killing part--specifically, "Reggie Kray").
There are also some nice moments of gothic noir (the vibraphone-littered "It's Destiny," which boasts a vocal duet between head Teen Chris Lopez and indie chanteuse Shannon Wright) and wall-of-sound slices of cinéma vérité ("If I Wanted To Be Famous [I'd Have Shot Someone]" is every bit as magnificent as "River Deep Mountain High," in a twisted kinda way).
Lord knows what the RATS are on--they probably grow it or cook it up in the basement--but they're definitely onto something. Call it supersonic sleaze pop.
The Rock*A*Teens play at Solar Culture, 31 E. Toole Ave. Monday, November 20 at 9 p.m. The cover is a cool $5.