26 years is not quite the longest ever gap between albums for a band, but it’s long enough to make the new Stray Cats album “40” one of the most anticipated releases of 2019. For those who remember the early 80s rockabilly revival anyway. The bands members intervening releases and bands may have had differences in style, but all kept the excitement of the Stray Cats music. Now the band are back together, have the band grown old as disgracefully as we hoped?
The opener “Cat Fight (Over a Dog Like Me)” sets the stall out early, there’s not going to be a new direction here. A full throttle story of a bar fight blasts out. As we know, all Stray Cats songs take place in an alternate pulp universe populated entirely by rock and rollers, hot rod cars, beehive hair and the ever-present threat of a rumble. Do not expect excess subtlety or nuance.
We’ve already heard Rock It Off. This track allows the band to wind back the speed slightly, imploring that if you feel low, then the only cure is rock music.
Cry Danger is the other track already revealed. This is the darker side of the band, in a movie, this would be the part of the soundtrack where the lead actors all pile in a convertible and drive into the desert, intent on no good.
“I Attract Trouble” appropriates the riff from Pipeline in order to imbue a sense of danger to yet another typical Stray Cat Saturday night… (clearly they never stay in at the weekend). “Police and pretty women won’t leave me alone” they claim. The comparisons to The Cramps are at their peak with “That’s Messed Up” – a song where you’re never quite sure who you feel more sorry for, the protagonist or the object of his affection. Both seem to have strong reasons for ending that particular relationship.
Among the rock and roll, there’s also an instrumental – “Desperado”, not an Eagles cover, but a western themed surf guitar track, which could almost be a lost Ennio Morricone outtake.
My album highlight is “Mean Pickin’ Mama” – because it’s everything you need in a Stray Cats track: heartache, moonshine, rockabilly, upright bass, and a love affair tragically ended too soon by rock ‘n’ roll. You can’t question a record where a relationship ends because, “You just want to play that guitar all day, rockin’ and rollin’ your life away…”. Now that’s a motto to live by. Another strong track is closer “Devil Train”, ensuring the obligatory rockabilly staples of satan and railroads are covered in appropriately over the top style.
The decision to get back together and play gigs ahead of the recording has definitely been a good one. The whole recording has an immediacy that feels like it could have been recorded between shows, the production is stripped back and it almost feels live. There is more flourish in the musicianship than back in the day but this is recognisably the Stray Cats. It’s an older (but not necessarily wiser) sound, reminding us as to why the band are still relevant after such a long time. It’s not just nostalgia, it’s the sound of a band very comfortable with what they do and with each other, and giving their fans what we want. And there may well be a number of new fans too after this.