Along with a slew of singles, First Light gives us The Ratchets’ second LP after a 12-year gap. Pirates Press recently gave us some reissues and a 4XLP 12” box set. Now, The Ratchets return. Adorned with a casual couple peering out their car windshield to view the atomic end, the cover represents this flippant punk record poised to combat the current status quo. Defiant in spirit, The Ratchets grab ahold of a catchy chord and pound it home.
The Ratchets pick up where they were all this time, provocative but palatable punk rock, emphasis on rock. The Clash influence is unabashed and unapologetic. But I would also point to Chicago’s The Arrivals for tone and atmospheric approach.
Punk and political subject matter are merged with concrete songwriting and production, reflective lyrics sung over rolling and sorrowful tunes. The feeling of First Light is somewhat reticent. While vulnerable and sincere, there is a strain; the music clings to tension which makes it feel so urgent. Personal perspectives of political situations and social clashes help propel this unique craft. On a separate single, they have a track called “Iraqi Vice” which skews the grand subject to a single viewpoint. The same lens is utilized here, harnessing the emotions of tragedy and showcasing the innocents in a myopic field.
The Ratchets are stellar at balancing a punchy grit with well-placed vocal harmonies and guitar melodies. The drumming certainly stands out; the driving snare is great, but it’s more the sparse technique that stands instead of being a raucous distraction. First Light kicks off with “Gotta Be Cool,” (also a 7” available from Pirates Press) a pulsating track. The Hammond provides an emotional foundation while vocals and guitars (a left-right panning chord adds an infectious bop) are playfully pert. The song also sets the tone for the album with fantastic guitar leads, true rock and roll feel while mixed low to never snag the spotlight.
“Drone Control” and “Bad Vibes” continue this feel, neither of which are redundant. This is not “pop” punk or three-chord punk, where each song sounds alike. The Ratchets take a formula and twist enough on each track to separate the feel. Well-placed vocals are perched on vibrant choruses. “Bad Vibes” feels bigger in sound and pulls it off. “2-4-6-8 Motorway” tempers a 70s rock (Cheap Trick-ish?) strum but a Clash-like vocal cadence. Again, the song trails off with a screaming guitar lead as a simple hand clap beat pushes through the air.
“Dotard at the Dial” pushes the pace back to 4/4. This song charges forward and is appreciated. With references to the UN’s stunned disapproval and the nuclear codes unprotected at the Orange one’s whims, it is a necessary leering at our current chief. Somber and piercing, driven home by the sobering title, “World Trade Lungs” is a reflective track. The Strummer is strong in this, (especially the vocal additions of “ah ah ah ah….” In the chorus).
Poignant and gifted with hindsight, this track is lyrically engaging and a true written song with time changes and sections. The slicing lyrics culminate with the end dissipating with three layers of vocals singing over a reggae-plucked bass and drum, “when the kids all ride their caskets home,” done in a sing-along, staggered rounds execution. It’s moving (on the level of Street Dog’s “Last Transmission”).
“Paterson” is a little too quiet; I do not feel the compelling tug of the other tracks. But The Ratchets grab the reigns again with “Fiscal Spliff.” The guitar tone, the tempo, the lyrics, that bounce. Damn fine song.
“Money makes the rules/ money sets the terms/ money makes the world were living in”
This is snarled over empty measures save for a bass drum hit and a strum. This is the fist pumping rebellion part that will get a club moving. “Stray Emotions” carries the energy and is another great song: mid-tempo and a full sound. The production on the entire album is about picking through which tracks should be full and open and which tracks are better as honed darts.
“War Office #9” is a chilling angle lyrically to a sad state, seeing war through the state admin’s desk, checking boxes and shuffling documents. The acoustic affair is a hard-hitting ditty. “Jammyland” closes the album with grace, facilitated by a supporting organ. Pun intended, but the song has a jam feel, like some friends howling a tribute song to influences and forefathers. This is a good campfire song or closing credits track.
The Ratchets will be billed as a punk band. And they are. But as with The Clash, their most egregious mentor, they draw from many paths. Sure, punk, especially ’77 U.K. And then, reggae vibes. But country and soul and gospel all seep into the handwriting. This closing track exemplifies the wide-embracing tendencies of these fine musicians.
RIYL: The Clash, The Arrivals, Street Dogs, The Ducky Boys, Bombshell Rocks, The Jam, Buzzcocks