REVIEW: Rocket From the Crypt, Scream, Dracula, Scream! (Interscope)

This disc has a tremendous number of things going for it (sound, performance, hooks galore), so many that I’m not quite sure why I don’t like it more. RFTC is the most popular band out of the San Diego scene, and Scream is their second major label release (third overall). Circa Now!, their major label debut, showed off an R&B-tinged loud semi-punk sound developed in reaction to the violent hardcore of the late 80’s San Diego punk scene. Their big guitar attack was supplemented with a small but excellent horn section, and the album was a college radio hit.

Scream takes each aspect of Circa and magnifies it. The songs are even hookier. The singing is bigger and more confident. The playing is tighter. The guitars and horns are bigger and fatter and fit beautifully in the mix. The backup harmonies and sing-alongs come more often and louder. And the R&B tinge has become the dominant color. Without exaggeration, it’s easy to imagine almost any of the 14 songs on Scream being a commercial breakthrough mainstream hit.

Listening to the record, you feel like you are hearing a band hitting its stride, achieving exactly the sounds it wants. So the curious thing is that I feel strangely unsatisfied with the record. I’m not usually one to turn down pure pop pleasures and I can’t argue with the pleasantness of the hooks, but these are hooks that don’t bring me back for more. Here are two possible complementary reasons:

Explanation one: when you take R&B tinged punk and rev up the R&B and try for a Phil Spector-like bigness of sound, you end up with Bruce Springsteen songs sung by Elvis Costello. When you throw the fact that this is a self-proclaimed party band and every chorus on this CD is a (potential) sing-along, you get a formula for getting frat boy party band sounds out of an independent band with genuine punk scene roots.

Explanation two: Ultimately, the hooks hook by familiarity not surprise. This is party music and this party is not an adventure because only your close friends are there. Singer Speedo openly said that he saves his experimenting for his other band Drive Like Jehu (also on Interscope… a package deal) and “wimpy pop songs” for RFTC, and it shows. Drive Like Jehu songs provoke twisty thought and insights, and RFTC songs offer fat-bottomed comfort and warmth.

I can imagine their live show’s probably pretty fun, what with the crowd singing along with every song (although two friends who saw shows from a couple years back had negative impressions). If you want hooky R&B/Punk songs that are skillfully written, played, and arranged, you should definitely check out this disc. Just be warned that if your tastes are like mine, you will admire this record but not ever need to hear it. And in the absence of adventure and discovery, and in the absence of addiction, music can only offer familiarity and comfort, which may be just what you need right now, but then again may not.