What happens when you do heavy metal without the power of the video-camera-launched white-male schweinhund? It’s a trick question, concocted while watching some PBS Frontline media theoretician attempting to piece together how corporate-entertainment-oplex USA had propagandized a stupendous mass of clods into accepting a certain pitilessly humdrum metal band as overridingly cool by selling the meticulously engineered fraud that it was the apex of rebellion—in this case, nonconformity being signified by Breaking Things, for instance parts of yourself, during activities like jumping into a pit of dung or impacting the bridge of your nose at medium velocity against the rim of a trampoline.
But back to the question.
The answer is: You fail. Just like a bunch of Aussie rogues going by the name of Rose Tattoo did 20 years ago. Told you it was a trick, aimed at scholars of Joe Bltfszpk-metal for the hopeless loser—those for whom life is too close to a regrettable slog through manure, not a staged op to jump into a pile of it for the camera. Slick bald RT frontman Angry Anderson was way too early for today’s network of raging Ameri-trash and a little too late to cultivate a small interest from a Skynyrd-type mass crowd. Grizzled and blobby, even for their first album in ’80, Rose Tattoo sounded like AC/DC’s AC/DC: a barrage of blitzing blooz-tromp cast as backdrop for howling tales about a gangster war in which the strutting braggart is put down by switchblade (“The Butcher and Fast Eddie”) and his character fortified by short trips to jail (“Outta This Place”). Axl Rose, who apparently knew the real thing when he saw it, tuned in to the imagery from the sour side of Sydney early—”And down in the street the garbage lies, protected by a million flies”—giving Tattoo’s signature number, “Nice Boys,” an adequate translation even though most of his audience had no idea from whence it came.
And like good cannon fodder, once more into the artillery of indifference advance Rose Tattoo, who reproduce everything of theirs that was once worth listening to for 25 to Life. The differences are by degrees: The rhythm section is more in the pocket, the guitars more chopping, technology capturing the sound better in convergence with rockers holding no illusion that even minor success is nigh, the thought being so kicked out of them that not a trace of diluting concession remains. 25 to Life, therefore, is too strong a cup of tea for a dolt culture adapted to the manageable semi-articulate shithead as rock marketeer; honest-to-God plug-uglies with scar tissue around the beetling brow are simply overqualified for the work.
Anderson demonstrates, spouting odd evangelist’s homilies, simultaneously cheering and unnerving, about pain being the only companion one can trust. “When all else deserts and abandons, when all else leaves you wounded in the ditch!” he screeches again, before his mates pile into a timber-rattling bottleneck guitar headbang on the revitalizing qualities of the freely given handjob. Rumored to be tops in Deutschland.
Emma Pearse on Australian rock and pop.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 3, 2001