It was The Supersuckers who said it best.
“The Healing Powers Of Rock N Roll” wrote Eddie Spaghetti, and the boy, well he does really have a point. However you’re feeling, there’s a song for it – if you’re that way inclined.
The Stray Cats have always been a band to get to brass tacks, pretty fast. As a boy watching Top Of The Pops on a Thursday night I remember seeing them play “Stray Cat Strut” and the likes, as a lad of five and six years old, I didn’t know Elvis existed. I knew Stray Cats were cool, though (I also bought The Best Of Showaddywaddy, with my pocket money, but don’t judge me…..)
So it was with some feeling that the second song on “40” (the title is a reference to the fact it is their 40th anniversary) is called “Rock It Off”. In it, essentially, Brian Setzer offers the thought that whatever ails ya, The Stray Cats have the answer: “blast through your fever, forget about your cough, the flu don’t stand a chance, when you get up and dance….” He sings, and as simplistic as that might be, then you can’t fault the sheer innocent intent here.
By the bands own admission there is absolutely nothing tricky about what they do. Take the way they announce themselves after more than a quarter of a century away. “Cat Fight (Over A Dog Like Me)” and Setzer can’t quite get his head around the fact two women are coming to blows over him (you know he loved it though, that’s for damn sure…) and even if that isn’t cool enough it rhymes “gavel” with “travel” – and they all pull the judge. Oh and it sounds like Chuck Berry on turbocharge.
The 12 songs here are basically some kind of rock n roll brew distilled to its essence. That’s not to say, though, that it all sounds the same. The genius of this is that it doesn’t. Instead, “I’ve Got Love If You Want It” sees Slim Jim’s bass to the fore, while “Cry Danger” has the riff of a Beatles song and “I Attract Trouble” (with its pay off line of “…..and you’re the kinda trouble I like”) is the sound of men who know they are old enough to know better, but being bad is just too much fun.
“Three Times A Charm” is more akin to the classic sound. That of drive in cinemas, diners and rockin’ around the clock that in my romantic view I think the whole of America was like in the 1950s. But even here they can’t resist a bit of bad behaviour. “She said its almost three in the morning,” offers Setzer, “I said, three is my lucky number….” You can almost hear the knowing look to camera here, to be honest.
Arguably the best of the lot – and believe me, that accolade has changed about 15 times with each listen to this record – is “When Nothing’s Going Right” (cure? Well, go left, obviously) but it’s percussion and guitar is just perfect and is the work of a band that has an absolute mastery of its craft.
“Mean Pickin’ Mama” fancies a hoedown so has one, and “I’ll Be Looking Out For You” has a lead guitar line so low-slung that it would put many a punk band to shame, and no mistake and “Devil Train” sounds like its rattling down the tracks in full knowledge that it is meeting a messy end – and what’s more, it doesn’t give a monkeys.
“40” isn’t a record that requires too much analysis in truth. Just enjoy it with all your heart, because ever since a young kid hot-footed it into Sun Studios to record a song for his mum, rock n roll has been at it’s best when it’s kept simple. “40” is beyond joyous, and that’s alright, mama, it really is. The Stray Cats might just have found the key to eternal youth.