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Stimulating the '70s learning curve - 85%

Gutterscream, May 16th, 2008
Written based on this version: 1977, 12" vinyl, Fire Sign Records

“…can you hear my wheels begin to burn?”

Debby Boone got best new artist. Her sap-encrusted song “You Light Up My Life” got song of the year. Other than that the year wasn’t too bad. Since it was on the small indie Fire Sign label, Riot’s debut didn’t get much exposure (same year albums from Thor, Quiet Riot, and Quartz had better distribution, yet how often do you see them?), and those who did find it probably weren’t too enamored with the axe-wielding seal on the cover (worst mascot ever?). Pretty sad, since Rock City jumps and moves better than two of those, maybe all three, but that’s not a new scene within the scene.

Much more interesting than it is often given credit for, Rock City isn’t one of those first album flubs the band wishes it could disown (no names mentioned). A passed-by contender to rock’s crown and easy vengeance on disco’s tiara, this represents the times well with hard-edged melody springing freshly oiled and vibrant in a rougher Boston sorta way as the quintet slaps us silly with multiple lessons in creating catchy, memorable riffs and song structures. But that leer at Boston isn’t exactly a correct one, ‘cos they sound really nothing alike, but maybe something in the coarser fuzz realm of Nugent or Montrose isn’t too far off, and Priest’s down-tempo Sin After Sin can seem old and oppressed in comparison…almost.

The fact is Riot make songwriting look easy here. With Rock City, we’re hearing that ‘new band with eyes a’gleamin’’ motivation that’s so fun to witness, and it doesn’t matter if you were around when it got shipped for the first time or dusted it off from a used bin 20 years later. I mean, Christ, it wasn’t pressed so long before the ‘80s that you can’t feel metal’s baby breath in there somewhere, and with the pre-dawn speed metal-like wit of “Warrior” and lesser “Overdrive”, you don’t have to dig tunnels to find it. It’s pure rock of course (don’tcha hate it when writers add the era there, as in pure ‘70s rock, as if by ’77 it’s gonna be anything else – in fact, for me to even have to mention that it is rock is pretty stupid), and please don’t be surprised by the light commercial chalk outlining much of this (thickest around love song ender “This is What I Get”), ‘cos it only seems to enhance the lp’s contagion. News to those that think all heavy music from this colorful decade is crusted yellow and expired like old denture cream: this is one of your sought after exceptions. Its unexpectedly animated production won’t allow it to be, nor will musicianship that’s sharp and lively and spins neurons with songcraft dreadfully swift on the uptake, meanwhile Guy Speranza’s vocals are clear, strong, ranged medium-high, and ideal for this size and shape endeavor.

Burly “Heart of Fire”…anxious “Angel”…airborne “Gypsy Queen”… anthem-in-training title cut…including the closer, there really isn’t a bad song on here, and in this respect as well reminds me of Boston’s year old debut. Rock City and Riot wear their age wrinkles well, better so than Debby.