Sister RATT 2: Jackin' the Habit

You know when you learn of something one day and all of the sudden it feels like it's following you for weeks? Generally, I believe this is the work of malevolent spirits sent to test my nerve but I'm open to peer-reviewed psychological phenomena as well. So someone come collect Mr. Baader-Meinhoff because I'm hole deep in RATT thanks to his syndrome.

YES, this is about RATT. For reasons unknown to me, other than I'm a total badass, the cosmos have decided to burden me with a love of 80s glam metal. Twisted Sister, Warrant, Lita Ford, Ozzy's Ultimate Sin album (1986) and now, the Sunset Strip's original outlaw yeehaws, RATT. Gunslinger and desperado imagery featured heavily in their lyrics, and many acts like them, and as a sucker for leather and a persecution complex, I recently dove spurs first into RATT's debut album, Out of the Cellar (1984).

What I heard was 37 minutes of predictable guitar and overwrought stadium drumming. But what I unearthed from desert dust was a queer outlaw love story that we've been sleeping on for 35 years.

Due to the call-and-response nature of these songs dominated by male vocals, and actually assigning female gender to characters in others, I read them as vignettes laden with queer relationship dynamics.

The entire album is predicated on a cat-and-mouse game featuring our nameless hero, the "leader of this Ratt gang" (Wanted Man), who I'm gonna call Ratthew for simplicity. From the jump, we're introduced to a dealer with snake eyes threatening his turf. Ratthew clearly has some sexual tension with this fella who's dressed in hot leather and carries cold steel. Ratthew engages in some butch signalling by defiantly mentioning he drinks whiskey. It culminates in references to rope kink and at this point I’m eager to find out which song they fuck in later on.

"You're In Trouble" is a dialogue between Ratthew and a primary partner, who's concerned that Ratthew's got in over his head. However, there's a thread of support in the lyrics -- his partner glamourizes this urban gunslinger lifestyle, even claiming he's getting his life. This is probably the healthiest relationship for Ratthew and, in a bit of deep disclosure, his partner reminds him he's the top. 

"Round and Round" provides further exploration into their relationship. It seems a third has been part of their dynamic and they're now quantifying the emotional labour required of a triad. The men are attempting to break up with her but as the lyrics suggest, they've been through this before and they'll go round and round until tragedy strikes. That's when they show their hand -- and their asses -- and invoke the classic love story of Romeo and Juliet. She seems nonplussed and is almost amused at how fraught their attempt at dissolving the relationship came across. Honestly, with the stresses of the Reagan's 1980s, they should be commended for having stayed together this long (which is a real variable but, eh, let's call it two years).

From here on, Out of the Cellar explores the usual fare of one-night stands, party culture, and fetishizes the skid life. But if you join me between the lines and sink your teeth into the sonic wasteland, you'll hear blisteringly hot takes on the American Dream. Listen to the chilling bells of heartache on "In Your Direction". Savour the anthemic anthem of the sex-positive "She Wants Money". Wallow in the lurid green of "The Morning After".

If Ralph Bakshi's American Pop is the intergenerational musical bildungsroman of an immigrant family in the unforgiving United States, surely Out of the Cellar is the skid row analogue. 

Add comment