16 May 2018

Album Review: Rat Scabies – P.H.D. (Prison, Hospital, Debt)

Rat Scabies, yes! THAT Rat Scabies, the one from The Damned. Yup! And this is his solo album P.H.D. Which stands for ‘Prison, Hospital, Debt’. It is released on Cleopatra Records right about now on digital CD and LP.

So Rat Scabies is a drummer. Yes, but more than that as he plays most of the instruments on this varied and hugely entertaining record, bar bass guitar by Nick Oblivion and lyrical/vocal contributions from Jesse Budd of Flipron. I would presume that most listeners will approach this album with the early Damned punk classic in their mind, though I would suggest that the more varied and adventurous output from that band in the 1980s and onwards is a better reference point. However, even that would do the album a disservice.

Yes, there are punky moments, notably the blast that is ‘My Wrists Hurt’, and wild rock and roll moments with the swagger of ‘Chew On You’ with its fine rousing chorus and ‘Un Noveau Balai (A New Broom)’ with its unquestionably cool riffs. Now, these moments are indeed enjoyable but the album really starts to burst at the seams with track three, ‘Sing Sing Sing’, originally by Louis Prima which I can only describe as a honkytonk show tune, paino stabs, rolling tom drums and big band stylings. Wicked fun. Things get grander still with ‘Rat’s Opus’ which is flipping bombastic, swelling strings, stomping rhythm section and a sinister yet fun set of lyrics and vocals. It is indeed an opus, a playful opus that would fit right in to a dark musical. ‘Floating’ taps a dub/ska vein, yes! The album really is that varied, and all these styles are done well and make for a surprisingly cohesive style. I am reminded of some of the output of The Membranes, another band who rarely follow the rules. And it carries on, ‘Shivers’ is a smouldering blues tinged rock number that lets the crashing guitars take the lead role. ‘Dazy Bones’ is a delight, channelling Bowie and Bolan and ending up sounding a little like Supergrass at their finest. The blues slide guitars of ‘Benni’s Song’ provide a contemplative interlude before the aforementioned ‘Un Noveau Balai’ crashes in to the room. Then things get odd. The bassline to ‘Floydian Slip’ starts off sounding like Portishead, a spoken vocal carries the song through various spaced out segments of boogie and sychedelia including a spine tingling guitar solo, and then, bang! The album closes with the final two numbers, ‘Glad You Could Make It’ which is a lighters aloft rock and roll ballad of sorts which shimmers and reverberates itself backwards off the stage into the darkness while ‘It Feels Like Sunday’ feels even woozier, melting out of the speakers. It is a subdued ending to an album otherwise full of bombast and swagger. However, I think it works in the context of an album whose composition has ripped up the rule book. I will return to this album often, it has soul. It wears the coolest shades you’ve ever seen, and ultimately is is a whole lot of fun.

4/5