The Rave-Ups

Omnivore, 2022

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


“…the Rave-Ups’ new long player Tomorrow is utterly bad-ass. Reconvening after all this time is a calculated risk because voices get worn and lyrics go soft and bass lines wander, guitars fall flat and drums beat meekly away. But not this time.”

-- Alex Green, Stereo Embers

One of the hazards of this gig is when you come across someone else’s review of an album and say what I said to myself after reading my friend Alex Green’s, excerpted above: “(A) I clearly need this album, but (B) there’s no way I could ever top what I just read.”

Alex’s review is definitive in every way, the kind of exuberant rave that could convince a veteran rock writer to impulse-buy an album on the spot from a band he’s never heard of. You should really go check it out. As for that impulse buyer, if you’re still curious what he thinks, here goes nothing.

The Rave-Ups fell into a sort of temporal black hole for me as a music listener. I was born in ’62, raised on Beatles and Janis and Stevie Wonder, and came of age in the ’70s. From roughly ’75 to ’82 I was obsessed with music. Then life intervened: college, marriage, moving across country (twice; there and back), grad school, and kids numbers one, two, and three. A decade passed before I began paying attention to the music scene again in any significant way.

That’s really my only excuse for missing a band this good.

The original edition of the Rave-Ups was formed in Pittsburgh in 1979 by lead vocalist Jimmer Podrasky and a group of college friends. Several visits to Los Angeles and personnel shuffles later, the group’s lineup solidified in 1984 around Podrasky (lead vocals, guitar, harmonica), Timothy Jimenez (drums), Terry Wilson (guitars, banjo, keys) and Tommy Blatnik (bass)—all four of whom were working low-level jobs at A&M Records at the time. Basement rehearsals led to the 1985 indie-label release of the band’s first album Town + Country, which won considerable acclaim and play on college radio.

Meanwhile, Podrasky was in a relationship with Beth Ringwald, sister of Molly Ringwald, a connection that eventually landed the band a featured spot in the John Hughes film Pretty in Pink. The resulting attention drew praise for the band from the likes of Robert Christgau, Robert Hilburn, and J.D. Considine and, eventually, a major-label contract with Epic Records. Two moderately successful albums later, the Rave-Ups were dropped by Epic and disbanded in 1992.

In most universes, that would be the end of the story; my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 nice little run you had there guys, but game over and on to second careers for the lot of you. Thankfully, things turned out differently in our universe. All four guys kept playing music, mostly separately, though Podrasky and Wilson collaborated here and there, and there were rumblings about possible reunions from time to time. But the years kept stretching out and the band remained dormant other than the occasional live show until Omnivore expressed interest in reissuing Town + Country. Since the latter unreleased-track-studded re-release appeared in 2016, the band has been active again, playing out more frequently and writing and recording Tomorrow, their first album in 32 years.

As Alex says so eloquently above, the many-years-later reunion album is typically a fraught venture. So often long-dormant groups struggle to recapture the spark and fire that made them special in the first place. Not this band; these guys play like 1992 was yesterday.

The Rave-Ups’ sound mixes the energetic riffage of power-pop with the stylistic range of Americana to create a hybrid that I fell for immediately. Opener “So You Wanna Know The Truth?” sets the tone, a rousing anthem-slash-political interrogation that manages to be pointed, cheeky, and earnest all at once. The equally vigorous “Brigitte Bardot” is a clever character study of a guy longing for an unapproachable woman, highlighted by this chef’s-kiss couplet: “I guess I’ll write an angry song about her / That’s number sixteen just this week.”  

The country influence leaks in around the edges of “Roll,” an expansive, affectionate story-song about a couple of destiny who are both “…way too wrong for heaven / And too right for hell.” One of the longer tunes here at 4:07, it features sharp ensemble playing and strong drumming on the breakdown. Three songs down and it’s already time for another foot-stomping anthem as “How Old Am I?” features a big, pushing arrangement behind Podrasky while he muses loudly on the state of the world. There’s something in the drive they put into this one that reminds me of classic Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, at least a version that embraces elements like slide guitar and banjo.

Next up, “Cry” delivers a lounge-blues feel for a profoundly perceptive number about letting it out rather than holding it in, punctuated by a stinging slide solo from serial guest Marty Rifkin. Then “Coming After Me” brings a fresh point of comparison into focus; there’s something in the timbre and clipped, forceful phrasing of Podrasky’s vocals that feels a little like an American Elvis Costello, a certain pointed wisdom that surrenders nothing to the urgency of rock and roll.

The country flavors rise again with “The Dream Of California,” a song that’s all jangles and harmonies married to a dark narrative that feels like an impressionist sequel to that Eagles song. Another classic couplet arrives in the form of the chorus punchline—I won’t spoil it—to the insightful “She And He,” about a troubled couple “riding out that wave of normalcy.”

“When I Write Your Name” is a dense, gritty r&b number about a crash-and-burn breakup (“Can’t you see, wake up baby / This is our Vietnam”), punctuated by terrific guitar work culminating in a bold, twangy solo. “Violets On A Hill” pumps up the country both musically and lyrically as Podrasky drops nuggets like “I need to hurry up to take my time” over more terrific guitar work: silky, then jangly, then coming in with these exclamation-mark accents and a tight little solo.

The closing title track arrives at a stately, elegiac pace as Podrasky lists off all the good things he’ll accomplish tomorrow in this thoughtful, open ended, artful and powerful number; the searching tone, slide accents and rich harmonies call back to classic Jackson Browne.

For this listener, Tomorrow was a revelation, a stunningly well-executed reunion album from a band I’d never crossed paths with before. The guys in The Rave-Ups may not be young bucks anymore, but the volume of both musical and self-knowledge they manage to pour into a four-minute rock and roll song is often breathtaking. It’s March and I’m pretty sure I’ve already heard one of the best albums of 2022. Thanks, Alex.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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