Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Ratcat That Tingles - Now That Ain't Bad

I purchased the ‘Tingles’ EP by Ratcat on cassette in early 1991, and it got played to breaking point on the cassette player in my old Ford Laser. The track that received the most airplay on my car’s private FM station was ‘That Ain’t Bad’. No surprise then that so many other Australians became addicted to the song and pushed Sydney band Ratcat to pop superstardom.

Ratcat formed during 1985, evolving from a garage band called Danger Mouse, which featured vocalist/guitarist Simon Day and bassist Victor Levi. Recruiting a drummer who simply went by the name Trevor, Ratcat soon gathered a strong following on the Sydney skate-punk scene, playing the same circuit as The Hard-ons and Happy Hate Me Nots. In late 1987 they came to the attention of indie label Waterfront who issued Ratcat’s eponymous EP soon after. It was a solid garage pop effort featuring several original compositions and a highly energised cover of the old Tommy James & the Shondells classic ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ (a lot grungier than the Tiffany version I’m guessing).

Over the next eighteen months Ratcat issued a couple of low key singles prior to issuing their debut album ‘This Nightmare’ in July ‘89. Songwriter Simon Day was starting to come into his own and the album featured several lively guitar-pop numbers, dubbed fuzz-pop. The album would later be reissued after Ratcat broke and reach #89 on the Australian charts. By 1989 Ratcat’s line-up had altered to Simon Day, Andrew Polin (drums) and John McAteer (bass). The EP ‘The Killing Joke’ and one final single ‘Saying Goodbye’ saw Ratcat’s tenure at the Waterfront label come to a conclusion in early 1990.

Bassist Amr Zaid replaced McAteer soon after, and his timing was astute given Ratcat had just signed a lucrative deal with the fledgling rooArt label. October 1990 saw the release of the breakthrough ‘Tingles’ EP, featuring the grungy power-pop classic ‘That Ain’t Bad’. That song in particular received a massive amount of airplay on the mainstream commercial radio networks, a real achievement for what was essentially still an alternative rock act. The ‘Tingles’ EP reached #2 on the Australian charts, with ‘That Ain’t Bad’ hitting #1 on most singles chart countdowns. The band produced a very simple, very cheap, but very effective promotional video which became a staple on music television programs.

Simon Day had the writing formula just right at the time and the next single ‘Don’t Go Now’ reaffirmed Ratcat’s quality as a class pop-rock act. The song soared to #2 in mid 1991, and soon after Ratcat released their debut full length album ‘Blind Love’, produced by Nick Mainsbridge. Ratcat were arguably the hottest band in Australia at the time, with their album hitting #1 within a couple of weeks of its release (it went gold on pre-release orders alone). Soon the unassuming trio from Sydney found themselves opening for INXS on their Australian ‘X’ tour. In addition Ratcat became a headline act themselves, drawing support from indie heroes Falling Joys and Clouds.

The next single ‘Baby Baby’ fell short of earlier efforts but still peaked at #19 on the national charts. In September 1991 Ratcat headed overseas to establish a profile in the U.S., Europe and U.K. They found themselves on the same billing as the likes of Iggy Pop and Violent Femmes. Upon returning to Australia new bassist Marc Scully joined the band in time for the release of a new single ‘Candyman’ (OZ#45). The next single ‘Holiday’ (OZ#42) was more of the same grunge styled bubblegum pop, which featured prominently on Ratcat’s second album ‘Inside Out’ (OZ#46) released in November ‘92. But the public were now looking for a heavier guitar sound being offered by the U.S. grunge movement, and Ratcat’s popularity began to wane.

During 1993 Ratcat issued two more EP’s in ‘Rain’ and ‘The Smiler’. Though the latter contained a radio friendly effort in ‘May You Ever’, neither sold in great quantities. They also recorded tracks for a third album, which finally saw the light of day in 1997 under the title ‘Easy Rider’. Ratcat continued to play live sporadically over the next couple of years, but more or less went their separate ways for a time.

They reformed in 1998 to perform at Australia’s ‘Homebake Festival’, with yet another bassist Nic Dalton (ex-Lemonheads) joining the fray (kind of a revolving door thing going on with their bass players). Almost ten years later Simon Day led the band onstage again for a support slot on the Psychedelic Furs 2006 Australian tour.

Ratcat’s place at the vanguard of Australian indie power-pop was soon superseded in the mid 90s by the likes of Spiderbait and You Am I, but their bright and breezy guitar driven music shouldn’t be overlooked in terms of the foundations it laid for those acts, and the path it helped to forge for indie acts to crossover to mainstream commercial success. The multi-talented Simon Day deserves singular recognition as the driving force behind Ratcat, both musically and stylistically. He was responsible not only for the band’s sound but also their image in video, album cover work and stage act. In addition to the occasional Ratcat gig, Day these days has a very successful career going in graphic design.

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