When the Romantics’ publicist invited us to review the band’s new album by name-dropping the White Stripes, we weren’t quite as excited as, say, getting our preview copy of Elephant. So I would be lying if I didn’t admit to accepting with every intention of making at least one completely stupid pun on “What I Like About You.” This then is my apology for snickering at the Romantics’ comeback story.
If GloNo rated albums with stars, 61/49 would deserve the Milky Way. Not only is the album a fantastic summary of all that is great about real rock and roll, from the “Rave On” simplicity of the Pretty Things’ cover “Midnight To Six Man” to the happy pop psychedelia of “Paint The Sky,” but the band’s re-emergence after a decade of legal battles is as good as a story gets.
When last heard from, the Romantics were being issued the equivalent of a death certificate, the “Distinguished Achievement” award at the 1999 Detroit Music Awards. We can only hope that now these guys will get picked up by the Motor City bandwagon and get the recognition that has eluded so many rock and rollers from Hitsville, U.S.A. The Romantics are a direct link between the Magic Stick and the Grande; the new album plots out every point along the way. Remember: They were wearing their red outfits when John Gillis was sucking tit.
“It’s been a long, long ride down the crossroads of time,” sings Wally Palmar on the title track, as much a reference to his own band’s two-and-a-half decade history as the half-century since Elvis fashioned rock and roll from blues and hillbilly music. Rock has mutated beyond recognition several times over since, yet there have always been those bands who “have fun with three chords,” to quote Romantics guitarist Mike Skill. Fun with three chords, give or take a couple more, has always been the heart and soul of rock and roll. Yet unlike much of the Detroit garage rock that’s been recently discovered by those outside of Wayne County, Mich., the Romantics’ sound—though simple—is polished and produced. And more authentic. You can hear the 20-plus years of experience and assuredness in these guys’ chops. There’s no self-conscious, postmodern sneer in imitation of Iggy here, just the battle scars of bill-paying gigs with the likes of the Go Go’s.
Though we have no word yet on when the Romantics will be playing live in a rock and roll joint near you, 61/49 should propel the band out of the New Wave retro tour ghetto. Not that their best-known songs of the 80’s aren’t true classics (have you listened to “Talking In Your Sleep” recently?), but new material like “When Will It End” is as good as anything recorded since The Who Sing My Generation. Indeed, on 61/49 the Romantics borrow heavily from the R&B-influenced rock sounds of the mid-1960s. At times, the album comes off almost like a hyper-retro act, Freddy and the Four Gone Conclusions to the nth power. Yet in every song there’s something keeping the music from veering off into camp: Forty-two seconds into the cover of the Kinks “I Need You,” the band stops playing, the silence lasting just long enough that I remember it’s not 1966.
Of course it’s not; 61/49 makes me feel like that’s okay.
You can download mp3s of “61/49” and “Out of My Mind (Into My Head)” from their official site. Also, keep an eye out for an upcoming split single on In The Red Records where the Dirtbombs will cover a Romantics song and the Romantics will cover a Dirtbombs song.