Rocket Science – Contact High

Rocket Science are one of those bands that deserve bigger things. Emerging in Melbourne in the late 90’s, their arrival outside Australia has unfortunately been eclipsed by the arrival of other bands, such as The Vines and Jet. Without the handicap of being permanently out of their nazzers on drugs, or not having washed for several years, Rocket Science are quite good. They have been in the news recently as frontman Roman Tucker collapsed before a hometown gig, and was in a coma for a few weeks. It’s a lucky thing he very recently came out of it, as we really need more people like him writing the brilliant songs that pepper this album.

Rocket Science’s sound is based primarily around the organ and theremin played by Tucker, which manages to sound like the soundtrack for a seedy German 70’s porno film, possibly called something like Hans’ Naughty Journeys. You know the sort, Corky. Tuckers’ voice is also surprisingly versatile; you can really hear the sneering, but can be remarkably tender at times. With Dave Gray’s fuzzy bass dominating proceedings beyond that and Kit Warhurst’s excellent drumming, Paul Mabury’s guitar is relegated to lower down the musical food chain to rhythm duties, and the odd solo. This is very refreshing; as the traditional guitar led three-piece are now ten a penny.

As befits an ex-psychiatric nurse, Roman Tucker is abso-bleedin’-lutely mental. There are songs about robots, being followed, and traffic jams. In space. As befits the name of the band, rockets and science are also of top priority. The album begins with “Heavy Traffic” and sets the scene for the rest of the album: a Hammond organ playing a mutated version of “The Elephant Walk,” mid-range fuzzy bass, and the mechanical wailing of a theremin, like a robot puppy pleading for more oil, or whatever robot puppies eat. “Heavy Traffic” also has an *amazing* chorus, and ends in a Doors-esque squeal of guitars and organ. “Being followed” fulfils its title perfectly by being the song after “Heavy Traffic.” The first single of the album, this is also the quietest song. Reggae bass lines and alternating upwards scales dance playfully around Tucker’s lyrics of paranoia and alienation like otters gamboling around a burning wreck of a car. In a good way. At the end of the song, there is a breakdown which sounds suspiciously like the middle eight of “Light my Fire” by The Doors. And it’s great. “Run like a Gun,” a highlight of last year’s Run like a Gun EP returns here, and rocks your bloody socks off. Ace distorted bass line, theremin sounding like someone zipping something up and Tucker sneering lyrics about riding motorbikes through the night. Absolutely fantastic. “Going Away” is simply Supergrass meets the Hives on ecstasy, and they share points of view on how to cover the MC5.

Sadly, this is also the point where the album tails off into mediocre album filler. There’s nothing technically wrong with “Economic Decline,” and “One Robot” has a chorus that sounds like the Red Hot Chili Peppers. “Today’s Soundtrack For Tomorrow’s Swinging Generation” is little more than an excellent title. But you can hear the decline in songwriting in the last few songs, and it’s this decline that makes you feel so uncomfortable after listening to some truly promising compositions. Essentially, the garage rock bands that have come from down under can be personified: The Vines would be the perma-stoned hippie friend we all have, The Datsuns the boy that the girls all fancy, and Jet as the hoary, sweaty old rocker in most pubs going on about how he could have been in the Stones were he not a day late for the audition. Rocket Science here are the Mad Professors; on the verge of something eccentrically brilliant, but encountering drawbacks along the way, until all we are left with are the original frustrating glimpses of excellence. Let’s hope the new album has this fire. Must try harder, lads.

(Eat Sleep Records)