It’s time once more to wield our mellifluous machete and venture forth into the auditory jungle that is Uncharted Territory. Last time out, we got very political in Liverpool with Alun Parry and took a return visit to Brooklyn to catch up with Shinobi Ninja. This time around, we are beginning with a short journey to a seaside resort with which I am very familiar – Blackpool. For those, like me, who thought Blackpool to be a conglomeration of donkeys, 2p machines and slightly iffy waxworks set beneath the shadow of a great tower, think again. You are in for a treat as we take a trip with Vince Ripper And The Rodent Show into what they describe as “the dark, swampy wastelands of Blackpool”.
When Orson Welles first aired his interpretation of H.G. Wells’ classic War Of The Worlds, the world was treated to a science-fiction experience unlike anything that had come before. Though the hysteria surrounding the piece has been wildly exaggerated by time, Welles’s radio drama continued what had arguably been started by Georges Méliès at the turn of the century, firmly thrusting the concept of interplanetary exploration into the public consciousness. What followed was a slew of alien movies featuring extra-terrestrials ranging from The Blob to the Devil Girl From Mars.
On their fourth studio album Planet Shockorama, Vince Ripper And The Rodent Show have adopted a sci-fi theme that pays exquisite homage to Welles and countless 50s B-movies. In a slight remove from the band’s usual gothic, macabre leanings, Planet Shockorama takes us back to an era where the space race was in its infancy, the cosmos was a scary place and we had no idea by whom we were being ‘watched keenly’. The result is an authentic album of note-perfect nostalgia that even a child of the 80s like myself can get lost in.
The album begins with an introduction, much like War Of The Worlds, in which an ominous voice warns of beings beyond our world keeping tabs on our civilization. This then segues into a seam-ripping interpretation of The B-52’s Planet Claire complete with stupendously other-worldly guitar warbling. The Misfits’ Teenagers From Mars is given a faithful interpretation on a track that says as much about teenagers in modern society as it does those of red planet origin. The Invasion Is Coming is a minute and a half of glorious head-banging Americana. The vocals on the cover of The Cramps’ Can’t Find My Mind are amped up from the original whilst still oozing the same swagger over dirty guitar riffs. Lead singer Ratfink throws back to his Alien Sex Fiend days for a reworking of E.S.T (Trip To The Moon) that sits as the ultimate antithesis to Wallace And Gromit’s lunar escapades. The album closes, rather poignantly, with a version of David Bowie’s Scary Monsters. Admittedly, not my favourite Bowie track but one so in-keeping with the spirit of Planet Shockorama that it could have been written as its finale.
Ordinarily, I have a natural reluctance around albums that rely heavily on covers. Because they are an interpretation of someone else’s work, it is often difficult to establish a unifying theme and the end result can feel like nothing has really been added. Planet Shockorama is an album that I can firmly place in the exception pile. Vince Ripper And The Rodent Show, much like Bowie, are a band who clearly have a penchant for the dramatic and a unique understanding of the more theatrical side of music. The songs chosen to appear on this album demonstrate not only knowledge of a wide variety of music but an overall appreciation for the pop culture of the 50s and 60s. Not content to establish their unifying theme by selecting tracks with cosmic overtones, the duo have stamped each one with their own style and draped a storytelling veil over the lot. The result is an album that is part B-movie, part time capsule, part cautionary tale played out by veteran musicians entrenched in and at one with their craft.
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron, after all…