Radioactive Reptiles: The Collected Works Of Roger C. Reale And Rue Morgue

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Two lost albums of late Seventies New Wave are given a long-overdue re-release.

Photo: Robert K. DeRosa

Prior to receiving this new CD collection, I’ll confess that Roger C. Reale was a name that I was unfamiliar with. That’s less an indictment of my musical knowledge and more a reflection of just how many acts out there simply don’t crack the public consciousness. Reale recorded his debut album, Radioactive, in 1978, failed to dent the charts and then split with his record label – the Stiff-influenced Big Sound – before his second LP – Reptiles in Motion – was completed, at which point he slipped back into relative obscurity. That the second album featured Mick Ronson on guitar made no difference – the tracks sat in legal limbo for a long time, and Reale became one of those acts that was remembered only by the handful of people who had picked up Radioactive on original release – there wasn’t even a CD release to allow rediscovery, and no one was doing a late Seventies FastPop equivalent of the Pebbles and Nuggets compilations. Still, the fact that this album wasn’t on regular turntable rotation in my teenage bedroom feels like a loss.

If there is anything we can say in credit of the modern music scene, it’s that there are now labels out there dedicated to rediscovering the unjustly forgotten and bringing it back to life. With Reale once again having legal control over his recordings, Rave On Records have dusted off both albums, and finally made them available for reconsideration. And thank God for that.

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The first thing that hits you as the CD kicks off with High Society (which may or may not be a tribute to the magazine of there same name) is that life isn’t fair. What we have here is a punchy, no nonsense collection of tracks that sit at the point that punk became new wave – Reale’s vocals are gritty and nasty, and his songs are short, sharp and catchy – the sort of thing that you’d imagine would have a whole club jumping up and down when played live. It’s tight and slick, laden with hooks and there are enough nakedly commercial numbers like Please Believe Me that resemble many of the bands who did make it – The Knack, The Cars – that you wonder just how this album missed. But then you remember that success is a crap shoot and has nothing to do with actual talent. For whatever reason, Reale never got the airplay or the press or whatever it needs to break through. Maybe Big Sound just weren’t very good at promotion.

In any case, Radioactive is a fine album, one that rips through its twelve tracks in no time at all and finds room for covers of Chuck Berry’s Dear Dad – a furiously fast rendition –  a rocked up version of should favourite  Rescue Me and a deliciously sleazy cut of The Troggs’ I Can’t Control Myself. It wastes no time and has no airs or graces – the production is ‘basic’, and all the better for it, and the band are playing as though their lives depend on it. You can see influences of The Ramones in the brief songs and bubblegum melody lying beneath the breakneck rock ‘n’ roll, and Reale sounds like just the sort of artist that Stiff could’ve made a star had he signed to them – pop punk from a time before that became a depressing cliche.

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Radioactive didn’t get much attention from the press or the public, but one person who did hear it and loved it was ex-Spider from Mars Mick Ronson, who demanded to play on the follow-up. It’s quite something that even his presence couldn’t help Reale break through, though to be fair that’s probably because the album sat on the shelf until now. Had Reptiles in Motion been released in 1979, it’s hard to imagine that it could have been ignored – but as it is, it’s one of the great ‘what if?’ moments in rock history.

This album has a slicker sound than its predecessor, and sounds so precisely of its time that it does seem a crying shame that it was buried. The punk edges have been smoothed – Reale’s vocals are less guttural, the songs are a little slower, and have a foot tapping bounce to them that is irresistible. Ronson’s presence is obvious, but not overwhelming, but there’s definitely a popper sensibility at work here. From opener She’s Older Now on, this is gloriously catchy and bouncy. That I didn’t see Reale performing on Top of the Pops seems ridiculous, frankly.

If you like classic power pop, then this is the stuff for you. That it has taken so long for these albums to be (re)issued is outrageous, and perhaps says a lot about how that post-punk era of pop remains an undiscovered country to a large extent – I don’t doubt for a moment that there are other Roger C. Reales out there who make glorious, no-nonsense and long forgotten rock ‘n’ roll albums just waiting for rediscovery. I’m glad that these two, at least, have been given a new lease of life.

DAVID FLINT

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