The Rock*A*Teens – Sixth House
Ask a music fan for one word to describe The Rock*A*Teens and you’ll likely get “reverb.” Ringleader Chris Lopez has bristled at that stereotype for years – not just the reverb part, but the notion that fuzz and production gimmicks were somehow masking songwriting deficiencies. Lopez already inched toward sonic clarity on his 2006 solo nod as Tenement Halls. It’s with the opening notes of Sixth House, however, and the crystal-clear strummed acoustic guitar of the mournful “Billy Really,” where you sense he’s truly cut the cord.
Fear not, however, as it’s far from a clean break. Reverb still plays a leading role in this reboot – most notably on the excellent “Go Tell Everybody,” and the same lineup that signed off with 2000’s Sweet Bird of Youth hasn’t lost a step. The Rock*A*Teens always seemed perched on a precipice straddling melancholy, mayhem, and a Clermont Lounge brand of seediness. The mayhem may have receded over time, but the other components are intact.
My one word R*A*Ts descriptor would be “bawlin’.” There’s a Strummer-like quality to Lopez’s voice that always sounds as if he’s barreling toward a good cry. This time around the lyrics second that emotion. “I always knew that this would end in tears/ I didn’t think that they would be mine,” he wails on “Turn and Smile,” one of several songs with undercurrents of failed romance. And while no names are dropped, his ex-wife Shannon Wright’s introspective 2017 album was titled Division – you do the math.
That’s not to say Sixth House is a downbeat bummer. Only “Baby’s On To Me,” which eschews drums until its final minute, is truly somber. The backing vocals of Atlanta mainstay Michelle DuBois – credited here as an additional musician but who seemed fully engaged during the Sweet Bird anniversary jaunt – provides a welcome jolt reminiscent of the band’s heady early days with Kelly Hogan riding shotgun. It also cues up a neat trick for vinyl listeners, holding back the piano that figured more prominently in the band’s later work to open Side B on the majestic and thrilling “Closest To Heaven.”
Original drummer-turned-photographer Chris Verene has always imbued The Rock*A*Teens’ artwork with slightly askew Southern Gothic imagery that matched the sound. Impressively, the quartet hasn’t shied away from warts-and-all depictions of their aging selves in recent band photos. Even more impressively, they haven’t allowed a decade-plus hiatus to erode their musical prowess. Sixth House stands alongside The Rock*A*Teens’ best.