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The Sadies - Tales of Rat Fink

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Artist: The Sadies

Album: Tales of Rat Fink

Label: Yep Roc

Review date: Nov. 5, 2006

Surf music is dorky. "Miserlou" and its flying bumblebee picking is the blueprint of bedroom guitar wizard Dick Dale, who barely toured outside of his hometown in the 1960s. It's suburban music, as cozy plucking out a melody from Mom's show tunes as it is cutting loose. Among really dorky collectors, you'll find those who distinguish between "surf" and "hot rod" as different '60s genres. Tales of the Rat Fink is the soundtrack to a documentary about the SoCal artist Big Daddy Roth, whose pop-eyed monsters squeezed into krazy kustom kars entered popular imagination at the same time and place as surf. If you think about the rice boys down at the parking lot, fitting spoilers on their front-wheel-drive compacts, car modification culture is probably dorkier than surfing. Not many of the surf bands surfed, by the way, but I bet a lot of them souped up jalopies. Maybe the genre was misnamed from the start.

Anyways, if you're making a movie about a Southern Californian icon like Roth, of course you're going to use surf music. But kudos to the filmmakers for getting the Sadies to make an original soundtrack, rather than creating another anthology of period instrumentals. The Sadies have already proven that they can do just about anything a four-piece rock band can do, but what sets them apart is their attention to detail. There's 26 tracks here, most around a minute long. But they find a way to make each one distinct.

They capture not only the melodies of the time, but even the production qualities. So, "The Horseshoe" recreates the crisp honky-tonk of Lee Hazelwood's Duane Eddy singles. "The Bug Jar" has the disturbed-mind reverb of Joe Meek. "The North Star" is a low-fi frat shuffle. "The Borderline" has a Morricone lushness. "The 400" is small-room Muscle Shoals soul. It's a fun ride.

Some of the tracks are over too soon, and some don't escape their functionality as background music. You can almost see the screen cut to black when the shortest tracks suddenly halt. But for the most part, they find a way to make the tracks whole. The finale is the one lengthy track, and the only one that breaks from the retro stylings: a synthesizer whirs away amidst the chunky Cramps punk. The Sadies emerged at the tail end of the last revival of these sounds. The twang on Tales of the Rat Fink is good enough to make you want to dig up the recordings from both the 1960s and the 1990s.

By Ben Donnelly

Other Reviews of The Sadies

In Concert, Vol. 1

New Season

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