Emily Robb and Zachary Fairbrother of Philly band Lantern are lounging in a shadowy booth at Oscar’s Tavern, downing lagers and explaining why they named their first LP Rock ’N’ Roll Rorschach.
“We’d both just read Watchmen,” says Robb, referring to Alan Moore’s graphic novel, which includes a grim, misanthropic vigilante named Rorschach.
“He exists in a world of black and white,” adds Fairbrother. “He believes in good and evil.”
“There’s no indecision for him,” says Robb. “He makes a choice and never sways from it. There’s also Poison Ivy Rorschach, from [punk band] the Cramps. The title’s supposed to evoke some kind of familiar environment the listener can draw from.”
“But the language doesn’t immediately make sense, so you have to come up with your own meaning,” Fairbrother says. “We also just thought it was a really cool name.”
And it’s a good fit. Out next week on Louisville label Sophomore Lounge, Rock ’N’ Roll Rorschach is lyrically and sonically jammed with insider nods to rock music’s leather-clad lexicon and sacred mythology. It’s partly a statement about how the meaning of rock ’n’ roll changes depending on who’s perceiving it, and when it’s being perceived.
But, much like the comic-book character, Lantern — Fairbrother (guitar/vocals), Robb (bass/vocals) and Christian Simmons (drums) — doesn’t hide which version of the tradition they’re fighting for: the trashier, dodgier, switchbladier rock ’n’ roll of yore.
Compared to Lantern’s past recordings — five EPs, plus a few singles and cassettes — Rock ’N’ Roll Rorschach is cleaner, louder, bigger and heavier, like a coked-up, proto-punked Exile on Main Street.
The opener, “Evil Eye,” wallops with a thunderous saxophone (by guest David Fishkin) and Robb’s ominous howls about her warped dreams and twisted desires. The riffs and rhythm musically reference Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life,” the Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love” and Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” while the lyrics and paranoid vibe hint at the Stooges’ “T.V. Eye.” After a sick Wah-smothered solo by Fairbrother, a hostile Robb threatens with a few well-placed c’mons.
“Where Are We Now?” summons the ghosts of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?” and the rampaging, totally lost uncertainty of the Saints’ “(I’m) Stranded.” On side-B opener “She’s a Rebel,” a smoky, slow-dancing-but-scowling ballad, Robb flips the gender on the Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel.” Then there’s “Out of Our Heads,” which steals its name from a Stones album and winks at a Dead Boys riff. For the rabid finale, Robb and Simmons unite for a nasty, Zeppelin-y raw-power-rhythm as Fairbrother squeezes screams from his Stratocaster.
It is easy to get swept away by all this magic. But rock ’n’ roll comes with baggage, and Rock ’N’ Roll Rorschach is no exception. This sicker side reveals itself on the hyper-masculine “King of the Jungle,” where a mojo-frenzied, root-rubbing Fairbrother embraces all the dumb cock-worshipping machismo of the canon.
“There’s definitely a tradition of sexism in rock ’n’ roll which I don’t want to maintain,” explains Robb. “But I don’t feel like an object of it when I’m playing this song, because women should find power in sex, too. If I heard it as someone outside of the band, I’m not sure how I’d react. But, from my position, I’m part of this. And some people like the danger in sex. I like that danger.”
“It’s also campy,” adds Fairbrother, who claims the lyrics are inspired by Diddley’s “I’m a Man” and the Stooges’ “Cock in My Pocket.” Here’s the first verse:
“I got that evil eye/ I got that mojo hand/ King of the jungle, baby/ Gonna make me your man.”
“The song’s ironic, and making fun of the tradition. It’s a ridiculous fantasy. It’s not politically correct, but it’s more sophisticated than a typical cock-rock song.”
Like some of the other new tunes, “King of the Jungle” is written from the perspective of a wide-eyed, rock-crazed teenage boy. “It’s the same mentality I had when I was a teenager, when I first heard rock music,” he says. “It sounds juvenile, but I always thought those rock ’n’ roll guys were really cool. They had long hair and leather jackets and cool guitars and big amps. They were untouchable in a mythological sense. We want to be a part of that lineage —”
“Rock music just makes me wanna dance,” interrupts Robb. “It makes my blood flow; it’s the only language I speak. I just fucking love rock ’n’ roll.”
Lantern plays Fri., July 5, 9:15 p.m., $10, with Chris Forsyth & the Solar Motel Band and Ivory Tuskk, Johnny Brenda’s, 1201 N. Frankford Ave., 215-739-9684, .
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