Rock City Morgue has generally traded on a version of New York-based, B-movie-oriented punk rock for much of its career, and done so well. Building songs around ghosts, ghouls and creepy things seems a little quaint in the age of Hostel and after a generation of darker gothic bands, but post-New York Dolls rock ’n’ roll is durable stuff.
The Boy Who Cried Werewolf is an across-the-board step forward. Punk and ’70s hard rock and current metal all show up in the sound, and guitarist Johnny Brashear makes it all seem obvious. Bassist Sean Yseult plays more piano than ever before, but instead of signaling a change to a more Nick Cave-ish mode, her piano’s better integrated into the songs, often pounding out high notes in the rockers. In “Creepin’ in the Dark,” un-punk-like bongos add a percolating chug.
The success, though, is Rik Slave’s. Slave’s always had one of those great punk voices—not pretty, a little snotty, and loaded with personality. He’s in fine form here, and while the gothic vocabulary remains, his lyrics are rarely gothic. “Grave” in the title “Grave Mistake” gives the song a thematic link to what’s gone before, but the song’s not about graves. And the song that most loans itself to a horror movie reading—“Creepin’ in the Dark”— brings fear to the world most of us live in, suggesting that the creeper is a thug or robber instead of something with an atom brain.
The realm Rock City Morgue has inhabited is a fun one, but by making old horror movies the center of the band’s musical world, it has limited how much any song speaks to listeners. With The Boy Who Cried Werewolf, the whole project became slightly less conceptual.