Album Review: The Brat – Straight Outta East L.A.

Time has an odd way of changing our perception. Most anyone who heard Sex Pistols in the 1978 would have found them abrasive, chaotic and noisy. As Never Mind the Bollocks approaches its 50th anniversary, today the album sounds – if not conventional – more of a piece with the overall development of popular music. That’s not to diminish its importance, but rather to reflect upon how it changed things, in the process becoming more mainstream-sounding.

That effect can be witnessed when considering the work of any number of artists. Even if they didn’t exert the same sort of influence upon the direction of music, what was once wild and edgy can sound quite accessible. So it is with The Brat, a Los Angeles band of the early ‘80s that seemed poised for bigger things. Their music has been described as pop punk, pop thrash, new wave… you get the idea. But listening now, this East L.A. band of Chicano and Chicana musicians simply sounds like a very good band, one of the “why weren’t they huge?” variety.

Fronted by sharp and spirited vocalist Teresa Covarrubias, The Brat made bracing, supremely tuneful music. Listening now, one can hear hints of Pat Benatar, Scandal, maybe a bit of The Bangles and other flavors in their songs. The band had talent to burn, and churned out original songs that showcased their versatility. While “Slaughter of an Ancient Tribe” and “Vicious Love” have a chiming, radio-ready quality, tunes like “Swift Moves” show that The Brat could easily work reggae textures into high-energy pop tunes.

Dig into the lyrics of The Brat’s songs and you’ll find an articulate worldview, one that concerns itself with the oppression of Mexican Americans, well-honed social conscience and a generally nuanced approach to whatever subjects the group chose to tackle. But it’s all wedded to a sophisticated and straightforward musical character; the songs blast by, rarely clocking in at much over three minutes (often much less. Get in, make your musical and/or lyrical point, get out, move on: that seems to have been The Brat’s approach to music.

Listen to the 21 tracks on Straight Outta East L.A. and marvel that the group didn’t manage to land a major label deal. Several songs on this collection originally appeared on the band’s sole release during their time together (1980’s Attitudes). More come from a never-released album recorded “under the auspices” (whatever that means) of industry giant Paul Rothchild (The Doors etc.). The leftover tracks not from that EP or the unreleased album mare every bit as strong; “Corner of the World” sports a soaring Covarrubias lead vocal and a sweeping instrumental arrangement. This outfit doesn’t seem to have recorded any weak tracks, and there’s nothing here that sounds the least bit tentative or unfinished.

Most every song sounds like a hit. Maybe a local hit, maybe a regional one, but a hit nonetheless. The Bray play with passion, conviction and musical smarts. Covarrubias’ voice slices through the speakers, the band is astoundingly tight, and the songs seem designed for maximum impact.

Pick any song at random and be wowed by the fully-formed character of The Brat. If you land on “The Wolf,” you’ll be treated to strong melody, exuberant shouted choruses, fiery guitar work and band that clearly means it, man. At just over a minute, the thrashy punk of “High School” still displays strong pop values. And when they shift gears for some jangle-pop like “The Promise,” The Brat demonstrate their authentic versatility. Straight Outta East L.A. might well be the best early ‘80s record you’ve never heard. Correct that oversight. (Bonus points – though they’re not needed – for the lovely swirl-color translucent vinyl.)