The Iron City Houserockers' first album sounded like the work of a better than average bar band with the potential to grow into something more; 1980's Have a Good Time but Get out Alive was where they proved just how good they could be. While the band sounded solid on their debut, here they landed with the impact of a Louisville slugger connecting with a fastball (especially drummer Ned E. Rankin and harmonica player Marc Reisman), and producer Mick Ronson managed to get their nuances on tape with tightly focused clarity. (Ian Hunter and Steve Van Zandt also helped with the production and arrangements, and their hard rock smarts certainly show in the final product.) But what really sets Have a Good Time but Get out Alive apart from the work of dozens of "Heartland Rockers" who emerged in Bruce Springsteen's wake is Joe Grushecky; his songwriting and lead vocals seethe with a furious passion that's never less than convincing, and if the details of his songs sometime lean towards clichés, the total commitment of his performance, delivered with the conviction of a man fighting for his life, brings these stories to vivid, sweaty life. Lots of songwriters have written about desperate guys on the wrong side of the tracks, but on "We're Not Dead Yet," "Runnin' Scared," and the title cut, Grushecky makes them sound as real as the guy who mugged you last week and turns their stories into something both tragic and compelling. Have a Good Time but Get out Alive is a masterpiece of hard-bitten Rust Belt rock, and the remastered CD reissue released in 1999 is a major improvement over the noisy vinyl pressings of the album's original release.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming