Roger C. Reale was a New England rocker besotted with glam, punk, new wave, power pop, and any other straight-ahead rock & roll that fell just outside of the mainstream in the late 1970s. He found a kindred spirit in Jon Tiven, the rock journalist turned power popper who was working as an A&R man for Big Sound Records just after Prix, the group he had with Tommy Hoehn, split. Tiven and label founder Thomas "Doc" Cavalier envisioned Big Sound as the American equivalent of Stiff Records and, in a sense, they saw Roger C. Reale as their Elvis Costello: a gifted singer/songwriter with a rock & roll heart. Big Sound rounded up a bunch of pros -- both local and national -- to support Reale on his 1978 debut Radioactive and its shelved follow-up, Reptiles in Motion, but the label did what so many indies do: it went under, leaving the debut known only to collectors and the second album languishing in the vaults.
Rave On's 2019 compilation, The Collection, rectifies this situation with both of the albums along with two tracks that were featured on the U.K. edition of Radioactive. In other words, it's the complete recorded works of Roger C. Reale & Rue Morgue, which may chiefly be of interest to hardcore new wave and power pop fans, but deserves to be heard by a wider audience, and thanks to its pedigree, it may be. The Rue Morgue were anchored by drummer Hilly Michaels, who was fresh off a tour with the Sparks, and each of Reale's records features a different great guitarist. G.E. Smith -- then a young hotshot on the East Coast who'd later join Hall & Oates and the Saturday Night Live studio band -- is on Radioactive, while Mick Ronson played on Reptiles in Motion. Michaels played in Ronson's band and the guitarist was "hypnotized" by Radioactive, asking to play on the second. It's easy to hear what Ronson heard in Radioactive, and what he brought to Reptiles. Radioactive is a kinetic blast of hyper-charged rock & roll and insistent jangle. It alternately sounds like Elvis Costello fronting Dr. Feelgood or an American version of the Jam, and it sounds like it would've been a blast to play. With Ronson, Reale & Rue Morgue sound no less energetic but a little more muscular, with crunching rock & roll slightly overpowering Reale's sharp punk hooks. In either case, both records fulfill the ambitions of Tiven and Cavalier; they sound like an American version of Stiff Records. And that means this reissue is something of a forgotten treasure for any fan of Stiff or barroom new wave, or any kind of high-octane, tuneful rock & roll, really.