The RAT line of distortion pedals has been around for a long time now, and it seems only natural that many musicians who like a little bit of grime in their sound eventually go out and buy themselves a RAT distortion pedal.
Not only have RAT pedals been used by people you’ve never heard of (and never will, either), but a whole bunch of musicians you HAVE definitely heard of are down with RAT’s distorted sounds.
We could list them off, but it would take too long. Suffice it to say, we wanted to share with you 5 classic albums that changed our lives here at YTMS that have a healthy dose of the RAT sound we all know and love.
Some of these albums you may know, some you may not, but we suggest you to go check these albums, unless you have no soul, or like Jack Johnson.
Monster by R.E.M.
R.E.M. isn’t necessarily the first band you think of when you think of “dirty” or “heavy”, since they are generally considered to be more of a jangle-pop band by reviewers trying to describe their sound.
But, to be fair, they did have a period back in the ’90’s where guitarist Peter Buck got into using that unmistakeable RAT distortion sound for their Monster album, using it on tracks such as “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?”, as well as severals others from this time period.
By the time Monster arrived in ‘94, R.E.M. had already crossed from being an underground band from Athens, Georgia, to being an international success with albums like Green, Out Of Time, and Automatic For The People.
Monster was another huge album for the band, and Peter Buck finally let loose his ragged glory, influenced by the “Seattle Sound” that had swept across the nation, and dirtying up his sound quite a bit for this record while also using heaps of Tremelo.
To be certain, his RAT pedal was in there just as much as the tremelo, providing some spicy mids.
R.E.M. eventually did return to their more subdued side before calling it a day, but for a while there, they were rockin’ the RAT.
Blur by Blur
Blur is a band that has been around since the early 90’s, and they started their career as a Brit-pop band, writing slightly woozy and somewhat psychedelic songs like “She’s So High” and “There’s No Other Way”.
From there, they moved on to a proper British band, writing songs about modern life (hence their second album, “Modern Life Is Rubbish”), and finally gaining huge popularity with their grandiose “Parklife” album in 1994, which still managed to have a couple heavier / faster songs, like this one called “Bank Holiday”…
Their guitar player Graham Coxon has always been a bit of a nutter when it comes to guitars and guitar effects pedals. Although he has been known to go drifting off into some of the space-y-est sounds put on record, he does love himself some gritty raw distortion, with his distortion pedal of choice being – you guessed it – the ol’ big fat RAT!
The album we wanted to talk about here was the Blur self-titled album from 1997, which broke the band in the States, with their huge punk rock anthem, Song 2, a song about .. who the hell knows! But people loved it, and a big part of that was actually the fat-bottomed bass that is basically the highlight of the song, which is said to feature not one but TWO Turbo RATs to get that beefy sound.
But make no mistake, this is a guitar album all the way and the Rat is in there like a dirty pair of sweat socks, tumbling around in the wash and getting their grime on everything. This is the album that Blur decides to wig out and try a bunch of crazy musical experiments, going really dirty and low-fi for some tracks, which the Rat is perfect for.
Although it is mainly Song 2 that most people remember about Blur’s 1997 album, for musical types, and true fans of the band, the album itself is a classic, with some of the sickest tracks they’ve ever made. The RAT distortion pedal is on there throughout, so take another listen and don’t let this album’s long, disgusting RAT tail smack you in the face on your way out!
Foo Fighters – Self-Titled Album
You may not remember this, but the Foo Fighters were once a quirky band that was actually very punk rock and very weird. Their first album has an alien laser gun on the front, and even the singles from that time had UFO imagery all over them.
It didn’t take long for them to start heading in a more mainstream direction, leaving all that quirky weirdness behind. That first self-titled album was released about a year from the time that Kurt Cobain died, and when it came out, people didn’t expect much, if anything, from Dave Grohl. Little did they know, little did they know…
But that album, if you were around at the time and paying attention, did actually break the band in the States. It didn’t even matter that the songs were probably even more random lyrically than Nirvana (huhh?) had been – people were digging it!
They went on national TV, played Letterman, and toured the hell out of that album in ‘95, even though it was just Dave’s little weird pet project that he recorded himself which wasn’t really supposed to go anywhere.
The cool thing about that album, for some fans, is that it was actually more of a punk rock album than anything. It clearly wasn’t written to be accepted by soccer moms. Dave was just venting and processing his friend’s death and didn’t give a flying fuck, but he still loved music.
The songs had this manic energy, or they were genuinely funny, like Big Me or For All The Cows. Oh, and did we mention that Dave is a RAT lover? That first Foo Fighters album is all RAT, all the time, and Dave just turns up the distortion all over the place.
This was a time in the life of the Foo Fighters that came and went, but it had some great songs featuring the RAT that were punk as fuck like Winnebago, This Is A Call, I’ll Stick Around, and Watershed.
Radiohead – The Bends
Jonny Greenwood isn’t so much a guitar player as he is a guitar wizard. The sounds he can make with his instruments are definitely otherworldly, but Jonny has always had a way of approaching his sound that is like Matt Damon solving a huge equation on a 10 foot blackboard, in that it looks complicated to us, but to him it makes perfect sense.
There’s a lot of things going on upstairs with that guy in terms of music, and it reflects in his playing. Half of it is experimental noise and madness, but half of it is very calculated and under control. Is this the sound of a man who’s in control?
That said, if you cast your mind back to 1995 around March (that year keeps popping up), Radiohead was a band that was considered a one-hit wonder with their song “Creep” from their album Pablo Honey.
They weren’t on the same level as bands around at that time from the U.K. like Oasis, Blur, or The Stone Roses, but once they released The Bends, things began to change.
The Bends is the album that came out before OK Computer, the critically acclaimed juggernaut of a concept album that heralded Radiohead as the new Pink Floyd, and that fanfare basically wiped the slate clean insofar as The Bends being a big deal – but it was a big deal. The Bends is the album that introduced the world to Radiohead as a band that could write not just a hit, but an entire album that stood as an artistic statement.
It is an album full of angst and vitriol, and part of that sound came from Jonny’s numerous effects that he layered together, providing an inscrutable wall of sound that had musicians guessing and still does.
Much of the bark on the The Bends, which was a signature of the times, came from Jonny’s big hairy-sounding RAT distortion pedal, which augmented many of the tracks on that album to become much more brutal and furious than they might have been otherwise.
Songs like My Iron Lung, or Just were the songs that really kind of freaked people out with just how much wailing Jonny could do with a guitar, and that’s where Jonny Greenwood and Thom Yorke stopped being two low key Brits in the band that wrote “Creep” (even though Jonny’s guitar has the hook in that song as well with his 2 accidental ca-chunks), but The Bends introduced them to the world as Jonny Greenwood and Thom Yorke – two crazy ass musicians you you need to pay attention to from now on.
Sonic Youth – Dirty
Sonic Youth has been around since the early ’80’s and they are one of those bands that has a ton of music that they’ve released. At one people they were dubbed as “no wave”, which is like a form of new wave but inverted to sound like the nightmare doppelganger of that movement. In fact, Thurston might have been the one who came up with that label in the first place – that little scamp!
With songs like Shaking Hell, Society Is A Hole, and Tom Violence, Sonic Youth established themselves as a band that were not on friendly terms with mainstream society, and probably never would be. A cult band to the end.
In ’88, they surprised a few people with Daydream Nation, an album that showed that they had some great super catchy riffs up their sleeve, and were willing to take their creativity to the next level.
It was then that their cult got very big, especially in Europe, where they toured a lot to some huge crowds who could relate to their “fuck everything” aesthetic that they managed to ooze through their amps and through the throngs of disenchanted Europeans of the ’80’s.
In ’92, Sonic Youth was back again with their album Dirty, which was…quite a dirty little album, featuring better production thanks to their label Geffen, more money thanks to Nirvana, but nastier and trashier songs that featured more noise, more guitar jams, and frankly more vision. It was enough to drive your parents insane though.
Thurston Moore, being a real music dork, was always into pulling in as many influences as he could grab out of the air into the Sonic Youth palette, but one thing he always loved was a bludgeoning riff. But he also loved beauty, so him and Lee and Kim would come up with some nice, melodic passage, and then drop the hammer on it with some heavy distortion…
This is where the RAT pedal came into play heavily for Sonic Youth. Thurston, being a RAT man for a long time by then, was way into the pedal by the time of Dirty and he really let it fly for that album.
The RAT was the perfect pedal for Thurston to thrash out too, and when you turn it up loud, it really raises the hair on your arms. The RAT isn’t the only pedal used on the album, because the band loves their effects pedals, but the big ol’ RAT certainly it gets its day in the sun on Dirty.
So there ya have it – 5 albums that sink their teeth into a RAT sandwich.