Of all the late ‘90s bands fashioned in the style of first wave punk rock, the Stiletto Boys were one of the top two or three. Crossing the racing tempos and vocal stylings of The Dickies with the old school pop-punk ethos of The Boys and the face-smashing aggression of the Dead Boys and Radio Birdman, this Lancaster, Pennsylvania outfit was brought back from the dead after its 8-Track 7” was released to great acclaim by Zodiac Records in 1997. A new 7”, Attitude Adjuster, made its way into the world in 1998, and for the next couple of years the Stiletto Boys were a machine. They played out three or four times a month and recorded like crazy. In short order they cranked out two great LPs and then kind of fell off the face of the earth. A long overdue third album has actually been in the works for a few years now, and if it ever sees the light of day, it will surely be great. While we wait, we still have the back catalog to enjoy. Debut album Rockets and Bombs in particular belongs to that rare class of ‘90s punk records that could have come out 20 years prior and held their own against the best LPs of the day.
As the Stiletto Boys were continually gravitating towards a power pop focused modus operandi, second album Buzzbomb Sounds (aka A Company of Wolves) was without doubt more “evolved” than its predecessor. A lot of people like it better. If Rockets and Bombs was their own Boys self-titled, then Buzzbomb Sounds was their Alternative Chartbusters. But the punk purist in me prefers the visceral thrills of Rockets and Bombs, with its bright hooks and breakneck tempos. It’s classic Stiletto Boys all the way, propelled by Casey Wolfe’s ridiculously good drumming, brother Sean’s vocal synthesis of Stiv Bators and Leonard Graves Phillips, and Eric Benner’s rocket launcher guitar sound. The material is a nice mix of oldies-but-goodies (“8-Track” and “Don’t Stop” – which will never be surpassed as the greatest Stiletto Boys song of all-time!) and newer tunes like the hyper and impossibly catchy “Killing Me”. Whether you prefer scorching rock n’ roll adrenaline (“Triple Two Stroke”, “It’s About Time”) or beautiful pop melodies (“Don’t Cry for Me”), the album is all-killer, no-filler. It’s weird to say that I “forgot” how many great Stiletto Boys songs there were. But as I listen to this disc, I find myself really taken aback by the wealth of songwriting talent they had (and no doubt still have). Remember “Sirens”? Remember “Second To None”? That shit was mint! The real bonus here is that the CD issue tacks on the 8-Track and Attitude Adjuster EPs in their entirety plus another unreleased EP, for a total of a whopping 23 tracks. That’s a lot of bang for your buck, son! In effect the disc functions as a “best-of” for the ‘90s Stiletto Boys, whereas Buzzbomb Sounds better represents the band in its Year 2000 vintage. You can’t go wrong either way.
The Stiletto Boys’ quantitative lack of output may have been a blessing in disguise. Had they kept on putting out albums, it’s possible their fans may have grown bored of their consistent brilliance. It would have been like, “Another perfect Stiletto Boys album? Ho-hum.” But now it’s been a decade, and it’s high time for a comeback. Especially with the band now citing influences outside their previous realm (Mott the Hoople, Nick Lowe, The Who, The Vapors), the work-in-progress Liberator is intriguing to consider. In the meantime, as you continue to digitalize your highly treasured ‘90s punk rock music collection, make certain that Rockets and Bombs sits atop your need-to-download list!