The Cassette Chronicles – Tora Tora’s ‘Surprise Attack’

By JAY ROBERTS

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

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TORA TORA – SURPRISE ATTACK (1989)

The debut studio album from the Memphis based rockers might not be familiar enough to most rock fans that aren’t devotees of the 80’s metal music scene but for those of us that are, Surprise Attack introduced us to a blues-based rock band that had some pretty solid music to offer.

I write this with the knowledge that while I didn’t have this album in my collection from its initial release, I have a very soft spot and fond recollection of the band’s likely best known song “Walkin’ Shoes.”

While Surprise Attack managed to peak at #47 on the album charts, that song has remained a huge memory for me even nearly 30 years after the fact. The funny thing is that as much as I loved that song, I’d totally forgotten about the album’s opening cut, “Love’s A Bitch”, which has just as big a commercial vibe to it, but it didn’t get released as a single. “Phantom Rider” was another of the band’s single releases. It features a pretty intense solo from guitarist Keith Douglas, but in all honesty I was relatively unimpressed by the song.

The first side of the album is a bit hit and miss for me. The song “28 Days” moves at an even faster clip than “Love’s A Bitch” with singer Anthony Corder spitting out the vocals in rapid fire succession. It’s darn good. I also enjoyed the song “Guilty” which was the third of the album’s songs to get a single release. The song is good all the way through, but the use of a big backing vocal track on the chorus helped sell the song that much more.

As I said, I didn’t care for “Phantom Rider” which closed out the first side of the album, but I found “Hard Times” to be even more problematic for me. It’s got the swampy, Southern Rock underpinnings that would usually make me really get into the track, but the vocals kill the song for me. They come off as entirely too whiny and screechy for anyone to truly enjoy them.

Side two fares much better. After leading off with “Walkin’ Shoes”, the band doesn’t coast as they blow through three more incredible sounding rockers. I wouldn’t ever claim that the lyrics are going to get you into any philosophical conversations, but when you just want to rock out, songs like “Riverside Drive”, “She’s Good She’s Bad” and “One For The Road” will do the job of raising your adrenaline levels. The only real nitpick is that the album ends on a bit of a down note with the slow syrupy ballad “Being There.” I can’t decide if the song as a whole irritated me or if I was wishing that they’d done a better job of sequencing it in the track listing. For me, an album should open and close on an extended rocking romp through your mind, unless a ballad is so outstanding that you can’t help but be moved by it. That is not the case with “Being There.”

The band followed up Surprise Attack with the album Wild America which demonstrated an apparent maturity in the songwriting but sold less than the debut album. That’s okay though. While Tora Tora may be one of those “obscure” 80’s bands that only the cognoscenti remember, I know that I am glad to have their debut album in my collection. It is chock full of some straight on rock and roll and when it comes down to it, I want to be entertained by the music I choose to listen to. This album does the trick for me!

Notes of Interest: The band broke up in 1994 after their third album, Revolution Day, got lost in the shuffle of record company changes and wasn’t released. The album did finally see the light of day in 2011 via FNA Records.

The band got back together in 2008 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of getting their record deal and they are still active today.

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