Rope-A-Dope screeches and buzzes with a coarseness that would have been generally welcomed in the early 90s, nearly post-grunge musical underground. Compared to Elba, there is a general murky darkness that exists in the atmosphere of the album. Yet despite the possible grunge comparisons, the lyrics, singing style, expertly executed instrumentation and the unusual yet distinctive musical construction of each song still keep the tracks vastly inimitable and just as fresh today as they were eighteen years ago.
“Hands Down” start off the record right with a searing distorted guitar intro and a catchy rocking rhythm. The guitar snarls with a big kick as Tara delivers a very indignant, curled lip styled vocal. Oh and that organ sound…It just pushes the song into badass, garage rock territory with one hell of a memorable, Mountain-esque riff. Following this is “What She Will”, a hard rock track with straightly delivered male vocals (a classic Antietam-ism) on top of a “Tomorrow Never Knows” kind of hard drumbeat. Following this, “Pine” has moments of beautifully burnt guitar work that doesn’t sound too unlike Neil Young at his most dissonantly biting. “Certain Muse” is slightly more on the reserved side than the rest of the record, with keyboards and cello and Antietam’s characteristically hugely contrasted harmonies. This track pairs nicely to a drive through a city I’ve found, in the same way that a rocky Velvet Underground track does.
It’s hard to say for sure, as there are so many moments of genius all over this album, but (currently) when push comes to shove, “Graveyard”, at the center of the record, is possibly my favorite track. The band just comes in heavy and loud with such precision. Tara is possibly in her finest form here, belting and hollering superbly sublime notes with such great power and yet somehow with the greatest of ease. Also on this track, the guitar paints an oil stained landscape of metallic shimmer covered and obscured by ash.
“Graveyard” might be a standout to me, but that’s not to say that the rest of the tracks aren’t worthy of such a claim. The entire record just bleeds with energy, intensity and raw power. For instance, the title track alone is worth the price of the album. “Rope-A-Dope” is like the end of the “Rain” cover; in that it has some unbelievable instrumental jamming that could be extended for hours without getting old or lessening in intensity or ingenuity. “Leave Home” is every bit as brooding, haunting, angst ridden and severe, as any song by any grunge band, any later-day Dylan or Sonic Youth track, and yet handled with far more grace, maturity, and painful honesty, even if all the vocals were deleted from it. “Betwixt” is another pounding, thrashing rocker with an empowered yet resentful styled vocal delivery that makes the listener want to fist pump and shout along. The closing number, “Silver Solace”, is a constantly shifting, (mostly) feedback ridden, absolute epic of a song. This track is another favorite of mine, (if push comes to shove, as I had said before). The song is an absolute ocean of musical prowess for every member present from the very first to the very last second of the recording. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but when one plays the entire record from start to finish in one sitting, the end of the last track will just floor you.
Overall, Rope-A-Dope is a hard, heavily rocking, intelligently crafted piece of work with elements of punk, metal and even traditional music, that was created by a very talented group of people. For nearly twenty years, the album has stood and continues to stand as a peerless and incomparable Rope-A-Dope, you may find that you’ll end up loving it.