By 1982, and 1983, Brian Setzer’s group, The Stray Cats, had earned three top 10 hits: “Rock This Town”, “Stray Cat Strut”, and “She Sexy and 17”. And in late 1984? That was the year Setzer decided to break up Stray Cats in the midst of their success.
He told the Los Angeles Times in 1986 that he thought the band had run its course. “I didn’t want to make another rockabilly album.”
Setzer made a couple album in the two years away from the Cats, including one that stands out as a forgotten but near classic take on heartland rock and roll.
The Knife Feels Like Justice became the debut album solo album for Setzer. It had a roots rock sound, in the style of John Cougar Mellencamp. He formed a band for the album that was pretty damn impressive It was roots rock. Heartland rock. Springsteen-ian rock. At the time, bands like Mellencamp, Springsteen, the BoDeans, The Gear Daddies, Jason and the Scorchers, The Del Fuegos, The Wagoneers, and others were mining that heartland sound. It was the heyday of heartland rock, and he crossed it with some punkish/post-new wave middle America sensibility.
The sound of the album fit the time. Not any real radio airplay other than some scattered rock stations. The album peaked at number 45 on the US Billboard album chart in April 1986.
Though a bit forgotten, in Setzer’s career of more than 30 albums between solo, the Stray Cats, and his Brian Setzer Orchestra, this was one of only five albums to crack the Top 100. For Setzer, he scratched that roots rock itch. The Knife Feels Like Justice album is this odd little outlier in his career – made at a place in time where the sound was hot, and he went to work on it. For one album and one year, he drove a little different musical, drum-smacking, guitar-crankin’ road.