As the 1980s gave way to the 1990s, Ratcat became the first band from the Sydney alternative guitar scene to reach a wider, mainstream teenypop audience. Ratcat's combination of speed-ball fuzz-pop and comic-book aesthetics was always brighter and more entertaining than its contemporaries and the results speak for themselves. Writing in Rolling Stone, John O'Donnell noted that in the days of precise production values, $100000 video-clips and corporate rock strategies, Ratcat succeeded on an agenda of simple guitar-pop love songs and boyish good looks.
Ratcat grew out of Simon Day and Victor Levi's garage band Danger Mouse. Ratcat built-up a strong live following by playing the local haunts of the Sydney skate-punk scene alongside the likes of Massappeal, The Hellmenn, The Hard-ons and Happy Hate Me Nots. In December 1987, the Waterfront label put out the band's eponymous debut mini-LP which drew comparisons with The Buzzcocks, Jesus and Mary Chain and 1960s garage pop bands like Music Machine. Ratcat contained four of the band's self-penned stage favourites plus a cover of the Tommy James and the Shondells 1960s bubblegum apotheosis `I Think We're Alone Now'.
The singles `I Think I Love You'/`Depression' (August 1988) and `Baby's Got a Gun'/`Purple Room' (December) followed before the band issued its debut album, This Nightmare, in July 1989. The album contained a treasure-trove of witty, effervescent Day-penned tracks like `Go Go', `True Lust', `Baby's Got a Gun' and `The Killing Joke', plus a cover of UK band The Darling Buds' `If I Said'. The line-up on the album comprised Day, Andrew Polin (drums) and John McAteer (bass). `The Killing Joke' also appeared as a 12-inch EP (July 1989), and the band's last single for Waterfront was `Saying Goodbye'/`Tura Satana', `Overdrive' (March 1990). Amr Zaid replaced McAteer and the band signed a lucrative deal with the fledgling rooArt label (through PolyGram). Ratcat contributed `You Get me By' to the label's Various Artists compilation Youngblood II. The Tingles 12-inch EP came out in November 1990, and almost immediately the frisky `That Ain't Bad' scored mainstream radio support, which shot the EP to #1 on the Australian charts.
The `Don't Go Now'/`The Lie' single repeated the feat in April 1991, with the result that by the time the albums Blind Love (July) and Ratcat Alive (December) came out, Ratcat was hot property indeed. Produced by Nick Mainsbridge, Blind Love rose effortlessly to #1 on the national chart. The band opened for Australian rock-funk veterans INXS on that band's massive X national tour, as well as headlining their own concerts. Ratcat's Invasion of the Dinosaur Killers tour of June 1991 saw the band supported by highly touted UK quartet Ride, plus local indie heroes Falling Joys and Clouds. The Tingles EP was the second biggest selling single on the Australian charts for 1991. Blind Love was certified gold on pre-release orders alone (35000 copies). It was the #35 best-selling album for the year.
The next Ratcat single, `Baby Baby' (July 1991), did not reach the national Top 40, but peaked at #15 in Sydney. In September, Ratcat headed overseas for a world tour which took in dates across the UK, Europe and the USA. The band supported the likes of Ride, Iggy Pop, Dinosaur Jr, Teenage Fanclub, Violent Femmes and The Wonder Stuff. In mid-1992, Marc Scully (ex-Love Rodeo, Deadly Hume, Nick Barker and the Reptiles) replaced Zaid on bass. The CD singles `Candyman' (May 1992), `Holiday' (October 1992) and `The World (in a Wrapper)' (May 1993), plus the album Insideout (November 1992), were unable to repeat the spectacular success of their predecessors but kept Ratcat in the public eye. Falling Joys' Suzie Higgie sang a duet with Day on `The World (in a Wrapper)', while The Buzzcocks' bass player, Steve Garney, made a guest appearance on `Holiday' and the album track `Sick of Being Down'.
In 1993, Ratcat put out two more CD EPs, `Rain' and `The Smiler' (which contained the radio-friendly guitar pop epic `May You Ever'), and recorded a new album, Easy Rider, which finally appeared in October 1997 before slipping from view. While Ratcat's place on the Australian charts was superseded by more incendiary guitar bands like You Am I, Spiderbait, Tumbleweed and Regurgitator, there was no denying the band's pioneering efforts to elevate alternative guitar pop beyond its origins and into the mainstream charts. Simon Day was responsible for much of the band's record cover artwork (including the band's symbol) and overall image. He has had his artwork published in numerous magazines and has also held several exhibitions.
After several years in the wilderness, Ratcat played live again in Sydney for the first time during April 1998. Nic Dalton (ex-Plunderers; head of the Half a Cow label) played bass with the band for a short time. Ratcat then collaborated with John Paul Young on a rendition of ‘I Hate the Music’, for inclusion on the original soundtrack of the Australian feature film, Occasional Course Language (November 1998, EMI). Featuring the likes of You Am I, Jebediah, Grinspoon, Spiderbait, Leonardo’s Bride, Automatic, The Living End etc, as well as Ratcat, it was a splendid snapshot of Australian late 1990s alternative rock.