The Cars' Ric Ocasek has lavished unabashed praise on Alan Vega for years, and now on "Saturn Strip," Vega's first major- label release, the rest of us have the chance to find out why. An Elvis for the apocalypse, Vega cross-pollinates rockabilly and techno- pop and emerges with a hybrid so flawlessly original you'd think he was out to re-invent rock and roll altogether.
On "Video Babe," Vega's voice quivers against a surf-synth background like the King's might've now, had he been plugged in to something better than Valium and Vegas. "Ride the wave," he encourages his computer-age girlfriend; but his voice has a worried edge, and this could be the first time in rock music that the small screen replaces the long Cadillac as combination romantic lure and threat.
"American Dreamer" reasserts the role of rock in a pop culture gone blithely cynical. Using '80s technology (producer Ocasek handles the synths), Vega evokes '60s musical fire, weaving in references to songs like "Domino," "American Nights," "Fire" and even "Dixie Chicken." Vega's a proud dreamer himself, occasionally shouting "Go for it" above the dense mix.
"Wipeout Beat" invariably brings "Apocalypse Now" to mind, not least because Vega's voice assumes a Jim Morrison- like anger, but without all the Freudian Mom-isms. The title refers to more than just a style (or two) of music, and the lyrics constitute the nostalgic lament of a blind Vietnam vet whose eyes were "burned out by an Asian sun." He's still got his ears, though; and so does Vega, whose real concern is not so much the bomb as the bomp, and how to put it back. ALAN VEGA -- "Saturn Strip" (Elektra 9 60259-1). Appearing Saturday at 8 at the 9:30 Club.