Rest in peace Ray Gillen who died 20 years ago today. Thanks to EveryRecordTellsAStory for letting me know, and be sure to check out his excellent Badlands story as well.
BADLANDS – Badlands (1989 Atlantic)
When this album came out I bought it immediately. Well, as soon as it was made available by Columbia House music club, that is. I remember that I described it to a work friend named Mark as “raw bluesy shit”, and I still stand by that three word description. With an emphasis on raw. For 1989, this kind of production was unheard of. You can hear everything on this album, you can hear Jake’s fingers talking. Very little embellishment going on here.
Badlands were almost a supergroup of sorts: Ray Gillen (ex-Black Sabbath), Jake E. Lee (ex Ozzy Osbourne), Eric Singer (also ex-Black Sabbath, now in Kiss) and Greg Chaisson (ex-nobody significant). Jake had always complained he didn’t have an outlet to play the blues in Ozzy’s band, so this is his version of the blues, and it’s hard as hell! The band also had a vision of an album with two sides: a first harder rocking side, and a second bluesier side with longer songs.
“Live Wire” kicks Badlands off with Jake’s raw, stripped back guitar sound. Producer Paul O’Neill (Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra) was also managing Badlands, and his production work here is completely different from the layers that he is better known for. The effects are stipped back, and Jake’s guitar is very different from The Ultimate Sin. A groovy exciting track, “Live Wire” is driven by the riff and Gillen’s authoritative Coverdale-esque lead vocals.
The single “Dreams In The Dark” is next, the closest thing to a commercial song that this album gets. It has a strong chorus, instantly memorable, but you’ll be forgiven for thinking this is a Whitesnake outtake at first. A brief instrumental precedes my favourite song, “Winter’s Call”. It is as close is you’ll get to a ballad on this album, and only because its intro is slow and acoustic. However once that first riff kicks in, there’s no looking back. Eric Singer’s drum patterns are complex and hard hitting. The song itself is atmospheric and still kicks my ass all these years later. It’s infectious, like an old Zeppelin number. I hear sitar!
A pair of rockers finish side one, “Dancing On The Edge” (an accelerated raw rocker with a great chorus) and “Streets Cry Freedom” a steamy, slower tune like a classic Coverdale prowl. Both songs are standouts.
Side two starts with a serious rocker, “Hard Driver”, but from there it is on to the long, slower bluesy numbers that the band talked about. “Rumblin’ Train” is the bluesiest number, and “Devil’s Stomp” is as heavy as the title implies. “Seasons” is a slow moody one, brilliantly dramatic thanks to Gillen’s emotive vocal. The cassette/CD bonus track was called “Ball & Chain” and it finishes the album on a another hard bluesy note. (Yes, back then when they couldn’t fit all the songs on an LP, they’d still include it on the cassette version and call it a “bonus track”.)
Badlands made a couple more albums, but this one is my favourite. Martin Popoff himself rates this one a 10/10. I gotta agree with the man on this one. On a 5 scale…