REVIEW: Badlands – Badlands (1989)

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.
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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…

5/5 stars

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49 comments

  1. Yep u called it Mike. This is a 5 and no less. I was pumped for this release back in 89 as well and I was going out with a girl at the time who worked at the radio station in Tbay and she had it on vinyl a good two weeks before it hit the stores.
    Needless to say I scooped it and she scooped it back as it had a huge stamp (radio promo)on the cover but man it’s solid front to back. I really wanted to,catch these guys on this tour but never had the chance.
    Also looking forward to Jakes new release as well with D Smith from Harem singing!

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    1. Yeah I am looking forward to it as well. I heard a couple tracks that I liked. Definitely looking forward to hearing more and hopefully picking it up!

      Do you remember when Much had them in the studio on the Power Hour? It was from when Badlands played Rock N Roll Heaven.

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      1. Yeah I had a copy on VHS from the Powerhour it’s at the city landfill along with your cassettes Mike!
        Hahaha..Sorry I had to go there!

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        1. HAHAHAHAH! Oh man I, wish I never gave all my cassettes to that purple-haired chick from TBay! There’s a record store tale in this, when I’m ready to post all the gory details!

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  2. Facebook comment from Rob V: “The story behind their break up is funny. These guys want to make a little rock n roll music and they wind up trashing each other spoiling the great music that they once made. Personally the album was mediocre. Putting out only 2 albums reflects how tight this band truly was.”

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  3. Just checking out Every Records page and man between u,Jon and Every Record that’s all the info I need now. U 3 are on my main screen on my ipad,along with Bravewords and Blabbermouth!

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      1. No funnily enough I never got around to it, it was one all my friends had so I never really had to quite get around to buying it.

        I can take or leave bonus tracks, I tend to rely on the fact that most of the time the band/producer make the right choices about what to leave on take off.

        I haven’t forgiven Faith No More for missing two great tracks off the Real Thing though – War Pigs and Edge of the World.

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        1. And while I understand your feelings regarding most bonus tracks, I can never truly understand since my OCD overrides all. I don’t care if it’s James Hetfield burping in autotune, if it says “Metallica” on it I want it.

          Interesting thing about Faith No More. I knew that, but had forgotten it. And yet both songs were concert classics…I’m sure they STILL play Edge of the World. With Angel Dust, I have a 2 LP edition which has the two songs that didn’t fit on 1 disc — I think Crack Hitler, and Midnight Cowboy. Maybe.

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  4. Gotta be honest, did not know about these guys until this post. However, I do like “raw bluesy shit” so maybe I should seek this out.

    Also, that guy second from right, I think he got the rocker hair wrong.

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  5. I love this album, such a brilliant record. I remember it took me a bit by surprise as Jake E Lee did co-write two of Ozzy’s most commercial albums. But their Led Zeppelin influenced rock fit them like a glove and Ray Gillen’s voice is just mindblowing. It’s a five, agreed. I can’t find one bad song on here. Too bad they couldn’t do it again. Voodoo Highway was a good record and so was Dusk, but neither could hold a candle to this one
    Also, I didn’t know that Lee and Gillen fell out at all. I thought they split because of bad sales or something.
    Have anyone heard the Deluxe version of Black Sabbath’s Eternal Idol with the bonus disc? Well, that disc contains said album with Gillen’s vocals instead of Tony Martin’s. I’m not gonna say that Gillen’s better but he sure does a killer job.

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    1. He does do a killer job, and a damn good job live too (Seventh Son deluxe edition). It would have been interestingf to see if Sabbath would have gone differently with Gillen at the helm. He had pipes but was also considered a “sex symbol” in the 80’s so maybe that would have drawn Sabbath a new crowd. Or earned them eternal derision. Who knows? Either way reunions with both Dio and Ozzy were inevitable.

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      1. On that live recording – from the Seventh Star tour – Ray Gillen is fantastic. Even when he handled tunes from Dio’s era, he did it with an amazing performance.

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        1. I think he did better with the Dio stuff than the old Ozzy stuff. I also have a bootleg CD called the Ray Gillen Years, with a few different song selections in the live set.

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        2. Yes, he is great with God stuff! And it’s not a easy thing to do. by the way, a couple of days ago I was listening to the cd deluxe edition bonus from Eternal Idol, the one with radius gillen the item. not bad at all, although I like Tony Martin on this one – overlooked – albums.

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  6. I agree 100% with your review mike! A fantastic album with an excellent production, pure, strong and true, as a hard rock blues record must be. This stuff sounds like a classic rock album from the 70’s and this happen in 1989, when so much rock albums sound like shit. On Badlands, Jake E Lee is simply great just as Ray Gillen, really awesome singer. The rhythm section is tight as hell and full of talent. It’s a real pleasure to listen to Badlands. Enjoy it!

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  7. What a great PR move these guys pulled off with D Smith being blasted out of his skull at the Whiskey show last week!
    I mean if they had did the show sober(ha) everyone would say ok but the publicity that this generated (which surprised me with D Smith as he seems like a solid guy with a good voice..ie Harem Scarem)
    U know u have more people talking about it albeit a lot of trash talk but people are talking about it….
    Great publicity move……

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    1. For sure. And everybody’s talking is saying the same thing as well — Jake is playing awesome.

      I do think the band isn’t up to his level though. He might have to evolve the lineup a bit.

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    2. But there are other clips out from other gigs where Smith is supposed to be sober and those doesn’t really raise any hope for that band either. I’m not sure about Smith as he sounds sour and off key a lot and their drummer couldn’t find groove if it jumped up and gave him a blow job. But worst of all is that Jake doesn’t impress one bit. Some of the solos on the Ozzy stuff is plain horrible. Anyway, they’re playing Sweden Rock in June so I guess it’ll be their trial by fire as far as the Swedish audience goes

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  8. Another tasty review cheers.

    Bought this LP release month based on a hunch and spare change (remember those days) and it has NEVER left my collection in some form another (LP CD a couple times and cassette) and is always roaming around this fans top10 records!

    Gillen was a vocal God afforded not only the range (essential 80’s requirement) but soul and emotion. Throw that over the top of great songs and exceptional playing this should have been huge.

    Agree the followups while strong were far from this near perfection, this is one of the better aging records no doubt due to light on keys or style or whatever may have been fashionable for the day the band wisely choosing to do their own thing.

    RIP Ray, yer talent continues to serve \m/

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      1. Would like that please do! I think Dusk the better of the followups but man that opening cut for Voodoo Highway, The Last Time is a killer track, Thought though Voodoo overall both sound and material was a little too far away from the debut, but forgive Dusk its raw approach as Ray recorded those vocals while unwell and believe in one take (would you believe, certainly makes for emotional listening)…

        Absolutely on board with Popoff and his 10/10 rating for this debut but not quite as locked in with his perfect scrores for the following two records, but both Voodoo Highway and Dusk great records and worthy of the praise, just not quite the classic the debut was (IMO).

        I think the strength of this debut wasn’t just for its song quality and performances but the fact they were clever in doing their own thing without sacrificing some of that all important typical late 80’s flare Dreams In The Dark (which read the band (perhaps minus Gillen as allegedly he claimed to have a bucket full of these kinda tracks the rest of the band rejected for being too commercial come album number 2), believed too commercial, Dreams nearly not making the record yikes!). But these ears could move easily from this record to say Whitesnake or The Cult for example with ease…

        Heck, enjoying your blog/reviews, a good review and discussion should inspire us to explore or relisten and gonna go do just that and spin this one right away \m/ Look forward to the sophomore and Dusk reviews if ya get around to em :)

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        1. Geez thanks man! Knowing somebody is out there reading it, makes the writing worth it.

          I don’t have Dusk, unfortunately. I’ve never found it for under $30 all in, so I’ve never taken a chance on it. I do have Ray on a Sun Red Sun box set here.

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