REVIEW: Poison – Native Tongue (1993)


NATIVE TONGUE_0001POISON – Native Tongue (1993 Capitol)

C.C. DeVille was let go from Poison after an embarrassing performance on the 1991 MTV awards.  Who can forget the pink-haired C.C.?  Drugs and alcohol had taken their toll on the guitar player.  There were musical differences as well.  Bret Michaels liked the bluesier direction Poison were going on; C.C. preferred basic sloppy rock.  A parting of ways was all but inevitable.

Poison were lucky enough to convince guitar prodigy Richie Kotzen to join the band.  Kotzen was from Pennsylvania, like Poison, and had released three critically acclaimed solo albums.  Richie Kotzen and Electric Joy were hard-to-penetrate instrumental albums, while Fever Dream introduced Richie’s soulful singing voice.  He had also contributed the bluesy rock of “Dream of a New Day” to the Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack album.

Like many fans, I waited and wondered what the new Poison would sound like.  Kotzen claims that many of the songs were completely written, lyrics and all, before he joined Poison.  Regardless each song received a four-way songwriting split among the band members.  Fans in the know could tell right away that Kotzen’s impact on the songs was much greater than the other members.

Native Tongue was not as immediate as any prior Poison album, but what it lacked in instant hooks it made up for in musicianship and integrity.  Native Tongue was also a long album, at almost an hour not including B-sides such as “Whip Comes Down”.  It was a lot to absorb, and due to the changing winds of rock, not too many fans were willing to spend time with and get to know Native Tongue.

You couldn’t have asked for a better start to the album that the duo of “Native Tongue”/”The Scream”.  Tribal drums by Rikki Rockett and Sheila E. set the scene for one of Poison’s heaviest songs ever.  “The Scream” is killer:  a relentless driving rock song with aggressive playing and lyrics.  Bret Michaels merged this with his Poison singing style, creating a successful hybrid.  “The Scream” is one of Poison’s finest achievements, and a hell of a way to kick off the new album with the new guitarist.

“Stand” was the soulful, gospel-like lead single.  It didn’t do anything for me, but you have to give Poison credit for going all-in.  With choirs and Kotzen’s soulful guitar playing, it’s still an outstanding Poison song.  “Stay Alive” was another good tune, this time about bassist Bobby Dall’s struggles with substances.   That led into the ballad “Until You Suffer Some (Fire and Ice)”, one of the band’s best such songs.  The only weakness here is a grouping of slow songs on side one.  “Body Talk” and “Bring It Home” make up for that.  “Bring It Home” in particular had that heavy groove that you needed to have in the 1990s, as well as strong backing vocals from Kotzen.   “Bring It Home” ended the first side with the heaviest song since “The Scream”.

The one thing that I found difficult about Native Tongue was the aforementioned lack of immediacy.  Thankfully, side two had a few songs that maintained that old-tyme Poison singalong chorus.  They were “Seven Days Over You” (a horn-inflected goodie), the anthemic “Blind Faith” and, “Ride Child Ride”.  These tunes weren’t too much of a departure from earlier Poison of Flesh & Blood.  Perhaps if they had been released as singles, there would have been more chart action.  “Strike Up the Band” is similar, capturing the high octane rock that Poison were good at doing live.

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“Richie’s Acoustic Thang” and “Ain’t That the Truth” are swampy bluesy goodness, crossing Poison and Kotzen perfectly.  Where Poison failed to do decent blues before, they finally managed to get it done with Richie.  Likewise, “Theatre of the Soul” is a soulful ballad that acts as another album highlight.

The final song was “Bastard Son of a Thousand Blues”, and it is really the only stinker, despite Kotzen having plenty of vocal time.  It reminds me of “Poor Boy Blues” from the prior album, and unfortunately ends the album on a mediocre note, guitar pyrotechnics notwithstanding.

Kotzen didn’t last long with Poison.  “Strike Up the Band”?  More like “Break Up the Band”, when Richie started fooling around with the fiancé of Rikki Rockett.  He was immediately fired upon discovery, and replaced by Blues Saraceno, another highly rated shredder.  The ironic thing was that Blues Saraceno was in the running for the guitar slot in the first place, but the band chose Kotzen.  Saraceno recorded the strong Crack A Smile CD, an intentional return to good-time Poison rock, but were dropped by the record label before a release.  That’s a whole other story, with six years of delays and bootlegs before the album was out, eventually leading to a reunion with C.C. DeVille.

Fortunately, Native Tongue remains a reminder of a brief period in Poison where they were momentarily among the best acts in hard rock.  No shit.

4.75/5 stars

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25 comments

    1. Hey Danica thanks for stopping by again!

      One of my reviewer buddies Jompa Wilmenius — https://etainmentnewsreviews.wordpress.com/ — convinced me it was time to review this one. I respect his opinion on all matters of hard rock (and other things too, he’s just a good dude). Anyway he has long praised Native Tongue, and Richie Kotzen’s albums too. So he asked me to review Native Tongue, to show it some more love, since so few people know about it!

      So check this one out, and absolutely check out some of Richie Kotzen’s other work. He did a band called The Winery Dogs, that Jompa reviewed:

      https://mikeladano.com/2014/04/09/guest-review-the-winery-dogs-the-winery-dogs-by-jon-wilmenius/

      Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Man that was a fun review cheers!

    Really disliked this band in their day and aside from the excellent Valley Of Lost Souls tune from the preceeding record, Native Tongue remains the ONLY Poison album I ever enjoyed. And what an eye (ear) opener it was, Kotzen brought some much needed maturity finally cleansing the band of all that lip gloss and sickly sweet sugar all the while managing to satisfy the majority of fans by still sounding like their Poison.

    Plenty of the lyrics were still ordinary but the OTT blues serving as the albums foundation, the clever not-so flashy guitaring and just a little bit of soul kinda took the focus away from tunes that might have otherwise been relegated to days of old (Body Talk fer example played ever so slightly on the Unskinny Bop formula only here saved by that maturity, at least IMO). And change the tracklist a little and it makes fer even ear candy, follow 7 Days Over You with Ride Child Ride and it just makes plain good sense \m/

    Without doubt a road trip album. Never thought would be the case but was rather disappointed to learn of Kotzen’s departure as had finally come on board fer em with this record.

    Good review Mike, certainly inspired to invest some more on this one :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Really glad you enjoyed this one Wardy! I think you said it all very well here. I too was crushed when I heard that Kotzen left. My actual words at the time were “Strike Up the Band??? More like break up the band!” So obviously I had to work that into the review :)

      Thanks again for pushing me to review this one!

      I’m currently in the process of transferring all my music onto a new PC, so for a short while I’m not going to be accessing much of my collection. Having said that, where are we with review requests from you? What are you still looking to read?

      Cheers!

      Like

      1. Sorry Mike missed your reply and think answered this one elsewhere the other day but the big one think ya know ya gotta do (and again if I’ve missed it here direct me to it immediately), is Savatage’s Edge of Thorns \m/

        The 2010 remaster was chock full of liner notes etc too, would be worth getting yer hands on that version if ya haven’t already ;)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Honestly dude I can’t remember what versions of what I have without looking. I have bought every Savatage album more than once but I still have a wishlist loaded with Savatage reissues!

          I’m gonna review Edge of Thorns for sure. (I love it.)

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  2. Say what now!? I never thought I’d find myself saying this … I’m interested in hearing this one. Great review, Mike. Really – you just got me interested in Poison!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ll let you know how I get on with it, Mike. Planning on checking it out this weekend on yon Spotify (or the fancy new Apple shenanigans).

        Like

  3. Great write-up makes me wanna rediscover… I remember owning this but don’t remember anything about it! Looks like the tubes of you have it in full, though, so I can refresh memory. Thanks Dude!

    Poor C.C. haha not. I remember reading in a guitar wanker mag one time that they’d ranked a guitar solo of his on the Poison double Live album as The Worst Guitar Solo In Rock. Ouch.

    Like

  4. Hmmmm can u say 3/4’s Filler! I do….this album had I tthe know 4 so Gs I dug the best being Strike Up The Band. Poison tries to grow up with a new whole philosophy in 94 and DeKEs ain’t buying it! Stand was wrongo for the first single. Should have been something more in line with there previous sound and make Stand your second single….glad u like it…me,not so much…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oooft! Deke! I thought I would have had you with this one! Agreed that Stand wasn’t a good choice for a first single. And the video is really cheesy.

      But I don’t think they should have gone with something more like the original sound…not with Kotzen on board. They did with Blues Saraceno, and arrived at a hybrid that was a cross between old Poison and shredding rock. A lot of people prefer the album they did with him.

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      1. Actually that was the last Poison album I bought was Crack A Smile as my brother had a couple of Saraceno tapes and he totally dug that dudes playing ….

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  5. Awesome review, buddy. I agree on pretty much everything you wrote here. That said, I have a few opinions on this album. First, this is Poison’s best album ever, it’s superior to everything they have done both before and after. There’s really no competition at all.

    Second, I’m completely convinced that most of this album was broght in by Kotzen alone. Just one listen to his solo album Mother Head’s Family Reunion that came out a couple of years after this one. Stand, The Scream, Until You Suffer Some, Bring It Home, Strike Up The Band, Seven Days Over You, Body Talk… All of them are Kotzen songs without a doubt.

    Third, I’m pretty sure that this is really a Richie Kotzen solo album with Bret Michaels on lead vocals. Bobby Dall and Rikki Rocket? Well, there’s no chance in Hell that they are playing on this record. Rikki Rockett just can’t play like this – he couldn’t before this album and he still can’t. The groove, the swing, the tightness. Hell, even his drum sound is completely different. Dall? Well, listen to Bring It Home and tell me that is Bobby Dall playing…

    Fourth, my hope hope is that one day Kotzen will take back his songs from this record and record them himself – I’d love to hear that. Redux Poison, kind of.

    Fifth, I think I just brought out the chainsaw on Poison, but not on this record, hehe. Still, it’s a damn fine album and I’d give this 9/10 without any hesitation. I don’t even think this album’s stinker is a real stinker.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would love to know the inside scoop of who played on what. It’s certainly possible, at the very least I think Kotzen played some bass. At the very least.

      I’ll have to review the live Seven Days album and compare the playing. Do you have that one, or the live DVD? I’m glad that there is a live album out there with Richie. It’s a shame they couldn’t make this last.

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      1. I agree. It could have been awesome and maybe Rikki and Bobby would have been inspired by Kotzen’s talent.
        Yes, I have a burnt copy of the Seven Days Live CD. It was a while since I last heard it and I can’t remember if there was anything different about the rhythm section. I don’t think I actually thought about that then. But you’re right, it would be cool to compare.

        Like

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