beau hill

#662: Wingers of Destiny

DOUBLE FEATURE! Check out Deke’s Winger story at Stick It In Your Ear!

GETTING MORE TALE #662:  Wingers of Destiny

A highschool guy named Rob Petersen recommended Winger to me. Rob was one of the only kids with long hair. I was so jealous of him. He had the Rick Allen curls and everything. Girls thought he was cute. I thought maybe some of his cool could rub off on me. Luckily I sat next to him in Mr. Lightfoot’s history class.

The year was 1989 and the easiest way for me to check out new bands was via the Pepsi Power Hour on MuchMusic.

I recorded the music video for “Seventeen”, which was OK, but didn’t particularly stand out.  Kip Winger’s abs did.  Towards the end of the video, he did this weird thrusty-dance with his bass.  This is memorable to me because the tape that “Seventeen” was on, was also used for a school video project.  I made a music video for “Nothing But A Good Time” by Poison with friends, for a school award.  I recorded my copy on the same tape as “Seventeen” — immediately after it, actually.  When we presented the video to the film teacher, she caught the tail end of “Seventeen”, and Kip’s thrust.  “Oh,” I heard her comment, and I sensed it was more disgust than titillation.

Kip Winger mid-thrust

Despite their image, Winger possessed a rare rock pedigree.  Classically trained bassist and singer Charles “Kip” Winger was fresh from Alice Cooper’s band, as was keyboardist Paul Taylor.  Kip also performed on Twisted Sister’s Love is for Suckers LP in 1987, with future bandmate Reb Beach.  Most impressively, drummer Rod Morgenstein was an alumnus of Steve Morse’s Dixie Dregs.  Yet all these massive players went and made a commercial hard rock album with, let’s face it, pretty juvenile lyrics at times.

It’s hard not to be critical of Winger for this.  Knowing what these guys are capable of, the debut album Winger seems like pandering.  They did sneak in a few progressive hints, such as a string quartet on “Hungry”, but the impression was that they were just another hard rock band with big hair and candycane hooks.  They were underachieving, from a certain point of view.

Winger was in the batch of the first CDs I ever got, for Christmas of 1989.  This was based almost entirely on Rob Petersen’s raving.  Another reason I chose it was the “CD bonus track”!  One of the incentives for buying a CD player was to finally get songs that were only on the CD release.  I had mixed impressions.  The first “side” was decent but the second was a little filler-heavy.

I’m sad to admit this, but Winger’s version of “Purple Haze” was the first time I ever heard the song.  Ozzy’s version was the second.  Go ahead, judge me.

Winger could have taken it further on their second album.  In a way, they did:  progressive songs and complex rhythms stood alongside the pop rock tracks.  While they advanced in that regard, they took a step backwards in another.  Some songs were even dumber:  “Can’t Get Enough” for example, was a transparent re-write of “Seventeen”, and the ballads were dreck.  Worst of all was Kip’s very unnecessary rapping on “Baptized by Fire”.

Yet two songs, “Rainbow in the Rose” and “In the Heart of the Young” (the title track) were so far above and beyond the pack, they could have come from a different album.  These two epics drip of the kind of progressive rock you know these guys can play.  Yet they kept it radio accessible, somehow, even while Rod Morgenstein is playing rhythms my brain can barely compute.

While Winger II charted higher and sold as well as the first, 12 months later it was hopelessly outdated by the birth of grunge.  Winger then fell victim to two of the 90s greatest antiheroes, Beavis and Butt-Head.  A black Winger shirt was worn by nerd character Stewart, and the band were repeatedly mocked.  This eventually killed Winger off as a business.  Gigs dried up.  Fortunately for fans, Kip Winger and Mike Judge of Beavis and Butt-Head recently had a make-up session. Even Kip admitted, “Winger was a band that was popular for some of the wrong reasons, man.”

The third album, Pull, is a reference to skeet shooting.  Kip knew that for all the chances they had, they may as well throw the album into the air and take shots at it.  “Pull!”

It was a lose-lose situation and both Winger and the public lost by Pull‘s commercial failure.  Keyboardist Paul Taylor had left, and so Pull features less of the instrument and a far heavier sound.  Taylor was eventually replaced by John Roth, a guitarist.  The message was pretty clear.  Pull featured some of Winger’s best tracks:  “Down Incognito”, “Blind Revolution Mad”, “Junkyard Dog”, and “Who’s the One”.  Had Pull come out in 1990 instead of 1993, things would have gone very differently.  Instead, Winger broke up.

The happy news is that like many bands, Winger reunited (the John Roth lineup occasionally with Paul Taylor as a fifth member), and started putting out albums again.  Good ones, too.  Their last Better Days Comin’ is pretty great.

As further proof of Winger’s greatness, Reb Beach went from there to Alice Cooper, completing the circle.  Winger, after all, was originally founded by two ex-Cooper players.  He was then picked to replace George Lynch in Dokken.  And Kip?  His 30 minute symphony “Ghosts” should speak for itself.

Those who are curious but sceptical should check out Winger’s Pull, and the albums that followed.  Go ahead and wing it!


REVIEW: Warrant – Cherry Pie (1990, remastered)

scan_20161207WARRANT – Cherry Pie (1990, 2004 Sony remaster)

It was bands like Warrant, and albums like Cherry Pie, that made the 1991 grunge onslaught inevitable.

If Motley Crue were the poor man’s Kiss, and Poison were the poorer man’s Motley Crue, then Warrant are the pauper’s Poison.  Heck, Poison’s C.C. Deville even shows up on guest lead guitar on Cherry Pie‘s title track.  Think about that a moment.  How bad do a band have to be to warrant (no pun intended) a C.C. Deville guest guitar solo?  Guitarists Joey Allen and Erik Turner even confessed to having guitar tutors in the studio helping them come up with their own lead work.

Cherry Pie was an improvement in some regards over the prior album Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich.  The second single, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, remains a high point for this band.  Swampy bluesy guitars and a kick ass melody?  Who cares if that’s not Warrant playing on the acoustic intro (it’s singer Jani Lane’s brother Eric Oswald), and so what if that’s not Warrant on the banjo (that’s producer Beau Hill)?  “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is one of those rare Warrant songs that you just have to get.  Instead of singing about girls, Jani chose to write a story about a murder and a coverup.  It’s far more entertaining than “She’s my cherry pie, put a smile on your face ten miles wide.”

Speaking of “Cherry Pie”, as embarrassing as it is, did you notice that’s not Jani Lane on the opening scream?  It’s an uncredited Dee Snider, sampled from Twisted Sister’s song “I Want This Night (To Last Forever)”.  Guess who produced both albums?  Beau Hill.   Rather, he overproduced the hell out of both albums. Rather misleading.

Warrant’s biggest hit was a ballad, and so Cherry Pie has more.  “I Saw Red” was glossy and enhanced with piano, but the acoustic version that was later released as a B-side was better.  The second ballad, “Blind Faith” had more heft, though it is little more than a rewrite of “Heaven”.  Another acoustic track called “Thin Disguise” was even better than either of these songs, but was relegated to a B-side.  Too bad.  This album could have used it.

Warrant are better when just rocking out.  There are a couple indispensable Warrant rockers on Cherry Pie.  “Mr. Rainmaker” is remarkably powerful with dark clouds.  It’s in the same mold as “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, with a chorus that is still memorable today.  “Bed of Roses” and “Song and Dance Man” are strong also-rans.  There are other notable songs (“Sure Feels Good to Me” set speed records for this band) but on the whole they are a harsh blend of sound-alikes.

Buyers should be aware there are two versions out there of Cherry Pie, “clean” and “dirty”.  The “clean” version is missing the track “Ode to Tipper Gore”, and has a naughty word beeped at the start of the Blackfoot cover “Train Train” (1979).  How unexpected it was to hear that beep, and how ripped off did we feel since it was not advertised as a censored version?  A beep in a rock song is a rare thing indeed.  If you get the uncensored version, you’ll hear the “All a-fuckin’ board!” intro correctly, which is important since “Train Train” absolutely smokes.  “All a-BEEPin’ board!” just didn’t cut it.  Covering “Train Train” was one of the best decisions Warrant made on this album.  Warrant transforms it from a hard southern rocker to a plain old hard rocker, but the transformation works and the groove is the only solid one on Cherry Pie.

As for “Ode to Tipper Gore”, it is just a joke track made up of naughty outtakes from Warrant concerts spliced together into one stream of “fuck”.  (Tipper Gore was behind the PMRC, the scourge of 1980s censorship.)  It is included on the 2004 Sony remastered edition, along with two bonus tracks.  Strangely enough the two bonus tracks have nothing to do with this album.  “Game of War” is the long-sought 1988 demo that garnered Warrant attention at the labels.  It’s unpolished but you can hear how an A&R person looking for the next Poison would have signed this band.  Finally there is a track called “The Power” from a 1992 Cuba Gooding Jr. movie called “Gladiator”.  It is the only song on the CD not produced by Beau Hill.  Erwin Musper gave the band a less cluttered sound, and the song has a corny stadium-ready stomp like “Rock and Roll, Part 2”.

Although you don’t need the remastered version if you just want to check out Cherry Pie, you do need to at least seek out the uncensored version with “Ode to Tipper Gore”.  That way you won’t have to listen to the beep in “Train Train”, which is a song worth having.

2.5/5 stars


REVIEW: Winger – II – In the Heart of the Young (1990)

Part II of a Winger DOUBLE SHOT.

WINGER – II – In the Heart of the Young (1990 Atlantic)

Another awful album cover; another Winger album!  The ambitious follow-up, still sonically mutilated by producer Beau Hill, was several steps forward and a few steps backwards at the same time.  The year was 1990, and while most bands were starting to toughen things up and go a little heavier, Winger turned on the tap marked “syrup”.

Truly awful is “Can’t Get Enuff”, which Winger admitted took about five minutes to write, when he decided they needed to “make a video about sex”.  Because that’s never been done before.  Nor has a song called “Can’t Get Enough” (spelled correctly).  There is nothing new or necessary here; the talented band are neutered by programmed rhythms and cheesey, generic lyrics.  Not good enuff, although the second tune “Loosen Up” is better.  There could have been some rock and roll groove with “Loosen Up”, but the plastic and thin production removes its teeth.

Keyboardist Paul Taylor, who left the band after this tour, wrote the ballad “Miles Away” by himself and it hits all the bases that a power ballad needed to hit:  Big chorus, sad keyboards, and sappy lyrics!  “Miles Away” never quite felt like it fit on the album stylistically, but it’s actually a decent ballad.  It’s well written and arranged, but so pigeonholed to its time.

I hate synth horns, therefore I hate the single “Easy Come Easy Go”.  There is no substitute for real horns.  Keyboards are quicker and easier, but there is no comparison to the real thing.  Thankfully Winger did utilise real horns on “Rainbow in the Rose”, the first of two epics on the album.  Where “Can’t Get Enuff” was written in minutes, “Rainbow in the Rose” took a year to compose and arrange.  Its complexity is admirable, but a better producer could have given it the finish it deserved.  It’s a shame that with a complicated track like this, you can barely hear what drummer Rod Morgenstein is doing.  He’s one of the best in the world, but he’s buried under keyboards.  When you do listen to what he’s doing, it’s quite incredible work.  As for the song?  The chorus kills!

The second side was more of the same, including another epic at the end.  “In the Day We’ll Never See” was Winger’s attempt to write more serious lyrics, and that’s all well and good.  With a peppy riff and serious tone, it’s a good enough song for a car tape.  Reb Beach’s anthemic guitars are the highlight.  Another side; another ballad — “Under One Condition” sounds like a Warrant song, although that’s probably being unfair.  Warrant could never play like Winger.

Side two has a slew of annoying songs in the middle.  “Little Dirty Blonde” is as putrid as it sounds, but let’s face it folks, it’s not as bad as Kip Winger rapping.  The story goes that they wanted to get Tone Lōc to do his thing over “Baptized By Fire”, but that didn’t happen so Kip rapped it himself.  It’s as annoying as you expect.  One of the most impressive moments on the album is just a short instrumental break, sounding like speedily tapped guitar and bass, right before “Baptised By Fire”, but it’s over too soon before MC Kip takes over.  “You Are the Saint, I Am the Sinner” improves the outlook mildly, annoying title aside.  That leads to the final epic track, “In the Heart of the Young”.  Like “Rainbow in the Rose”, this is a more ambitious arrangement, done with skill and care.  Once again, focusing on Rod Morgenstein allows you to hear the complexities within.  The melodies are strong and Kip’s singing is under-appreciated.

Winger were on to something with the more progressive material.  Where they lost fans was with the dumbed down sounds of songs like “Can’t Get Enuff”, and they paid for it during the grunge onslaught down the road.

2/5 stars

Scan_20160718 (2)

REVIEW: Winger – Winger (1988)

Part I of a Winger DOUBLE-SHOT.

WINGER – Winger (1988 Atlantic)

When Winger started out, they really played down to their audience.  Kip Winger was a classically trained musician.  Reb Beach was already a virtuoso guitar player whose talent can’t be under-stressed.  Keyboardist Paul Taylor had been around the block a number of times, including a stint with Kip Winger in the Alice Cooper band.  Most impressively, drummer Rod Morgenstein is best respected for the rock fusion combo Dixie Dregs.  To hear guys with that background singing a song that goes, “She’s only seventeen, Dad says she’s too young but she’s old enough for me,”…well it’s just embarrassing.

I call bullshit, Mr. Clarence R. Winger.  He’d been studying classical music since the age of sixteen.  You know he could do better if he wasn’t trying to write cliche rock lyrics.

Musically, Winger (the debut album) isn’t half bad.  In fact it’s more than half good!  The opener “Madalaine” is cheesey rock, but it’s above the bar due to the intense guitar shreddery of Mr. Beach.  It was an era when it was OK to just get up there and tap tap tap away.  There is some musical integrity contained herein, but it’s not in the lyrical department.  The single “Hungry” begins with a string quartet (only 22 seconds’ worth), arranged by Kip.  See?  Flashes of the talent within, but cloaked behind a typical rock power ballad with one of the most overused titles in the genre.  Good songs both…but written down to a specific audience by guys who can do better.

Chief offender “Seventeen” wouldn’t be half bad if it had a different title; any title.  Call it “Buttermilk”.  Instead of:

“She’s only seventeen (seventeen),
I’ll show you love like you’ve never seen,
She’s only seventeen (seventeen),
Dad says she’s too young but she’s old enough for me.”

Change that to:

“I love my buttermilk (buttermilk),
Makes my pancakes as smooth as silk,
I love my buttermilk (buttermilk),
Mom says it’ll make me fat, stop that buttermilk!”

See?  My lyric had depth that theirs doesn’t.  It’s light and shade.  Yes, buttermilk will make your pancakes extra tasty, but what of the health costs?  I could go on and on about the brilliance of my lyric vs. Kip Winger’s.  But I won’t.  You get the point.

Shredding musicianship aside, “Seventeen” is not a good song.

“Without the Night” works well enough as a Bon Jovi-esque power ballad.  What should have been deleted, because they already had enough original material, is a cover of Jimi’s “Purple Haze”.  This is dreadful, overplayed, oversexed, with the only saving grace being a guitar battle with Reb Beach on one side and Dweezil Zappa on the other.  Two monster players going at it is right on.  Kip Winger “ooh ahh-ing” all over “Purple Haze” is blech.  Just focus on Reb and Dweezil, and try your best to ignore Clarence.

The original LP had a side break here, and I think that’s a good idea.  I need to take a moment to get some fresh air.  Something stinks in here….

“State of Emergency” has a little progressive complexity to it, some chops and lyrics that are not about seventeen year old girls, so that is good.  “Time to Surrender” shreds impressively over a slow Ratt-like riff.  All considered, “Time to Surrender” is one of the strongest tracks on the album.  Sadly, “Poison Angel” is the worst.  This one could have been dropped.  “Hangin’ On” is good enough, again boasting some impressive playing from Reb Beach.  The key to listening to Winger is to focus on the instrumentation.

The most impressive track is the ballad “Headed for a Heartbreak”.  Cheesey, yes.  But listen for a moment, to the arrangement, and to the playing.  It’s a hit power ballad, yes…but there are progressive complexities to the arrangement.  Listen to Rod Morgenstein’s drumming.  His patterns are not simple rock cliches.  Too bad it’s so hard to hear what he’s doing.  Winger has a brittle production, thanks to schlock-meister Beau Hill, ruiner of many an album.  Over-processing and harsh gating on Rod’s drum sound gives the album a plastic feel.  Some tracks such as “State of Emergency” should have more heft, but it is lost.  “Time to Surrender” needs less gloss.  The album has hardly any bass, and the thing about that is that Kip Winger is actually a pretty good bassist (not to mention singer).

The CD only bonus track (oh 1988, I miss you so) is a short rocker called “Higher and Higher”.  It’s a better track than the similar-paced “Poison Angel” and should have swapped places with it.  There’s also one other interesting little track to be found.  Another short rocker called “Out for the Count” made an appearance on the soundtrack to Karate Kid III.  I picked that up at a Zellers store, I think, on a clearance sale around 1992.  It was an odd find, but being a collector I grabbed it for the one track.  (Also on the CD is “48 Hours” by a band called PBF, better known as Pretty Boy Floyd!)  Swap “Out for the Count” for “Purple Haze”, and the Winger album would have been far stronger.

It’s really hard to boil this down to a simple number rating.  I’ve come up with an equation based on your valuing of playing and songcraft,

Where x = a scale from 0-5 on how much you value shredding,

and y = a scale from 0-5 on your importance of song craft,

Then the rating for this album is:

= 3 + (x/4) – (y/4) / 5 stars








REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Prince of Darkness (1989)

ALICE COOPER – Prince of Darkness (1989 MCA)

Even though Alice hadn’t produced anything as timeless as “School’s Out” during his 1980’s comeback, his profile rose greatly.  Clean, sober and focused, Alice Cooper was very active in the last part of the decade.  The same year as his final MCA album Raise Your Fist and Yell, he had memorable appearance at Wrestlemania III.  In the corner of “good guy” Jake the Snake Roberts, Cooper had the honour of draping Roberts’ snake named Damien all over the Honky Tonk Man.  After that, even my dad knew who Alice Cooper was.

Cooper only had a two record deal with MCA:  Constrictor was the first in ’86; also the first album in the comeback period.  Having re-established himself with MCA, Alice then signed with Epic and had a genuine smash success with 1989’s Trash.  With a dream team of writers and collaborators (including hitsmiths Desmond Child, Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, Steven Tyler, Joe Perry and many more), Alice scored a platinum album.

While Trash was still charting and producing singles, MCA put out a competing record:  Prince of Darkness, a 10 track compilation of Cooper’s material for that label.  Normally these kinds of releases are throw-aways, but Prince of Darkness is not and this review will tell you all about it.

It is not unfair to state that Constrictor and Raise Your First were mixed affairs.  You had to wade through a significant amount of filler to reach a disproportionate amount of modern classics.  Prince of Darkness does a great service by collecting some of the best material together on one CD.  It is well sequenced and even includes one rare track, an exclusive on compact disc.

A grand opening is the dark and metallic “Prince of Darkness”, a theme song from a movie of the same name.  This ominous and menacing track is one of the more memorable from this era, a heavy monument.  It works amazingly well as an opening track, and “Roses on White Lace” follows by going faster and heavier.  It was surprising to hear Alice creep this close to thrash metal, but what a track!  A distorted vocal adds to the creep factor, making this one of the better samples of Cooper’s music during his “splatter horror” period.  The 1986 single “Teenage Frankenstein” would be a must-own for any fan, and there it is in the #3 position.  The big single from this era was “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)”, a synthpop classic quite unlike the prior metal material.  Right here is an easy and simple way to get this classic track, without having to buy Constrictor.  Same with “Teenage Frankenstein”.

A nice little track here is a 1976 live recording of “Billion Dollar Babies”!  This was a B-side from the “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)” single, but Prince of Darkness is the only CD with it.  The track itself sounds heavily remixed (remixing is credited to Garth Richardson) but it is indeed a B-side that is easy to acquire by getting this disc.  Ignore the annoying, screaming overdubbed crowd and just dig the vintage performance of one of Alice Cooper’s most timeless numbers.

There are a few filler tracks on side two.  “Lock Me Up” was fun, but not particularly memorable.  Feel free to skip “Simple Disobedience” and “Thrill My Gorilla”, and go straight to “Life and Death of the Party”.  Alice steps back into the shadows for a chilling horror number, mid-tempo and overcast.  We are over and out with “Freedom”, another great single and dangerously close to thrash metal again.  Prince of Darkness serves as the most effective way to get this one.

That’s why I recommend Prince of Darkness to any fan who wants to get a slice of Alice in the late 80’s — but just a slice.  The whole cake is for diehards.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Constrictor (1986)


Scan_20160207 (2)ALICE COOPER – Constrictor (1986 MCA)

Alice Cooper’s bizarre DaDa album was the end of an era.  It marked the last album Alice recorded for his Warner Brothers contract, now complete.  It was also the end of his experimental period that ran from 1980’s Flush the Fashion through to DaDa.  It was the the last album Alice would make that he couldn’t remember making.

Alice mostly disappeared for the next three years.  His activities were so low key that most people didn’t even notice them.  He was hospitalized for cirrhosis of the liver caused by his blackout drinking.  He got sober, for good.  He also dealt with a divorce.  Musically there was very little going on.  In 1984, Alice starred in a very low budget horror movie called Monster Dog.  He recorded two songs for the soundtrack:  “Identity Crisises” and “See Me in the Mirror”.  These two tracks are very much the conclusion to Alice’s early 80’s art-rock persona.  “Identity Crisises” has a lo-fi, garage-y Iggy Pop sound.  “See Me in the Mirror” is in the synthpop direction of DaDa:  creepy, atmospheric and mostly electronic.  These two songs were finally released for purchase on the legendary Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper boxed set in 1999.

Alice next emerged with one of the bands he inspired:  Twisted Sister.  Along with Brian Setzer, Clarence Clemens and Billy Joey, Cooper accompanied Twisted Sister on their single “Be Chrool to Your Scuel”. A very clever zombie-filled big budget horror-inspired music video was made for the song, which Alice co-starred in, as did Bobcat Golthwait (who was also in Sister’s “Leader of the Pack” clip).  It should have been a big deal, with Alice getting equal screen time with Dee Snider.  Unfortunately hardly anyone saw the video. MTV barely touched it. As a result it did nothing to aid Alice in terms of a comeback.  It was good to note that Alice looked healthier than he had in years.

Alice regrouped and re-invented himself in a new persona. Taking inspiration from his Welcome to My Nightmare period, Alice went into “slasher film” mode. He recruited a massive muscle-bound heavy metal guitarist and songwriter, Kane Roberts, to be his co-pilot for this adventure. Also along for the ride was a hot new bassist and singer named Kip Winger, whose large mane hid the fact that the man was a classically trained musician. With producer Beau Hill, they made an album in tune with what was happening in 1986, and that meant heavy metal. Alice had always been a diverse, experimental artist, but this time the mission was pretty simple and the lines were clear.

Another horror film served to launch the next official Alice Cooper music: Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. Alice appeared in a brief cameo, but more importantly contributed two new songs to the movie soundtrack. They were the anthem “Hard Rock Summer”, and “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)”, which served as the movie’s theme song. “Hard Rock Summer” was a bit of a throwaway, and was not used on the next Alice album. You can really hear the backing vocals of Kip Winger and Kane Roberts on it, but a classic it is not. “He’s Back”, and its very cool music video became synonymous with this new period of Alice Cooper’s life.

The new album, Constrictor, was finally released in September of ’86. With a snake in his mouth on the cover (not really; you can see it’s cheaply cut and pasted) it was pretty clear that Cooper was going for the scares. Opening track “Teenage Frankenstein” continues the horror theme, but combines it with Alice’s teen anthem style from the early 1970’s. “Teenage Frankenstein” is essentially an “I’m 18” for 1986. It’s not as memorable, inventive, or as good, but it gets the job done. It’s an Alice Cooper heavy metal anthem for pounding your fist to in concert. In lieu of a proper music video, a clip from his live show The Nightmare Returns was used, featuring Alice building a living robot monster on stage, which then turns against him!  Alice was still one of the best live acts in the world.

It’s funny that DaDa is remembered as Alice’s “drum machine” album when it’s clear on “Give it Up” that a lot of the beats are programs and samples.  “Give it Up” is a radio friendly hard rocker, nondescript but at its core not that different from the music Alice made in the 70’s.  It’s even has some rock and roll piano.   It’s just dressed up for the 80’s.   There’s not much going on with “Thrill My Gorilla”, just a forgettable song with the shrill production that was so popular in the 80’s.  Much better is the somewhat epic “Life and Death of the Party”.  Slower, creepier and much more effective, “Life and Death of the Party” is the kind of song I like to point to as proof there was some mighty good material during this period.  Unfortunately “Simple Disobedience” isn’t among that material.  Like “Thrill My Gorilla”, there is little here to attract listeners today.  The electronics and samples really are a drag.  It is like there is a layer of distraction over the song that you have to penetrate through.

Flipping the record over (or pretending to since I own this on CD), “The World Needs Guts” isn’t a bad start to the second side.  It could have been much heavier.  It verges on the speedy power metal tendencies of bands like Accept, but the production keeps it from going all the way.  As such it kind of sounds like a thin Judas Priest Turbo outtake with the synths stripped off.  “Trick Bag” may sound familiar.   It actually started life as “He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask)”.  There’s a demo version of “He’s Back” on the aforementioned Alice Cooper box set musically identical to “Trick Bag”.  “He’s Back” was re-written, but the original music ended up as “Trick Bag”.  It’s a decent album track but like much of Constrictor not particularly classic.  “Crawlin'” is pretty close.  With all the melody and hooks of an old 70’s Alice Cooper track circa Goes to Hell, “Crawlin'” is pretty good stuff.

“The Great American Success Story” is fantastic for two reasons.  One is that it was originally written for the Rodney Dangerfield classic Back to School.   Second, it’s like an updated “School’s Out” for the 80’s.  Instead of celebrating the end of school, this time we are celebrating going to school.  “He’s gonna take that plunge, gonna jump back in there.”  Which, if you’ve seen the movie, you know is also a reference to Dangerfield’s character joining the diving team.  “He thinks about the teacher in his literary class,” and I don’t blame him; it was Sally Kellerman!  “Always been a brat, don’t get no respect” is another obvious reference to Dangerfield.  But it’s a good song! It really should have been a single, and it probably would have been if it were in the movie.

Closing the album, we go full circle back to Friday the 13th and “He’s Back”.  There’s little question that “He’s Back” is the best song on Constrictor.  It actually bears more similarity to the synth-pop of DaDa than it does to the rest of the album.   It’s brilliant because they stripped the song down to a very basic frame, which is a creepy digital pulse.  There’s a little guitar but it’s mostly just horror pop of the finest quality.  Ch-ch-ch-ha-ha-ha…don’t turn out the lights.

Part of the problem with Constrictor is that Alice had a faceless, fairly bland group backing him.  Kane Roberts can play guitar, and Kip Winger can play the bass, but did they have their own identities?  No.  Dennis Dunaway played bass on those early Alice Cooper albums like no other bassist in the world.  Michael Bruce, Steve Hunter, Dick Wagner, and the other great players Alice worked with all had their own sound.  There is none of that on Constrictor.

I want to give Alice and company an A for effort: for finally getting sober, for finally getting back there on tour, and also for going heavy this time.  Unfortunately Constrictor was a comeback album that needed a bit more comeback in it.  The good news is that Alice did eventually get back to full quality, but Constrictor is only about half an album.  Therefore:

2.5/5 stars

Scan_20160207 (3)

REVIEW: Warrant – Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich (Remaster)

Scan_20150915WARRANT – Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich (1989, 2004 Sony remaster)

In 1989, I bought this album as soon as it came out, based on hype alone — never heard a note.  Put it on, and felt immediately that this was a middle-of-the-road hard rock album with little of their own to bring to the genre.  That didn’t stop me from becoming a big fan, of course.  I haven’t played Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich in about a decade.  I wonder what it sounds like today?

I hate to speak ill of the dead, but I think one of the reasons my love of Warrant didn’t last was Jani Lane.  I’m sorry, Warrant fans.  I don’t think Jani’s voice was anything special.  He had an ability to deliver pop hooks, but he always seemed to live in the shadow of other singers who had more character to their voices.  I mean no disrespect to Jani, but that is the way my ears have always heard it.

Things sure started on a great note.  “32 Pennies” is just fun hard rock, with loads of hook and that glam rock riff that Motley Crue mastered a few years prior.  Beau Hill’s production is bland but not bad.  There is a vague Aerosmith vibe, crossed with Motley and Poison — 1989 in a nutshell (or should I say a Ragu jar?).  “32 Pennies” is still good for rocking out to, and I have to admit that the guitar solos smoke.  Similar is “Down Boys”, the first single and video.  Even today, this is probably the catchiest thing Warrant have ever done.  It’s pure nonsense, of course:

Where the down boys go? Go!
Where the down boys go? Go-oh-oh-oh!
Where the down boys go? Ya,
I wanna go where the down boys go, baby!

“Big Talk” was a single too, and I had forgotten all about this one. It boasts some fun lite-Lizzy guitar harmonies and a great chorus. Count this as another good Warrant tune. None of these songs will challenge the listener in any way, but they have enough guitar and hooks to keep you engaged. But what happens when you throw a ballad into the mix?

Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich had two ballads, the first of which was the electric “Sometimes She Cries”. A solid chorus made this one a hit, although you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between this and a Bon Jovi song. There are a few cheesy key changes and some absolutely ball-busting notes that Jani hits, and it’s all not too bad. Side one ended on a speedy rocker: “So Damn Pretty (Should Be Against the Law)”. It could be a Motley Crue outtake from Theater of Pain, but it’s not. Faceless, with turgid sounding drums, all it really had going for it is velocity. Fun, but derivative. The guitar solos are the best part.

The title track “D.R.F.S.R.” is pure crap. Lyrically, musically, and production-wise, this sucks. I really can’t believe how bad the drums sound. This was once considered acceptable!  “In the Sticks” isn’t bad.  It sounds vaguely like another song that I can’t quite think of right now.  But that goes for the whole album!  It’s still a very enjoyable song, with that late-80’s good time slow riding vibe.  Cruisin’ with the windows down.

The big hit, the one everybody remembers today, was the acoustic ballad “Heaven”.  It’s really hard to be objective about this song, because I used to be so into it, but it makes me cringe today!  Let’s just move on.

“Ridin’ High” brings the thrills back. Sounding a heck of a lot like their future tourmates Poison, Warrant found the gas pedal again. The closing track “Cold Sweat” is much in the same vein. You gotta give Warrant credit for one thing, they wore their influences on their sleeves. The only problem was, it was the same bunch of bands that influenced every other band on the Sunset Strip in 1989. When you buy this Warrant album, you are at least getting what you think you’re getting.

Sony threw on two bonus tracks for this edition. Both are 1988 demos that failed to make the cut. Ironically, for demos, the drums actually sound better! They don’t sound like samples on these demos. “Only A Man”, an acoustic ballad, sounds entirely more sincere and classic than “Heaven” does. It’s harder edged and resembles Skid Row, who had yet to release their first album. “All Night Long” is a slow rocker, but it’s no better or worse than the rest of the album. Both songs could have been on the album originally had it not been limited to just 10 tracks.

Conclusion:  What stood out in 1989 fades into the woodwork today.

2/5 stars

REVIEW: Ratt – Out of the Cellar (1984)

Scan_20150801RATT – Out of the Cellar (1984 Atlantic)

Out of the Cellar was my first Ratt album, acquired in a trade from next door neighbour George.  Considering how big Ratt were at the time, I expected it to be better.  In the 80’s, I felt like Out of the Cellar was a handful of singles padded out by filler.  I haven’t played the whole album in years (at least five), so this review is coming from a fresh perspective.  Dusting off the CD, I note on the credits the name of producer Beau Hill — never one of my favourites.

One of the aforementioned singles, “Wanted Man”, opens the album on an up note.  The cowboy motif has been popular in hard rock at least since David Lee Roth wore buttless chaps.  Tough, slow and menacing is “Wanted Man”.  Everything about it is classic hard rock.  Finger-blurring solos, thick backing vocals (courtesy of Juan Crocier mostly), and a big chorus are all it takes in the world of Ratt.  “Wanted Man” has always been a high point from Out of the Cellar, and it remains just as cool today.

“You’re in Trouble” kinda smells funny, as rock songs with funky bass often do.  Great chorus, but the rest of the song fails to generate any sort of fist-pumping.  This is easily forgotten since the third track is the big one.  “Round and Round”…what is it about this song?  It’s still irresistible today.  Why?  Everything clicks.  It is the perfect formulation of Robbin’s riffing, Warren’s picking, and Steven’s sneer.  Bobby and Juan keep the pulse tough and punchy.  It’s just one of those magical songs from that era that still has the goods.

Moving on, “In Your Direction” is suitable for an album track.  Ratt referred to their sound as “Ratt N’ Roll”, because according to them, it was their own sound unlike other bands.  That may be so, but unfortunately Ratt N’ Roll is pretty limited as far as genres go.  If you cross “Wanted Man” with “You’re In Trouble”, you get something like “In Your Direction”.  Ratt albums have always suffered from too many soundalike songs.  Smoking solo though — very Eddie-like.  “She Wants Money” is pretty good.  These old melodies are coming back, as are old memories.  “She Wants Money” is one of the strongest non-singles on Out of the Cellar.

Frustratingly, “Lack of Communication” is a good song that lacks a good chorus.  “Lack of communication, back off!”  Something’s not clicking there, which is too bad because the rest of the song was really decent.  What we need now is another single.  “Back For More” was always outstanding for a Ratt song. The acoustic intro was the only soft moment, on an album composed 100% of rockers. “Back For More” is punchy and memorable, a pretty great example of Ratt N’ Roll because it doesn’t sound too much like the other songs.

Stormy guitars and cool Pearcy vocals keep “The Morning After” rocking ’til dawn. “I’m Insane” ain’t too bad, another nondescript pedal-to-the-metal Ratt N’ Roller. “Scene of the Crime” is another fairless faceless Ratt song, which closes the album. It’s a fairly limp ending, and there’s nothing about the production that really aids or abets the album.

Listening to Out of the Cellar today is much the same as it was in the 80’s. It has enough high points to give credit where credit is due, but given the chance to listen to it or a “best of” CD, you’re going to go with the compilation. It’s too bad Ratt couldn’t have tightened up some of these songs a bit first, in the writing stage.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Twisted Sister – Love Is For Suckers (1987)

Bought in 1997 at an unknown HMV store in Calgary Alberta, on import, for like $25.  For Aaron’s take on this CD, click here!

TS_0001TWISTED SISTER – Love Is For Suckers (1987 Atlantic, Spitfire reissue)

If the year was 1987, I would have given this CD 5/5 stars easily. When it came out in the summer of ’87 I was really into it. My best friend Bob and I used to play it all the time during that long hot summer, we had all the lyrics memorized. Unfortunately this album has not aged well, certainly not compared to their classic early albums.

One problem with the record is that it’s not actually by the band Twisted Sister! Even as a kid I wondered why people with names like “Reb Beach” or “Kip Winger” were listed in the credits. That’s because Love is For Suckers was written and recorded as the first Dee Snider solo album. Record company pressure forced Dee to release this as the next Twisted Sister album, even though no Twisted members appear on it (aside from new drummer Joey Franco). This only hastened the breakup of Twisted Sister in October of that year.


The album is produced by Beau Hill, a guy also known for Warrant and Winger albums (that’s why Reb and Kip are on here). Beau Hill is one of my least favourite metal producers of all time. He over-produces, uses too many samples, and glosses everything up. As such I find most of his albums pretty hard to listen to today. On Love is For Suckers, all the drums are samples and you sure can tell by that awkward gated sound, and identical snare hits.

Like when we used to climb the rope in gym class

As an 80’s glam metal album, the songs are not that bad. “Wake Up (The Sleeping Giant)” could have been a Twisted Sister song with its themes of rebellion and youth angst. “Hot Love”, the first single, was the song that got me to buy this album. A catchy pop-rocker with irrestible guitars courtesy of maestro Reb Beach, “Hot Love” was as commercial as it gets. Other standout songs included “Me And the Boys”, which was our theme song that summer. “I Want This Night (To Last Forever)” was a Van Hagar sounding pop-rocker with another great chorus. I think, if anything, Love is For Suckers sounds mostly like 5150-era Van Hagar, but with gang vocals and way more glossed up.

Love is For Suckers was reissued a while ago with 4 bonus tracks, demos from these sessions that fit right into the sound of the album. They’re just not as good. “Statuatory Date” for example suffers from extremely bad lyrics.  One of them, “If That’s What You Want” is an early version of an album song, in this case “Me And the Boys”.  Consider looking into these 4 bonus tracks when you’re choosing to purchase Love is For Suckers.

As an added little “insult to injury” following this album’s failure, producer Beau Hill took Dee Snider’s scream from one song, “I Want This Night (To Last Forever)”, and used it as the opening scream on Warrant’s smash hit album Cherry Pie.  Uncredited! I’m sure 99.9% of Warrant fans assume it’s Jani Lane.

If this album description sounds good to you, check it out. You may enjoy it as much as I did all those years ago.  For me, the years have not been kind.

2.5/5 stars


TWISTED SISTER – Live at the Marquee (2011 Rhino limited edition)
TWISTED SISTER – Stay Hungry (25th Anniversary Edition)
TWISTED SISTER – Under The Blade (1985 remix)
TWISTED SISTER – “We’re Not Gonna Take It” (1984 Atlantic single)

REVIEW: Europe – Prisoners In Paradise (1991, 2001 reissue)

EUROPE – Prisoners In Paradise (1991, 2001 reissue)


I know people who love this album, and admittedly it has a couple good songs on it. However, by this time Europe had lost their identity. They were now openly pursuing a commercial American sound, and it shows. The regality of old Europe was now only audible on a handful of tracks. On some, they were attempting to milk the ZZ Top cow. This is by their own admission. On other songs, you can mistake them for Roxette!

I had always loved Europe, and could not wait for the fifth album. Three years in the waiting, when Prisoners of Paradise finally dropped I snapped it up. Produced by Beau Hill (one of my least favourite metal producers of all time, ruining almost every band he touched, hello Twisted Sister!) and mixed in “Q Sound” (remember that?) I was immediately taken aback. Europe did promise a “heavier” album, and in a sense, this has more guitars. However, heavy is not the word I would have chosen. The album is overproduced, overpolished, and contrived. With a few notable exceptions, the riffs don’t stand out and the songs just drown in a morass of gang vocals courtesy of Hill’s horrendous production.

“All Or Nothing” (co-written by Mr. Big’s Eric Martin), the opening track, is a great example of this. Yeah, sure, it’s based on guitars rather than keys. However, this is a pop song!  Track two, “Halfway to Heaven”, co-written by Jim Vallance sounds exactly like Roxette. My Roxette-loving sister adored this song. “I’ll Cry For You” is a way, way, way overproduced ballad. No wonder the band preferred their later acoustic rendering of it. “Little Bit Of Loving” is just a bad song, too American sounding for this band, not worthy of the name Europe. “Talk To Me” isn’t bad, and “The Seventh Sign” is at least heavier, but not a particularly memorable song.

That ended side one of the original album. Side two began with the first really good song, “Prisoners in Paradise”. This ballad-like anthem is still overproduced, but it at least breathes and is irresistibly catchy. I just don’t get that dumb, spoken word opening. “Man, I just wanna be somebody!” Come on, guys. Let’s not write down to “the kids”. (Why did bands always refer to their fans as “the kids”?)

“Bad Blood” sucks. “Homeland” is not bad, and could have fit in on the previous album Out Of This World. It’s a decent song, and the lyrics at least sound heartfelt rather than contrived. This however is followed by the absolute worst song on an already dreadful album: The ZZ Top inspired “Got Your Mind In The Gutter”. The lyrics: dumb. The riff: stale. The chorus: awful. Terrible song. We’re almost near the end, and “Til My Heart Beats Down Your Door”, although a bit too soft, has a pulse.

Europe at least had the class to write one classic great song and end the album with it: “Girl From Lebanon”. It grooves, but not in a cheesy contrived way like the rest of the album. The chorus is irresistible  It’s a great song, and the only truly 100% great song on the album.  This one has the regal Europe sound that I missed. They still play it live.

Remastered versions of the album throw on two bonus tracks, both nondescript and not memorable: “Mr. Government Man” and “Long Time Comin'”. No matter how many times I’ve played the CD, these two songs refuse to stick to my brain.

Commercially, Europe’s fifth album was a complete dud, and sounded that much more stupid in the wake of its competition. Not that Europe could have foreseen this, but Nevermind, Ten, and Badmotorfinger drove this album into the dirt. Fans were eager to soak up something more heavy, heartfelt and real. While Europe’s goal here was to “heavy up” their sound (this is the direction that metal was going in previous months anyway) they were completely lapped by the new kids on the block. And then came a decade-long hiatus.

The good news is that Europe came back with original member John Norum on guitar for 2003’s excellent Start From The Dark, one of their best records.

2/5 stars

Lineup – Joey Tempest, vocals. Kee Marcello, guitars. Mic Michaeli, keys. Ian Haughland, drums. John Levin, bass.