blues metal

REVIEW: Badlands – Badlands (1989)

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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.

“High 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, “High 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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REVIEW: Quiet Riot – Rehab (2006)

Part 2 of my 2-part review of the Quiet Riot Twin Pack set.  Twin Pack bundled the band’s final two releases:  a retro live album, and the final studio album, Rehab.

QUIET RIOT – Rehab (2006 Demolition)

I love Quiet Riot, even more than I have reason to. Metal Health was the first “metal” album I ever bought, on cassette, and I’ve re-bought it three more times since. I just love that album, and I admit it’s probably 60% music and 40% nostalgia. Since it came out, I’ve managed to collect a lot of Quiet Riot.  Prize possessions are my CD copies of Quiet Riot I and II.  This Twin Pack set was important to me because the version of Rehab contained herein has the European bonus track, “Wired To the Moon”.

It turns out, however, that Rehab kinda sucks. It has its supporters who enjoyed the heavier, bluesier sound.  Rehab unfortunately repeats the problem that Quiet Riot have had for many years:  they don’t write very many good songs!  Kevin DuBrow and Frankie Banali were reduced to a duo after the departures of Rudy Sarzo (who went on to Dio and is now in Tateryche) and Carlos Cavazo (now in Ratt).  Rehab had the right ingredients in place, with the awesome Tony Franklin on bass and Glenn Hughes providing backup vocals, but it was not to be. I give them an A for effort, as I am usually in favour of heavying up the sound and adding blues elements.  They get a D for execution.

The concept was to leave behind the glam rock, but the songwriting is so underpar.  Choruses and verses don’t mesh, melodies don’t stick in the head, and riffs don’t hit you where it hurts. The best song, “South of Heaven”, is a really good Zep-ish tune though.  “Strange Ways” features an incredible solo by Neil Citron, like a cross between jazz fusion and Eddie Van Halen.  Jazz Halen?  On the other hand, “Old Habits Die Hard” is one of the more colossal failures.  Aping Joe Cocker’s “With A Little Help From My Friends”, DuBrow sinks this one all by himself with his overwrought lead vocal.

There are some good moments.  Pretty much all the guitar solos and instrumental sections are incredible.  The drums are good.  A song called “Beggars and Thieves” is one of the better songs, because it is anthemic and memorable like old Quiet Riot.  Unfortunately, that cannot be said of most of this material.  Glenn Hughes classes up the place by several notches when he shows up at the end, but this also highlights Kevin DuBrow’s limitations.

I dislike the cover art and packaging.  DuBrow’s wig, oh my God.  Seriously? The old Quiet Riot logo is also gone, and the masked mascot dude is barely visible.  The album was self-produced by Kevin and Frankie, but they really should have spent some money on a producer with a decent set of ears.  These songs would not have passed muster with any serious producer.  The title of Quiet Riot’s final album is now a sad irony, considering DuBrow’s overdose at age 52.

2.5/5 stars

And sadly, almost unbelievably, the band’s legacy has been tarnished even further with Banali’s hack version of the band currently touring without any original members.  And Kevin rolls in his grave.

REVIEW: Cinderella – Long Cold Winter (1988)

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CINDERELLA  – Long Cold Winter (1988 Polygram Records)

I remember how excited I was upon hearing the first single, “Gypsy Road”, in the summer of ’88.  Cinderella had managed a bluesier, more “authentic” hard rock sound for their critical second LP.  Night Songs was OK, but Long Cold Winter was better in every way.  The cheese factor had been replaced by pedal steel guitars, pianos, and Hammond B3 organs.

Drummer Fred Coury was touring with Guns N’ Roses (Steven Adler had broken his hand punching a wall) during much of the making of Long Cold Winter.  It’s not clear how much of Long Cold Winter he played on, as the band pulled in two incredible session drummers for the project:  Denny Carmassi (of Heart and later Coverdale – Page), and the late great Cozy Powell!

From the bluesy opening of “Bad Seamstress Blues”, it was clear that the AC/DC clone Cinderella that featured Bon Jovi cameos in its videos had evolved.  Two incredible, throat wrenching rockers follow this:  “Fallin’ Apart at the Seams” and “Gypsy Road”.  Both songs easily stand up today as forgotten classics of the “hair metal” era.  But truthfully, Cinderella only made one “hair metal” album.  Long Cold Winter doesn’t really fit in with that scene, and their next album Heartbreak Station would leave it behind completely.

“Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)”, the epic power ballad, is more Aerosmith than Poison, and still features a great guitar solo straight out of the Iommi blues notebook.  I’m not too keen on “The Last Mile”, a straightforward rocker, but it was still chosen as a single from this album.  Much better is the side-closing “Second Wind”, amped up and stuttering.

Side two opened with Cinderella’s “serious” blues, the title track.  It’s a bit too contrived for me, it has a vibe of, “Hey, let’s write our ‘Since I’ve Been Loving You’!”.  Lots of repeated “baby baby baby” Plant-isms.  At the time it was released, this song was seen as a serious departure for the band, but in hindsight it’s really just a first step into a larger world.  It’s somewhat reminiscent of the rare occasions that Black Sabbath has attempted a slow blues (I’m thinking “Feels Good To Me”, also featuring Cozy Powell) mixed with Zeppelin.

“If You Don’t Like It” is another standard rocker, nothing special, but this is followed by no less than three great songs in a row.  First is the single “Coming Home”, not really a ballad, but a hybrid.  This was one of the most immediate songs that I fell for when I picked up the album.  You can tell that Cinderella wrote a lot of this album on the road, by the lyrics.  “Coming Home” is one such road song.

“Fire and Ice” is heavy, sort of a revisited “Second Wind”, another standout!  Then the album closes with the slide-laden “Take Me Back”, which strikes me as another road song.  Just as good as “Coming Home”, but heavier, it was a great album closer.  Personally if this album had spawned a fifth single, “Take Me Back” would have been my pick, hands down.  And I think this album could have justified five singles.

The band evolved further with album #3 (which featured strings by John Paul Jones!), but I think Long Cold Winter strikes the perfect balance between screeching rock and bitter blues.  From the classy album cover on down to the perfect production, I don’t think they’ve ever made a better album.

4.5/5 stars