Blues Saraceno

#744: A Poison-ous List

GETTING MORE TALE #744: A Poison-ous List

Over 30 years of being a band, and yet Poison only have a handful of albums!  We won’t get into the whys and wherefores, for they are many.  In terms of studio music, Poison have:

  • 6 full studio albums
  • 2 live albums with about an EP’s worth of new songs
  • 1 covers album

That’s it.  There are more live records and greatest hits, but Poison don’t have much music to show for such a long time in the business.

Naturally, anybody with an opinion has their own list of worst-to-first Poison albums.  The only thing special about mine is my conviction that I’m right and everybody else is wrong!

 

 

#9:  Hollyweird 2002

Poison’s last album of original songs was not a letdown at all.  To be disappointed, you have to have expectations.  I don’t think anybody expected much out of Poison in 2002.  This dull, bland album had no hits for a good reason.  Was Bret saving his best material for his solo career?

#8:  Power to the People 2000

Part live, part studio, this album should be included as it was the first new Poison material with C.C. Deville in a decade.  Shame that the studio songs are largely forgettable.  All but “I Hate Every Bone in Your Body but Mine”, sung by an autotuned C.C., which you’ll wish you could forget.  Nobody asked for this, nor the live guitar and drum solos.  In concert, Poison need to play long solos so Bret Michaels can take his insulin.  On album, there is no excuse for including such boring solos.

#7:  Swallow This Live  1991

This album is plagued by the same problem as Power to the People:  horribly long live solos that should have been omitted.  At least the studio side was decent.  There were two pretty good songs, and one excellent single called “So Tell Me Why”.  Possibly their best single, actually.  Unfortunately you had to wade through 2 CDs of crap to get to it.

#6:  Poison’d!  2007

Kinda sad that Poison’s last album was a covers album over 10 years ago.  Still, it was a surprisingly good covers album.  Just delete the Walmart bonus track “SexyBack” and you’re all set for nothing’ but a good time.  Incidentally this is the easiest place to find Poison’s first recorded cover, “Rock and Roll all Nite”!

#5:  Crack A Smile…And More!  2000

In 1994, Poison began working on their first album with new guitarist Blues Saraceno.  It sat unreleased for another six years.  When it finally came out, it was beefed up with two new B-sides, the cool and unfinished “Crack A Smile” demo, an old B-side with C.C., and four songs from MTV Unplugged (also with C.C.).  Hence the “And More!” tag in the title.  Saraceno is a wiz on the guitar, and with Poison he wrote some cool songs.  Just not enough for such a long album.  There’s a bit of filler on Crack A Smile, but for guitar playing it’s one of their best.

#4:  Look What the Cat Dragged In  1986

I know, I know, it’s their “classic” debut, right?  But it ain’t produced so good, and there’s some filler in those grooves.  The singles, however, are all great, with “Cry Tough” joining “So Tell Me Why” as one of their all-time best.  Poison had an adorable rawness and party attitude, but like many bands they got better as they went.

#3:  Open Up and Say…Ahh!  1988

This is when Poison really started getting good.  By my measure, this album only has one filler song, “Bad to Be Good”.  There’s actually some stunning material here, including non-singles like “Love On the Rocks”.  It has the big ballad (and only one ballad!) as well as the unforgettable “Nothing But a Good Time“.  Open Up and Say…Ahh! is definitely the best of Poison’s “party rock” albums.

#2:  Flesh & Blood 1990

A lot of people consider this to be Poison’s best, and while that argument can be made, I just can’t get past “Poor Boy Blues”.  That song is so awful it leaves a limburger-like aftertaste.  (It’s even worse when it’s extended on Swallow This Live.)  “Unskinny Bop” is painfully dumb, a fact we recognized back in 1990.  It didn’t fit the more mature sound Poison were going for with new producer Bruce Fairbairn.  “Why is this song the single?” we asked each other, as we discovered way better material buried inside.  “Valley of Lost Souls”, “Sacrifice”, and “Life Loves a Tragedy” were never singles but certainly catalogue highlights.  Flesh & Blood also boasts two of their best ballads, “Something to Believe In” and “Life Goes On”.  It’s a tough album to beat.

#1:  Native Tongue 1993

But Native Tongue does surpass Flesh & Blood,  thanks to the supernatural talents of Mr. Richie Kotzen.  On paper, it was a slam dunk.  Poison were never taken seriously as musicians, but with Kotzen, suddenly that bar was raised.  That tone!  Earthy and hot.  He was a shredder, and a soulful singer/songwriter.  He dominated Native Tongue.  Unfortunately the personalities didn’t mesh (or so we will word it).  It was a weird fit, but it resulted in a very special album.  Most of the songs are clearly Richie’s, with Bret Michaels singing.  (It’s possible that Richie played other instruments as well, but we’ll leave that to speculation.)  Kotzen brought to Poison a real soulful bent that they simply didn’t have without him, although they sure did try on Flesh & Blood.  His raspy voice didn’t hurt.  The good time rock isn’t gone either, though there’s less of it.  “Ride Child Ride”, “Strike Up the Band” and “Seven Days Over You” are as fun as the old days, but with a richer more musical palette.  Poison also went heavier than ever before.  “Scream” and “Bring it Home” groove harder than anything before or after.  Perhaps this album should be disqualified from the list as it’s more a Kotzen record with Poison as his backing band?  Nope, it’s my list and this is #1.

REVIEW: Poison – Double Dose: Ultimate Hits (2011)

I do not currently own this album.

POIDSONPOISON – Double Dose:  Ultimate Hits (2011 EMI)

When this one slid into my hot little hands, I couldn’t help but laugh. Double Dose of Poison? Look at that cover. Someone forget to give Bret the memo, the 80’s are over. But it was summer, and Poison were touring with the Crue. The cougars were on the prowl, and if that’s not enough reason for a classic rock band to release an album, I don’t know what is.

However, let us not forget, Poison haven’t released any new original music since the dreadful Hollyweird in…God is it almost 10 years already? So when your band is creatively on ice, all you can do is repackage the hits. By my reckoning, Poison have done that very thing almost as many times as they’ve released studio albums.

Anyway, enough of my lecturing. Let’s dig into the album, a very generous slice of Poison, albeit one that wears out its welcome prematurely. The album is wisely sparked off with “Talk Dirty To Me”, their first hit, and still a firecracker 25 (!) years later. Sequenced chronologically, this is followed by the equally familiar “I Want Action”.  The lesser known (but still classy) ballad “I Won’t Forget You” is here.  So is perhaps the best single for the first album, “Cry Tough” which still has that youthful energy. The perennial “Look What The Cat Dragged In” tops off the material from the first album  It’s an inferior song, but one that has proven to have legs over two decades later.

By the second album, Poison had tightened up their chops and songwriting a bit, and the still-great “Nothin’ But A Good Time” is next. The rest of the ’88-’89 singles follow in due course: “Fallen Angel”, “Every Rose” (of course!)” and “Your Mama Don’t Dance”. So far, CD 1 works. It sticks to (mostly) the hits, with the ballads sprinkled about sparingly, exactly as any good rock album should work.

But the first disc ain’t over yet, although this is where the chronological concept is ditched. From album #3, here’s the dreadfully awful “Unskinny Bop” (please, nobody really likes this song)!  It’s followed by the Kiss cover “Rock N’ Roll All Nite” which was actually recorded between albums #1 and #2. But the other three singles from album #3 follow in short order: “Ride The Wind”, “Something To Believe In” (another ballad) and “Life Goes On” (wait…two ballads in a row?). Then from album #3, we jump to album #5. “Stand” is the third ballad in a row. While it is more a soul song with the great Richie Kotzen now filling CC Deville’s shoes, it still serves to slow down this disc almost to the point of skipping. Then, for whatever reason, the compilation skips to albums #7 and #8 (the worst album Poison ever did, Hollyweird). “The Last Song” from Power To The People is…holy crap…another (boring) ballad. It is followed by the cover “Shooting Star”. What the devil were they thinking? Four ballads in a row? Sure, we’re not young anymore, but we’re not comatose.

Onto disc two. Keep in mind, Poison have used up most of their hit ammunition on disc one. Disc two relies heavily on covers from the Poison’d album.  That’s five more covers for those keeping score, bringing the total of covers on this whole compilation to eight. Eight freaking covers out of 35 songs, that’s 23% covers — almost a quarter of the album! Come on, guys. We know you had all your hits in a brief period of the late 80’s and early 90’s, but what about the great album tracks? Where’s “Ball And Chain”? Where’s “(Flesh & Blood) Sacrifice”? “Valley of Lost Souls”? Where are all the great album tracks that prove Poison was more than a handful of singles? Well, some are here: “Look But You Can’t Touch”, “Love On The Rocks”, but mostly we’re into the covers. If you already have Poison’d, then this disc is pretty redundant. A few tracks from the underrated Crack A Smile CD (with Blues Saraceno on guitar) are here, such as the swanky’ “Sexual Thang”. A few rarities too, “Gotta Face The Hangman” and “Livin’ For The Minute”… but they are rarities for a reason.  They don’t hold up to the quality of the hits.

Highlights on this second disc are the bright and sparkling rocker “So Tell Me Why” from album #4 (the live + studio CD Swallow This Live) and a deuce with Richie Kotzen: “Fire And Ice” and “Bastard Son of a Thousand Blues”. The disc, very unwisely, ends with perhaps the worst and most overplayed Poison song in history, “Poor Boy Blues”. Bret, I know you like the blues. I know you like them a lot. But Poison are not a blues band. Never were. Never will be. The closest you ever got was when Richie was in the band. 20 freakin’ years ago.

That about sums it up. If you want a really good, solid, to the point Poison hits album, choose one of these two:

  • 1986-1996 Greatest Hits
  • The Best of Poison: 20 Years of Rock

Both are single discs, but are boiled down to the basics.

Let’s face it, if you’re a big Poison fan, you already have all these songs, because they’re all on the CDs. If you’re not a big Poison fan…you don’t really want all these songs.

2/5 stars

Disc one:

01. Nothin' But A Good Time   
02. Talk Dirty To Me 
03. Look What The Cat Dragged In  
04. Be The One  
05. We're An American Band  
06. Life Goes On  
07. Every Rose Has Its Thorn  
08. Stand  
09. Livin' For The Minute 
10. Little Willy  
11. (Flesh & Blood) Sacrifice   
12. I Won't Forget You    
13. Rock And Roll All Nite  
14. Love On The Rocks 
15. Suffragette City   
16. Lay Your Body Down
17. Until You Suffer Some (Fire And Ice)  
18. No More Lookin' Back (Poison Jazz)  

_______________________________________________________________
Disc two:

01. Unskinny Bop   
02. Cry Tough  
03. I Want Action
04. Your Mama Don't Dance   
05. Something To Believe In 
06. Fallen Angel 
07. Ride The Wind
08. Bastard Son Of A Thousand Blues
09. Sexual Thing 
10. Can't You See   
11. So Tell Me Why    
12. What I Like About You   
13. Face The Hangman
14. Cover Of The Rolling Stone  
15. Poor Boy Blues   
16. Look But You Can't Touch   
17. Theatre Of The Soul

REVIEW: Electric Joy by Richie Kotzen (1991)

Classic Kotzen! For a look at the new album by his new supergroup The Winery Dogs, check out Jon Wilmenius’ excellent review.

RICHIE KOTZEN – Electric Joy by Richie Kotzen (1991 Shrapnel)

Albums by Richie Kotzen were impossible to find in Canada.  My only exposure to his music was “Dream of a New Day”, from his second album Fever Dream.  Fever Dream was his first vocal album, but Kotzen returned to instrumentals on his third, Electric Joy.  I’d seen his picture in dozens of guitar magazines, but hadn’t heard his tunes until “Dream of a New Day” was included on the Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack.

His debut album was a hit with the shredders, but three albums in, Kotzen had already delivered three completely different pieces of work.  Electric Joy has some of the playfulness of the debut, but is mostly a jaw-dropping collection of intricately composed pieces that skirt multiple genres including funk, country, bluegrass, jazz, fusion, and blues.  If I had to pick out an influence, I would say that Electric Joy sounds like Richie had been listening to a lot of the “two Steves”:  Vai and Morse.  His technique is top-notch.

I first got this on a trip to Frankenmuth, Michigan.  My parents made a point of going there every spring and I started tagging along, and then later on my friend Peter joined us as well.  We’d stay at the Bavarian Inn and on the way back to Ontario, we’d stop at the stores in Port Huron, where I found this as well as old rare Savatage cassettes.

“B Funk” opens the album with some light-speed bluegrass-y licks, but it keeps changing, from a funked up rocker with shredding, to a melodic “chorus” section.  Then it’s back to the bluegrass from space.

At this point I’ll point out that Kotzen plays all the instruments except drums, himself.  That’s Richie’s standby Atma Anur on drums.  What this means is, that incredibly dexterous bassline you’re hearing on “B Funk” is also performed by Kotzen!  And it’s almost every bit as stunning as the guitar!

“Electric Toy” begins ballady, with some lyrical Vai-like moments.  Of course, Kotzen can’t help but do what he does, so there are different sections, some at lickity-split tempos.  This is followed by “Shufina”, which is essentially a blues jam.  Kotzen’s deep bends are appropriate, but before too long he’s harmonizing with himself on some unconventional melodies.

A smoking hot riff ignites “Acid Lips”, little lightning licks flicker in and out, but this one has a solid groove.  (It can’t be easy grooving with yourself on bass.)  “Slow Blues” contains some of Richie’s most lyrical lead work.  If you can imagine the lead guitar taking on the role of a singer, then “Slow Blues” is probably the most accessible song on the album.

The next song “High Wire” is uncatagorizable, suffice to say that like all of Electric Joy it combines quirky notes with shreddery, funk and groove.  My favourite song is “Dr. Glee”.  It sounds like it seems it should – gleeful.  I find this pleasant melody to be very summery.  Kotzen guitar has so many different sounds and shades, even just within this one song.

“Hot Rails” is another one that sounds like advertized…a train racing down the track.  Kotzen’s slide work is anything but simple.  This one’s so fast it’s hard to keep track of all the cool different guitar parts.  It almost sounds like Kotzen wrote a blues shuffle, and then decided to hit fast forward on his tape deck and learn it at that speed!

Electric Joy closes with “The Deece Song”, which thankfully is mid-tempo allowing us to catch our collective breath.  It’s another great performance, similar in style to “Dr. Glee”.  It has its sweeping Satriani moments as well.

The production on the album is very dry, which is different from what a lot of the other instrumentalists were doing at the time.  While this means it might take some more time to penetrate an album that is loaded to the brim with dense ideas already, it is a worthwhile endevour.

In a bizarre turn of events, Kotzen briefly put his solo career on hold.  He received a phone call from Bret Michaels.  The Poison frontman was looking for a replacement for the departed CC Deville.  The fact that Kotzen was from Pennsylvania, not already in a band, and wrote and sang original material caught Michaels’ eye in a magazine article.  Having a shredder, but one with some feel too, might garner Poison some respect in the tough 1990’s.

Kotzen did succeed in co-writing (and in some cases, writing entire songs himself) their most accomplished album, Native Tongue.  Of course, it did not sell.  The Poison relationship imploded because of another relationship: the one that Kotzen was secretly having with drummer Rikki Rockett’s fiance!  Kotzen eventually married her, and he was replaced in Poison by another shredder, Blues Saraceno (who was in the running with Kotzen in the first place).

As for Electric Joy?

4/5 stars

ELECTRIC JOY