CC Deville

#681: Bad Lessons

GETTING MORE TALE #681: Bad Lessons

Parents of the 80s were always concerned about the impressions that their kids were getting from music videos.  Objectifying women?  Drug and alcohol use?  Absolutely a concern.  But what about other misleading lessons from the music video age?

 

Bad Lesson #1:  You can play guitar with gloves on!

You’re guilty, Blackie Lawless from W.A.S.P.!  You too, Jeff Pilson of Dokken!  You both played your instruments in music videos while wearing full leather gloves.  As children, we simply assumed if it got cold outside, you could continue to play your guitar with gloves on.  I’m not talking fingerless gloves, but full coverage.

It doesn’t really look cold in that Dokken video for “Burning Like a Flame”. Why the gloves, Jeff? George Lynch isn’t even wearing a shirt.

 

Bad Lesson #2:  Great hair just happens.

How many music videos of the 80s showed the band members doing up their hair?  None!  Probably due to the “hairspray” stigma of the 80s. Some videos showed the band members literally getting out of bed, with hair intact.  I assumed that once you grew your hair long enough and had it cut by a professional, it would just automatically look cool every morning.  Naturally, I had bad hair for years.  Thanks, rock stars.  Don’t be embarrassed by your hair care products!

 

Bad Lesson #3:  Guitars are eeeeasy to play!

Since we didn’t fully comprehend that music videos were mimed, and not an actual performance, we assumed guitars were easy to play!  After all, they made it look so easy!  C.C. DeVille could jump around and swing his guitar everywhere without missing a note.  Others would just…hit their guitars…and the song played on!  Paul Stanley seemed to play his without even touching it.  You can imagine how we felt when we actually bought our first guitars ourselves.  Hitting it didn’t play a song, it just made a hitting sound.  We were lied to!

Players like DeVille and Jeff Labar of Cinderella also made it look far too easy to swing your guitars over your shoulders.  We damaged some necks and some ceilings trying to imitate these guys.  We learned you had to buy strap locks or watch your guitar get launched skyward.

 

Bad Lesson #4:  Adulthood involves walking the streets at night with your boyz.

As young impressionable kids, we didn’t know what adulthood was really about.  We saw our dads go to work every day.  Mom worked hard too.  But what about before they met and got married and settled down to have kids?  What was life like at that stage?  Judging by Dokken, Journey or Motley Crue videos, adulthood meant walking around town a lot with your buds.  Some bands even cruised in cars!  Is this what growing up looked like?


“Don’t Go Away Mad” (by the most Mötleyest of Crües) is guilty on two counts: plenty of downtown walkin’, and Vince waking up with hair perfectly coiffed.

 

Bad Lesson #5:  Getting arrested is no big deal!

David Lee Roth was led away in handcuffs in the “Panama” music video.  Bobby Dall of Poison got arrested in one of their clips, too.  Let’s not forget Sammy Hagar getting busted for speeding in “I Can’t Drive 55”.   But it’s all good – the guys were all there at the end of the songs.  No big deal!

 

 

It was never the alcohol, or devil worship, or women that made rock videos dangerous. Turns out it was the mundane stuff. Who knew long hair was so hard to upkeep? They never told us that. How naive we were!

 

 

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REVIEW: Poison – Look What the Cat Dragged In (remaster)

POISON – Look What the Cat Dragged In (1986, 2006 Capitol remaster)

I remember seeing this album in the racks of our local Zellers store.  I didn’t know the band.  I thought CC Deville was pretty cute.

Taking the gender-bending makeup of the mid-80’s to its logical end point, Poison stormed out of Hollywood and onto the charts.  They did this with a handful of great singles, including “Talk Dirty to Me”, “Cry Tough”, and “I Won’t Forget You”.  Also huge, but barely tolerable as a song, was the singalong “I Want Action”.

Bass "rapin'?" Good god!

Bass “rapin’?” Good god!

Armed with just $23,000, Poison recorded Look What the Cat Dragged In with producer Ric Browde (Ted Nugent, W.A.S.P.) in less than two weeks.  What they emerged with was a fun, raunchy and terrible sounding album with some big hits and plenty of filler.

“Cry Tough” was a tight little opener, a hot and bright rocker about going out and givin’ er.  “You gotta cry tough, out on the streets, to make your dreams happen!” sings Bret Michaels in full-on cheerleader mode.  Unfortunately the sonics of the album leave much to be desired.  The guitar, drum and vocal sounds are demo quality at best, but that’s what you get for $23,000 and Ric Browde.

The other singles were all huge.  “Talk Dirty to Me” is now minor staple, and “I Want Action” (annoying as it is) is another.  The ballad “I Won’t Forget You” is an album highlight, well before Bret & co. had mastered the art of writing hit ballads.  Low key, basic and electric, “I Won’t Forget You” is very different from “Every Rose” and some of the later broken-hearted Poison love songs. Paul Stanley has a cameo in the road-ready music video, which didn’t hurt.

That leaves a hell of a lot of room for filler, and Look What the Cat Dragged In has plenty.  Of the album tracks, the decent ones include the saucy glam-slam rawking title track, and another song called “Want Some, Need Some”.  Both tunes could have used some last-minute tightening up, but neither are as bad as the dreck on the tail end of the album:  “#1 Bad Boy”, “Blame it on You” and the horrid “Mama Let Me Go to the Show” all suck absolutely.  “Play Dirty” on side one is also pretty awful.

Even with the quality issues in sound and songwriting, Look What the Cat Dragged In sold over 3,000,000 copies.  20 years later, it was given a fresh remastering and three bonus tracks.  The remastering could not fix the audio issues, but the bonus tracks are pretty good.  Single remixes of “I Want Action” and “I Won’t Forget You” are marginally better than the original album tracks.  Somebody realized that they were sonically deficient, and the remixes help a teeny tiny bit.  Then Jim Croce’s “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” is added to the end, a song that got more exposure on the covers album Poison’d!  The bonus tracks go a long way towards making the album a little more listenable from start to end.

2/5
stars

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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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REVIEW: Poison – Poison’d! (2007 Walmart version with bonus track)

POISOND_0001POISON – Poison’d! (2007 Capitol)

Talk about defying expectations.  As a general rule, covers albums suck.  By extension of that, you would certainly predict that a cover album by Poison would absolutely suck.  After all, the band Poison haven’t made a decent studio album in well over 20 years.  2002’s Hollyweird was junk.  Maybe it’s the presence of legendary producer Don Was, but Poison somehow managed to make a good cover album!  I’m almost worried about losing credibility by saying this.  I did indeed get Poison’d by it.

I think Poison are at their best when playing upbeat but hard pop rock numbers.  “Little Willy” by the Sweet is a great example of that kind of song, and it’s right up Bret’s alley.  It’s obvious that he doesn’t have the voice he once had (which wasn’t much to start with) but when Bret’s at home with a particular style it always works better.  “Little Willy” is hella fun.

Here’s my Bowie confession — this guy here is not a fan.  Maybe it’s over-exposure.  I do like the hits, and of those “Suffragette City” is one I enjoy.  Once again, Poison are at home, putting their slant on Bowie and somehow making it work.  I don’t even mind C.C.’s over the top guitar slop — silly but that’s his style.  I’m sure Bowie diehards will absolutely hate this.

The classic Alice Cooper ballad “I Never Cry” is a great song, and Poison throw a little twang on it while keeping it pretty true to the original.  Dick Wagner had a knack for writing incredible songs, and “I Never Cry” is one of the best he’s ever written.  As for Bret, he’ll never be Alice Cooper but he’s not trying to be.  Too bad C.C. can’t seem to hit the notes he’s searching for on the solo!  If Poison had done this in 1988, they absolutely would have had a hit with it.

You wouldn’t expect a band like Poison to have too many Tom Petty records in their collection, but they do a great job glamming up “I Need to Know”.  They nailed it by doing it in their style, and as long as you’re not too attached to Tom Petty’s original then you’ll dig it.   On the other hand, I can picture Bret having a whole bunch of albums by the Marshall Tucker Band.  “Can’t You Say” has that laid back, southern gospel rock vibe that Bret has been trying to copy for 25 years.  Unsurprisingly, “Can’t You See” is better than most of Bret’s originals in the same style.  Guitar solo aside it’s actually pretty great!

One song I really don’t care for anymore is “What I Like About You” by the Romantics.  Hearing a decent cover though ain’t so bad.  Surprisingly, once again, Poison do a great version.  C.C.’s soloing doesn’t fit the track, but hey, that’s C.C. for you.  Bret’s enthusiasm carries the track, which is in Poison rock mode.  Then they slip by covering the Rolling Stones.  “Dead Flowers” isn’t a song I would be brave enough to do, and Poison should have erred on the side of caution and not tried it.  This is filler, but I love the Cars, so I had my hopes up for the next track “Just What I Needed”.  No need to fear — this one is in that hard pop rock mode that Poison do very well.  It reminds me of their own song “So Tell Me Why” in tone.   Count this one as an album highlight and personal favourite.

Some previously released tracks fill out the set.  A Poison covers album should include their first cover, “Rock ‘N Roll All Nite”.  This Kiss cover (produced by Rick fucking Rubin, no shit) was first released on the Less Than Zero soundtrack in 1987.  You can also hear it in the background at the start of their music video for “Nothin’ But a Good Time”.  I do not like it, but it’s nice to include.  The Who’s “Squeeze Box” was originally from the aforementioned Hollyweird CD, and it’s sadly (but not surprisingly) a stinker.  Jim Croce’s “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” is a demo from 1987, previously released on the remastered Look What the Cat Dragged On.  Not bad when you want a taste of that old-style Poison.

I think it’s kind of odd to put “Your Mama Don’t Dance” on this CD, since pretty much every Poison fan in the world already has that song.  But here’s the overrated Loggins and Messina cover for you one more time!  “We’re An American Band” was also previously released, on the Poison best of 20 Years of Rock.  (“Rock ‘N Roll All Nite” and “Your Mama Don’t Dance” are also on that CD.)  It’s a good tune on which to end the CD.

Except it’s not!  Walmart’s version of the CD had a bonus track, and it’s a baffling one.  I’m very proud to say that I have never heard the song “Sexy Back” by Justin Timberlake.  Having said that, I’m sure it’s better than Poison’s industrial-flavoured version.  A colonoscopy is better than this.  So essentially what Walmart have done is ended the album with a colonoscopy for you.  You’re welcome!

Missing: “Cover of the Rolling Stone” from the Crack A Smile album. Too bad, as that would have been better than getting “Your Mama Don’t Dance” yet again. Also missing (but not missed): “God Save the Queen” from the remastered Flesh & Blood.

Overall though?  Good CD.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Poison – Flesh & Blood (remastered)

FLESH AND BLOOD_0001POISON – Flesh & Blood (1990, 2006 Capitol remaster)

Ah, Poison!  The band everybody loved to hate!  In spite of that, Poison made a couple pretty good albums.  Flesh & Blood is the best of the original C.C. DeVille era, and probably their most successful.  It spawned a huge headlining tour that also produced a double live album.  Flesh & Blood was also their “get serious” album, although in that regard it was only a partial success.  The idea was to write and record more mature music and lyrics, something that C.C. was opposed to.  He saw nothing wrong with the glam-slam-king-of-noize direction that they started on, and maintained that Look What the Cat Dragged In was their high point.  He saw the introduction of blues influences as diluting the Poison sound he liked.

That’s all bullshingles.  Flesh & Blood is the best thing C.C. has done, and is second only to Poison’s Native Tongue album with Richie Kotzen.  C.C. was still far from a great guitar player, but on most tracks it’s his most accessible and least annoying playing.  (On others…well, we’ll get there.)  Take the opening track “Valley of Lost Souls” for example (preceded by a jokey answering machine tape called “Strange Days of Uncle Jack”). “Valley” rocks heavy with integrity and an edge that Poison hadn’t displayed before, and C.C. throws in a lot of tasty, toffee-like strings.  His soloing will never be considered virtuoso, and his tone has always been thin and annoying, but never has C.C. generated such guitar thrills as he does on this album.  (Most of it.)

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I’m sure that producer Bruce Fairbairn steered this ship with a firm hand.  His stamp is all over Flesh & Blood:  from weird segues to rich backing vocals, this is a Fairbairn production through and through.  Fairbairn was known to be a taskmaster, and I’m sure he worked C.C. (and the whole band) to the bone.  The title track, “(Flesh & Blood) Sacrifice” has his patented, perfectly arranged vocal stamp.  The vocals are layered and almost Leppard-lush.  When we’re talking about a singer like Bret Michaels, you know it’s not going to be Pavarotti.  The credits don’t list additional singers, but there are some names in the tail end of the thank-yous:  Paul Laine, for example.  Laine was a Vancouver local, where Poison recorded the album.  Why is he being thanked?  I think it’s safe to assume that Laine and others helped out in the backing vocals department.  Anyway, “Sacrifice” is the second excellent song in a row.  Say what you like about Poison as performers, they wrote some fucking good songs too.

“Swampjuice (Soul-O)” is some surprisingly good C.C. acoustic blues.  Actually not bad at all — but just instrumental filler.  As is the next song, a massive huge hit single: “Unskinny Bop”.  The song is awful, the lyrics worse, and C.C.’s solo is like razor blades.  I mean that in a bad way.  Total shit.  Garbage.  “Let It Play” verges on filler, but it’s good enough.  It’s simple but memorably melodic.  Better is the timeless sounding single “Life Goes On”.  I liked this bombastic electric ballad then, and I still do now.  Michaels is a limited singer, but this is a damn good ballad.  I give Fairbairn credit for the backing vocal hooks.  The first side of the album closes on the forgettable but adequate hard rocker “Come Hell or High Water”.

Kicking off side two with the single “Ride the Wind” is a no-brainer.  This song sounds like its title.  It sounds like a car song, a rock and roll ode to the thrills of the road.   I’d rank this easily among Poison’s best hits — top five.  “Don’t Give Up an Inch” is filler, but “Something to Believe In” was another huge single.  Hearing it again today, I find it hard to dislike.  I wanted to, but I can’t.  I think Bret wrote some pretty good lyrics here.  The part about his best friend who died “in some Palm Springs hotel room” is about his bodyguard, a guy he was really close to.  It’s pretty heartfelt, and the piano ballad still stands up as well as any by Aerosmith from the same era.

Some boring C.C. pedal steel guitar leads into “Ball and Chain”.  It’s a pretty good rock boogie, but the second-to-last song “Life Loves a Tragedy” is the best track on the album.  Even better than “Ride the Wind” but similar in vibe, this song shoulda woulda coulda been a hit.  The soft intro fools you into thinking it’s a ballad.  It’s not.  It’s a ballsy rocker with another Bret Michaels lyric that you’d call more mature.  “My vices have turned to habits, and my habits have turned to stone,” sings Bret.  “I gotta stop living at a pace that kills, ‘fore I wake up dead.”  Not poetry really, but a hell of a lot better than “Unskinny bop bop, blow me away.”  The chorus kills, as does the whole song.  Another top five Poison track in my book.

The album ends on a pile of shit called “Poor Boy Blues”.  This may well be the worst Poison song of all time.   Of all time!  C.C.’s playing is so pointless, so brutal, so annoying, that I don’t know why somebody didn’t pull the guitar out of his hands.  Wah-wah alone does not a solo make!   This song stinks so bad.  Dammit, Poison, you’re not a blues band fer fuck’s sakes!  This song should have been axed, there is no reason for it to still exist.


POISONThe 2006 remastered edition has two bonus tracks.  The first is a disappointing acoustic version of “Something to Believe In” from the “Life Goes On” single B-side.  It has new lyrics (erasing one of the things I liked about the song) and absolutely pointless guitar playing by C.C.  His solos and melodies go nowhere.  It’s just a guy playing all kinds of notes on an acoustic guitar that don’t have any direction:  There’s no tension, no release, no hooks.  This version sucks.  Lastly there’s “God Save the Queen”, an instrumental demo version.  This too sucks.  More directionless soloing from C.C. over the Pistols riff.  That’s all it is.

Interestingly the remastered edition has two changes that I’ve noticed.  The cover is the “censored” version without the extra blood on the arm.  This is a US import, and I think in Canada we had the other cover originally.  Second, the reprise of “Strange Days of Uncle Jack” that closes the album is missing.  Normally this would fade in from the end of “Poor Boy Blues”.  Now, “Poor Boy Blues” ends with a few seconds of silence where that reprise used to be.  I don’t know why they did that.  I’m assuming somebody mistakenly used a version of the song from a compilation album.

I know I’ve been hard on Poison in this review, but this is actually a great album.  Take away “Unskinny Bop” and “Poor Boy Blues” and I would call it pretty damn solid.  As for the remaster?  Disappointing.

4/5 stars (for the album)

REVIEW: Poison – Hollyweird (2002)

Dedicated to Iron Tom Sharpe, who doesn’t understand that sometimes you just have to blow off steam and review a shitty album.


POISON – Hollyweird (2002 Cyanide Music)

I have a soft spot for Poison, and I have every album. Every album that is, except Hollyweird. After several spins in-store, I realized this was never an album I was going to listen to again. (Although I did, for this review actually — you’re welcome.)  Let’s face it, a “classic Poison lineup” reunion is not exactly earthshaking, especially when they traded down a true maestro in Blues Saraceno for CC to return. Not to mention Richie Kotzen before him.  CC will never be classified as a guitar hero. It’s CC’s songwriting that he brings to the Poison table, that and some sloppily good rhythms. However Poison’s songwriting on Hollyweird is much like the production values — flat and dull.

13 songs clocking in at just over 40 minutes, this is a collection of short pop rockers and ballads. The cover of “Squeeze Box” is pretty putrid, and Who fans would cringe if they happened upon it.  Most of the originals are just plain dull, lacking the bombast, hooks, flash and excitement of any previous Poison album, Native Tongue included. If only Poison could have continued along the lines that they were pursuing with Crack A Smile, or even re-recorded it with CC. Alas, this is the worst of all Poison studio albums, and it was such a lame duck that the band never recorded another one (as of 2014, this is the most recent Poison studio album aside from the covers-only Poison’d).

The opening and riff to “Hollyweird” is pretty decent, but the song itself is pretty suck-tastic.  Maybe I should take back what I said about CC.  He’s the only good thing about this song.  “Shooting Star” (a supposed sequel to “Fallen Angel”) is annoyingly bass heavy, and Bobby Dall ain’t that great a bassist.  CC’s riff is the only good thing about it, since the chorus is drowned out in mush.  Thom Panuzio isn’t a hack producer by any stretch, but he didn’t even show up on Hollyweird.  Then, somebody thought it would be a good idea to let CC DeVille sing lead on “Emperor’s New Clothes”.  The sad thing is it’s one of the better songs (even though it sounds more like Sum 41 than Poison).  CC sings three songs on Hollyweird, but who cares?

Lowlights:  Stinky “Squeeze Box,” whack “Wishful Thinkin’,” generic “Get Ya Some,” dull “Devil Woman,” horrible “Home”…or should I say “Homes,” since both Bret and CC have their own versions of this pop-punk wannabe? (In a row!)

Highlights:  “Wasteland,” maybe.

Tired, dull, derivative…pick your adjective.

1/5 stars

  1. “Hollyweird” – 3:15
  2. “Squeeze Box” – 2:32 (The Who cover)
  3. “Shooting Star” – 4:39
  4. “Wishful Thinkin'” – 2:49
  5. “Get ‘Ya Some” – 4:22
  6. “Emperor’s New Clothes” – 2:15
  7. “Devil Woman” – 3:47
  8. “Wasteland” – 3:56
  9. “Livin’ In The Now” – 2:37
  10. “Stupid, Stoned & Dumb” – 3:10
  11. “Home” (Bret’s Story) – 2:49
  12. “Home” (C.C.’s Story) – 2:47
  13. “Rockstar” – 3:33

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: Poison – Swallow This Live (1991 2 CD set)

STL_0001POISON – Swallow This Live (1991 Capitol Records)

In 1991, hard rock was breathing its last gasp (for the moment, anyway) and Swallow This Live is a perfect example of how this happened. Many rock fans were fed up with substandard releases, and this is one of the biggest turds of that era.

Swallow This Live was a double — yes, you heard that right — a double-live CD from a band who only had three studio albums! And Poison are not Kiss. On the cassette version, two tracks were missing: “Life Goes On”, and “No More Looking Back”.  I think Poison instead should have excluded Rikki Rockett’s painful, overly long drum solo.  They definitely should have cut C.C. (billed here as “Cecil”) DeVille’s horrendous guitar flatulance.

Poison imploded before this was even released.  The fact that C.C. DeVille was only seen in the video for “So Tell Me Why” for a matter of seconds spoke volumes.  (Opening lyric of the song:  “I’d like to put to bed the rumours”.)  This was after the train wreck that was the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards.  There’s C.C. with bright pink hair, not able to play an entire song…it was no surprise when he was fired, although the band waited until after the release of Swallow This Live to tell anybody.

C.C. also hated the bluesy, more serious direction that Poison’s music was taking, which was fully realized on their next studio album, Native Tongue. With guitar maestro Richie Kotzen as the catalyst, Poison finally delivered a mature piece of work which of course did not sell. But that’s another story.

Here, we have a very rough sounding live disc, overly long, and embarassingly bad. Every song is superior in its studio version, making this album completely redundant. Ironically, coming from the band who once said, “Fans comes to see us play, not PRESS play,” you can hear lots of backing vocal tapes, especially on “I Want Action”. You do get basically every hit that Poison ever had, which was an impressive amount. However, even that couldn’t pad out a full 2 CD release, so they also played some really terrible songs live.  “Look What the Cat Dragged In” is awful, but even worse is the blues massacre, “Poor Boy Blues”.  Bret’s ad-lib is a cheesy mess.

The only reason to buy this CD is the new studio material   Two of the new songs are among the best that Poison had recorded up to this time. “So Tell Me Why” is a firecracker of a song, a brilliant rocker held aloft by fantastic guitar melodies. “Only Time Will Tell” is one of their best ballads, along the lines of “Life Goes On” or “I Won’t Forget You” crossed with some Native Tongue maturity.

If you can get Swallow This Live at a decent price (I used to sell it around $8.99), pick it up for the new studio stuff, but don’t blame me if C.C.’s live guitar solo makes your ears bleed!  (Note:  I know this has been reissued as a single disc with various track omissions, so buy according to your needs.)

2/5 stars

Don’t forget that Poison’s second album was originally to be called Swallow This!

REVIEW: Poison – Open Up and Say…Ahh!

POISON – Open Up and Say…Ahh! (1988. 2006 Captiol remaster)

Man, did I feel old when this 20th Anniversary Edition came out. I remember buying the cassette back in ’89 (the year after it was released). I even conned my dad out of the $10 for it by saying it was for a school project! (It was…sort of.)  I purchased this at A&A Records & Tapes on the way home from school.

I’m glad that today, Poison are still around (as a live entity, anyway), and back to the same four guys who rose to fame in the 80’s. Although Flesh & Blood is a good album, and Native Tongue is criminally ignored, Open Up and Say…Ahh! is actually quite strong and best represents the early Poison sound.

Starting off with “Love On The Rocks” (featuring the lyric “swallow this” which was actually the original title of this album), Poison are off to a strong start. The riff is catchy, somewhere between glam rock and old classic rock n’ roll. What C.C. Deville brings to the party is a love of rock n’ roll, and that’s why when he left.  The band went more bluesy, too bluesy for his tastes.  That and the drug addiction did C.C. in. I don’t evem mind his guitar sound on this, I kind of like it. It’s overdriven and shrill, but it rocks and C.C. manipulates his instrument to pull off some cool sub-Frehley solos.

From there it’s the classic “Nothing But A Good Time”. The riff seems ripped off from “Deuce” by Kiss, but then later re-ripped off by Kiss for their song “Never Enough”! Anyway, you know the hits already, so I won’t spend too much time discussing these songs.  Suffice to say that I still hear “Nothin’ But A Good Time” on the radio.

What was actually surprising was that Open Up and Say…Ahh! is more than the sum of its singles. The album tracks are almost entirely as strong. “Back to the Rocking Horse” is another fun, catchy Poison rocker, followed by the harmonica-laden-shoulda-been-a-single “Good Love”. “Tearin’ Down The Walls” ended side one on a fairly strong note, and actually features some interesting changes.

Side two started with “Look But You Can’t Touch”, a juvenile sex song (it sounded juvenile to me even then), which nonetheless has a lot of energy. Then, three singles in a row: “Fallen Angel” (best song on the album), “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” (no comment required), and the Loggins & Messina cover “Your Mama Don’t Dance”. Why was bassist Bobby Dall getting arrested in that video? I still don’t know! The album ended with “Bad To Be Good”, a bit too slow and ploddy, and the weakest song on the record.

This special edition has just a scant two bonus tracks, and one is a useless interview. Most people will stop the CD before the interview. The other is the very raw B-side “Livin’ For The Minute” which, if memory serves, was originally the B-side on the “Every Rose” 7″ single. It’s a fast rocker, demo-quality, and is more akin to the sound of the first Poison album. I don’t know where the interview comes from. In all my years of collecting singles, I’ve never run across it before, so if you care about it, it does seem to be a genuine rarity. “Livin’ For The Minute” has been released multiple times elsewhere. (Missing is the B-side “Gotta Face the Hangman”, available on the Crack A Smile CD.)

Also of note, if you had the censored version of this cover, the original has been restored on this edition.  Yes, this cover was censored.  Columbia House sold a version with the tongue and everything below blacked out.  Packaging-wise, don’t expect much else.

As an album, this is fun and has a great 80’s sound, thanks to the production talents of Tom Werman.  Younger kids will dig it for the pop punk-like energy. Older fans will want it for nostalgia purposes. That, and it still rocks really well.

As much as I usually maligned C.C. DeVille (Swallow This Live is almost unlistenable), I really like his work here. He may be no guitar wizard, but at some point you have to recognize the fun guitar playing here. It’s like toffee — sticky, sweet, and good. Too much might make you sick, but in moderation, it hits the spot. And really, he weaves some really fun melodic fills over his riffs, like icing on a cake.

4/5 stars

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