POISON – 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.)
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.
The 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)