Open Up And Say…Ah!

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 – 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