Robbie Crane

REVIEW: Vince Neil – Exposed (1993)

 

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VINCE NEIL – Exposed (1993 Warner)

When Vince Neil finally unleashed his first solo album Exposed in 1993, it looked like he was the early winner in the great battle:  Vince vs. Motley.

As is par for a volatile band like Motley Crue, the acrimony behind the split was intense and overshadowed any music either party was about to come out with.  Even after reading Motley’s book The Dirt, it’s not really clear what happened.  Vince was complaining that he wasn’t into the new Motley music they were working on.  “Like 4th rate Physical Graffiti outtakes” he once commented in Metal Edge, with too much emphasis on keyboards and backing singers.  Crue, meanwhile, felt the lack of dedication coming from the singer.  He had missed a few rehearsals.  After driving through a torrential rainstorm making him late at the studio, he was confronted.  “We’re thinking about having new lead singer auditions again,” said Nikki Sixx to Vince Neil.  The band put out a bogus statement saying Neil was diverting his focus to race cars, and Vince was battling from the bottom again.

After working on one tune with the Damn Yankees (three out of four anyway, minus Ted Nugent) called “You’re Invited (But Your Friend Can’t Come)” for the opening song of the Encino Man soundtrack, it was time to put together a new band.  An early lineup consisted of ex-Ozzy Osbourne bassist Phil Soussan, but that didn’t last.  When Soussan left, newcomer Robbie “Ichabod” Crane (a nickname he pretty much stopped using immediately) switched from rhythm guitar to bass, while the legendary Steve Stevens of Billy Idol fame was the main shredder.  Vik Foxx from Enuff Z’nuff was hired on drums, and another newcomer named Dave Marshall took over the vacant rhythm guitar spot.  Vince wanted two guitars, unlike Motley’s one.

With the ex-Billy Idol axeman by his side, Vince Neil already had everything he needed to make an incredible album.  The help of Stevens, Soussan, and Tommy Shaw & Jack Blades from Damn Yankee meant he had a songwriting dream team.  Fired up and motivated to prove everybody in the music business wrong, Vince was in the zone, and the chemistry was working.  He also beat Motley to the punch by 11 months.

The last thing I expected from a new Vince Neil song would have been a six minute epic with more guitar action than Motley Crue had packed into six albums.  Vince was in great voice at this time, and his singing on this album is exemplary.  On every track, he sounds like he means it.  Crisply captured by producer Ron Nevison, the song is driven forth by the relentless Vik Foxx (sounding like he’s doing his best Rush impression) and the space-age technique of Steve Stevens.  It’s an exotic metal groove, with flash and tricks like you have never heard before.  I don’t know how Stevens does some of the things he does, but that’s why he’s the guitar hero and not me.  If record labels weren’t scared shitless of releasing a six minute single, then this should have been the single.

Instead “Sister of Pain” was the single, a song that does not make as strong an impression.  It’s a hard boned sleezy cock rocker in the Motley fashion, which is probably what they were going for.  Vince felt that since Motley were changing styles, it was up to him to keep the old Crue sound alive.  That’s “Sister of Pain”, a catchy and satisfactory rock single, although still five minutes due to the intense soloing. This is one of the tunes that Vince wrote with Shaw and Blades.

“Can’t Have Your Cake” has a neat slippery riff, and it too was used as a single.  This fits the niche of the “fast Motley rocker”, like (say) “Kickstart My Heart”, though it’s not as heavy.  Thankfully it’s a song to its own, thanks to Stevens’ creative licks.  I like “Fine, Fine Wine” better.  Vince is as dirty as ever, proving he doesn’t need Nikki Sixx to write a sleezy rock lyric.  It’s just a kicking groovy guitar song, perfect for playing air instruments to.

Stevens fans know his flamenco work is incredible.  He gets to show it off for the first 30 seconds of “The Edge”, finally a song about Vince’s supposed true passion — racing!  Not an instantaneous song in any way, “The Edge” has a lot going on but it’s worth the challenge.  This kind of technical rock was beyond Motley Crue before, but with guys like Steve Stevens, Vince was able to show them up a bit.  There’s more of Stevens’ incredible classical guitar on the ballad “Can’t Change Me”, a sentiment I have always identified with.  This is the kind of pop ballad that would have made Vince the king of radio only two years earlier.  Not surprisingly it’s a Tommy Shaw co-write, because that’s exactly who it sounds like.

Scan_20160216 (2)Nothing like a cover to kick off side two, and “Set Me Free” by the Sweet is basically the original “Kickstart my Heart”.  May as well go back to the original and amp it up a bit with some slippery Steve Stevens fretwork.  It’s a heavy, layered presentation of guitars and ass kicking drums, and we can certainly forgive Vince for putting a cover on his album.  Besides, the next track “Living is a Luxury” has a nocturnal, smoky vibe that makes it one of the most interesting cuts.  The jazzy guitar is like nothing on any Motley Crue album.

Then we’re down to a remake of “You’re Invited (But Your Friend Can’t Come)” from Encino Man.  Damn Yankees played on the original, and sonically and vocally, that is the one I prefer.  The album version of course has more guitars.  It’s too bad they couldn’t add that one in as a CD bonus track, but the Encino Man soundtrack was on Hollywood, not Warner.  Regardless of which version we’re listening to, this is still a dynamite blast of adrenaline that seems over way too soon.  I used to play the soundtrack version on repeat in the car.  Rewind and go again.

“Gettin’ Hard” is a great mid-paced rock tune, but what’s odd is that the lyrics in the booklet are nothing like the actual song, except for the choruses.  It’s as if they changed the words at the last minute but forgot to tell the people who print the CD sleeves!  A strange little oddity to go with a grooving cool song.  Out come the acoustics again for the last track, “Forever”, a really sweetly made ballad.  The layers of shimmery guitars make it a class above most ballads of this ilk.  It ends the album on a glowing nostalgic note.

Unfortunately for Vince, he was unable to follow this album with anything decent.  We realistically knew that Steve Stevens wasn’t going to hang around long, but what hurt Vince most was his ill-advised attempt to cross over, getting the Dust Brothers to produce.  1995’s Carved in Stone failed to make any impression whatsoever.  Meanwhile, his former cohorts in Motley Crue quietly cooked up a beast of an album with Bob Rock.  1994’s Motley Crue was about the only thing that could have topped Exposed.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Ratt – Infestation (2010 Japanese and iTunes editions)

RATT – Infestation (2010 Roadrunner Japanese and iTunes editions)

Ratt needed a comeback. Lineup changes galore, deaths, poorly-received changes in sound — forget all that stuff.  The band has since stabilized.  Pearcy’s back on lead vocals, and Carlos Cavazo (ex-Quiet Riot) has taken over guitar duties from John Corabi. Corabi’s a rhythm player, not a soloist (and that’s not a knock on Corabi).  Cavazo rocks out quite a few solos on this album. The difference is noticeable, and it’s a welcome return to something like the Ratt sound of yore. Do you like twin leads? Cavazo and Warren DeMartini rip out a few, each with his own distinct sound, but meshing well like they’ve been doing this forever. Cavazo also contributes strong co-writes to about half the album. Surely, you can’t imagine a better match than this for Ratt.

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[Note:  Since this release, original bassist Juan Crocier has also come back, replacing Robbie Crane.]

Pearcy’s in great voice, the passages of time disguise-able. But be forwarned, if you never liked Pearcy’s style before, this album is not going to change your mind. His vocals are augmented by some nice, but not overdone, backing vocals from the band. Longtime bassist Robbie Crane supplies backing vocals while holding down the bottom end.

INFESTATION_0005The sound of the album is pure Ratt, but modernly produced; surely the best sounding record they’ve done so far. Picture a heavier Out Of The Cellar. There are nods and winks to other eras of Ratt as well: I hear a little bit of “Way Cool” here and there, and damned if “Best Of Me” wouldn’t have fit right in on Detonator. Yet this is no retro-fest, as much as it does echo the 80’s. There are still sounds here that sound tougher and more modern, like the fast and heavy opener “Eat Me Up Alive” (my second favourite song).  There’s filler here, but even the filler is worth holding your finger off the skip button.  All except perhaps the dreadful “A Little Too Much”.

There Japanese bonus track is a cool slow groove rocker called “Scatter”, with a great memorable chorus. This is the best song to me.  Itunes got the track as well, but because I always prefer a physical edition, I bought the Japanese for my physical copy.  You will have to judge the value of that expenditure yourself, however I deemed it worthwhile.

There are also three live bonus tracks on the iTunes version, worth getting. These songs are “You Think You’re Tough”, “Tell The World”, and “Way Cool Jr.”, all previously unreleased and with Cavazo on guitar, “Live from the Rockline Studios”.  “You Think You’re Tough” is my favourite song from Ratt EP.

If you have ever liked Ratt, pick up Infestation if you’re curious what the band sounds like 25 years later. This is a solid Ratt album, not classic, but song for song among their better records.  They’ve retained their signature “Ratt N’ Roll” sound, but also what dignity and integrity a bunch of Ratts have. Well done.

3.333/5 stars