Steven Sweet

REVIEW: Warrant – Cherry Pie (1990, remastered)

scan_20161207WARRANT – Cherry Pie (1990, 2004 Sony remaster)

It was bands like Warrant, and albums like Cherry Pie, that made the 1991 grunge onslaught inevitable.

If Motley Crue were the poor man’s Kiss, and Poison were the poorer man’s Motley Crue, then Warrant are the pauper’s Poison.  Heck, Poison’s C.C. Deville even shows up on guest lead guitar on Cherry Pie‘s title track.  Think about that a moment.  How bad do a band have to be to warrant (no pun intended) a C.C. Deville guest guitar solo?  Guitarists Joey Allen and Erik Turner even confessed to having guitar tutors in the studio helping them come up with their own lead work.

Cherry Pie was an improvement in some regards over the prior album Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich.  The second single, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, remains a high point for this band.  Swampy bluesy guitars and a kick ass melody?  Who cares if that’s not Warrant playing on the acoustic intro (it’s singer Jani Lane’s brother Eric Oswald), and so what if that’s not Warrant on the banjo (that’s producer Beau Hill)?  “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is one of those rare Warrant songs that you just have to get.  Instead of singing about girls, Jani chose to write a story about a murder and a coverup.  It’s far more entertaining than “She’s my cherry pie, put a smile on your face ten miles wide.”

Speaking of “Cherry Pie”, as embarrassing as it is, did you notice that’s not Jani Lane on the opening scream?  It’s an uncredited Dee Snider, sampled from Twisted Sister’s song “I Want This Night (To Last Forever)”.  Guess who produced both albums?  Beau Hill.   Rather, he overproduced the hell out of both albums. Rather misleading.

Warrant’s biggest hit was a ballad, and so Cherry Pie has more.  “I Saw Red” was glossy and enhanced with piano, but the acoustic version that was later released as a B-side was better.  The second ballad, “Blind Faith” had more heft, though it is little more than a rewrite of “Heaven”.  Another acoustic track called “Thin Disguise” was even better than either of these songs, but was relegated to a B-side.  Too bad.  This album could have used it.

Warrant are better when just rocking out.  There are a couple indispensable Warrant rockers on Cherry Pie.  “Mr. Rainmaker” is remarkably powerful with dark clouds.  It’s in the same mold as “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, with a chorus that is still memorable today.  “Bed of Roses” and “Song and Dance Man” are strong also-rans.  There are other notable songs (“Sure Feels Good to Me” set speed records for this band) but on the whole they are a harsh blend of sound-alikes.

Buyers should be aware there are two versions out there of Cherry Pie, “clean” and “dirty”.  The “clean” version is missing the track “Ode to Tipper Gore”, and has a naughty word beeped at the start of the Blackfoot cover “Train Train” (1979).  How unexpected it was to hear that beep, and how ripped off did we feel since it was not advertised as a censored version?  A beep in a rock song is a rare thing indeed.  If you get the uncensored version, you’ll hear the “All a-fuckin’ board!” intro correctly, which is important since “Train Train” absolutely smokes.  “All a-BEEPin’ board!” just didn’t cut it.  Covering “Train Train” was one of the best decisions Warrant made on this album.  Warrant transforms it from a hard southern rocker to a plain old hard rocker, but the transformation works and the groove is the only solid one on Cherry Pie.

As for “Ode to Tipper Gore”, it is just a joke track made up of naughty outtakes from Warrant concerts spliced together into one stream of “fuck”.  (Tipper Gore was behind the PMRC, the scourge of 1980s censorship.)  It is included on the 2004 Sony remastered edition, along with two bonus tracks.  Strangely enough the two bonus tracks have nothing to do with this album.  “Game of War” is the long-sought 1988 demo that garnered Warrant attention at the labels.  It’s unpolished but you can hear how an A&R person looking for the next Poison would have signed this band.  Finally there is a track called “The Power” from a 1992 Cuba Gooding Jr. movie called “Gladiator”.  It is the only song on the CD not produced by Beau Hill.  Erwin Musper gave the band a less cluttered sound, and the song has a corny stadium-ready stomp like “Rock and Roll, Part 2”.

Although you don’t need the remastered version if you just want to check out Cherry Pie, you do need to at least seek out the uncensored version with “Ode to Tipper Gore”.  That way you won’t have to listen to the beep in “Train Train”, which is a song worth having.

2.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Warrant – The Best of Warrant (1996)

WARRANT – The Best of Warrant (1996 Sony)

Whooboy.  Look, I’m sure Warrant are a nice bunch of guys, and poor Jani sure suffered his demons.  I’ve always considered Warrant a bit of a jokey band, and that was certainly true for the first two albums.  Even when I did love ’em (that would be August and September of 1989), I always sensed that they weren’t taking anything very seriously.   I had their live video, Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich – Live. Lemme tell ya, they were just too jokey and inconsistent live. I outgrew Warrant pretty fast. Which in a way was too bad, because the next album after our “breakup” was the critically acclaimed third record Dog Eat Dog.

All this being said, their first Best Of (1996) was actually a reasonably solid collection of songs, if a bit long at 57 minutes.  You get the three big hits from album #1, including “Down Boys”, “Sometimes She Cries”, and “Heaven”.  Decent also-rans from that album include “32 Pennies” and “Big Talk”.  Nothing but pure stink is “D.R.F.S.R.”, a song I never understood the popularity of among Warrant fans.  I guess the joke is still funny to some?

Album #2, Cherry Pie, was a mixed bag like its predecessor.  The title track of course was the biggest steaming pile of crap released by a rock band in the year 1990.  Having said that, there is video evidence of a young LeBrain rocking out to it, but I didn’t really know what Jani was singing about!  We all have our musical skeletons in our closets, I believe.  Mine is that there is a VHS tape in my house right now with footage of me, age 18, lip synching to “Cherry Pie”.  I cannot lie about that.

Cherry Pie didn’t suck all the way through, however.  It was a step up in sound, and boasted some cool tunes.  “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” is the one Warrant song that really still stands up today as a great single.  “Mr. Rainmaker” is also a pretty memorable rocker, with chorus built to please.  I like that they included two single B-sides on this set.  The pop rock track “Thin Disguise” was always better than most of the album tracks.  Perhaps it was too middle of the road?  Not quite ballad, not quite rocker, but pretty classy nonetheless.  And please note, “classy” is not a word often used to describe a Warrant song.  The other B-side was the acoustic version of “I Saw Red”, which was actually released as its own music video.

Things seemed to get most interesting with Warrant on their third album.  By 1992, Warrant were absolutely buried by the new wave of grunge rock bands that swept in between their albums.   They were also playing catch-up with the biggest metal albums of the period, Metallica and Slave to the Grind (Skid Row).  These high-charting smash hits were much heavier than Warrant’s general output.  They had to heavy up; they really had no choice.  They started wearing Doc Marten boots and growing facial stubble.  It all seemed so very contrived, and according to Jani Lane, it was.  Even though he was the soul songwriter, he later claimed to strongly dislike the new heavier direction Warrant took.  He quit Warrant briefly after this album to explore mellower Mellencamp-esque songs and ballads.  It was all very shocking and confusing, considering that Warrant’s heavy and choppy single “Machine Gun” was so fucking awesome.  Not that it mattered.  Nobody but die-hards were listening to Warrant in 1992.  I only ever saw the video for “Machine Gun” on TV once.  Once!  Compare that to the mega-exposure that “Heaven” and “I Saw Red” once had.

What Sony should have done with this CD is end it there.  But no, they tacked on one more useless song at the end, the horrendously putrid cover of “We Will Rock You”.  This was done for a really early Cuba Gooding Jr. movie called Gladiator.  Warrant actually had two songs on the soundtrack, but this one was released as a single.  In my opinion, if you choose to cover “We Will Rock You”, then you are doomed.  Warrant were doomed before they even set foot in a recording studio.

Overall, not a bad little Best Of.  You get the requisite non-album tracks, and they are generally good (“We Will Rock You” being the big exception).  All the big songs are included.  You have to wade through a little bit of poo, but otherwise The Best of Warrant is pretty solid.

3.5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Warrant – Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich (Remaster)

Scan_20150915WARRANT – Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich (1989, 2004 Sony remaster)

In 1989, I bought this album as soon as it came out, based on hype alone — never heard a note.  Put it on, and felt immediately that this was a middle-of-the-road hard rock album with little of their own to bring to the genre.  That didn’t stop me from becoming a big fan, of course.  I haven’t played Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich in about a decade.  I wonder what it sounds like today?

I hate to speak ill of the dead, but I think one of the reasons my love of Warrant didn’t last was Jani Lane.  I’m sorry, Warrant fans.  I don’t think Jani’s voice was anything special.  He had an ability to deliver pop hooks, but he always seemed to live in the shadow of other singers who had more character to their voices.  I mean no disrespect to Jani, but that is the way my ears have always heard it.

Things sure started on a great note.  “32 Pennies” is just fun hard rock, with loads of hook and that glam rock riff that Motley Crue mastered a few years prior.  Beau Hill’s production is bland but not bad.  There is a vague Aerosmith vibe, crossed with Motley and Poison — 1989 in a nutshell (or should I say a Ragu jar?).  “32 Pennies” is still good for rocking out to, and I have to admit that the guitar solos smoke.  Similar is “Down Boys”, the first single and video.  Even today, this is probably the catchiest thing Warrant have ever done.  It’s pure nonsense, of course:

Where the down boys go? Go!
Where the down boys go? Go-oh-oh-oh!
Where the down boys go? Ya,
I wanna go where the down boys go, baby!

“Big Talk” was a single too, and I had forgotten all about this one. It boasts some fun lite-Lizzy guitar harmonies and a great chorus. Count this as another good Warrant tune. None of these songs will challenge the listener in any way, but they have enough guitar and hooks to keep you engaged. But what happens when you throw a ballad into the mix?

Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich had two ballads, the first of which was the electric “Sometimes She Cries”. A solid chorus made this one a hit, although you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between this and a Bon Jovi song. There are a few cheesy key changes and some absolutely ball-busting notes that Jani hits, and it’s all not too bad. Side one ended on a speedy rocker: “So Damn Pretty (Should Be Against the Law)”. It could be a Motley Crue outtake from Theater of Pain, but it’s not. Faceless, with turgid sounding drums, all it really had going for it is velocity. Fun, but derivative. The guitar solos are the best part.

The title track “D.R.F.S.R.” is pure crap. Lyrically, musically, and production-wise, this sucks. I really can’t believe how bad the drums sound. This was once considered acceptable!  “In the Sticks” isn’t bad.  It sounds vaguely like another song that I can’t quite think of right now.  But that goes for the whole album!  It’s still a very enjoyable song, with that late-80’s good time slow riding vibe.  Cruisin’ with the windows down.

The big hit, the one everybody remembers today, was the acoustic ballad “Heaven”.  It’s really hard to be objective about this song, because I used to be so into it, but it makes me cringe today!  Let’s just move on.

“Ridin’ High” brings the thrills back. Sounding a heck of a lot like their future tourmates Poison, Warrant found the gas pedal again. The closing track “Cold Sweat” is much in the same vein. You gotta give Warrant credit for one thing, they wore their influences on their sleeves. The only problem was, it was the same bunch of bands that influenced every other band on the Sunset Strip in 1989. When you buy this Warrant album, you are at least getting what you think you’re getting.

Sony threw on two bonus tracks for this edition. Both are 1988 demos that failed to make the cut. Ironically, for demos, the drums actually sound better! They don’t sound like samples on these demos. “Only A Man”, an acoustic ballad, sounds entirely more sincere and classic than “Heaven” does. It’s harder edged and resembles Skid Row, who had yet to release their first album. “All Night Long” is a slow rocker, but it’s no better or worse than the rest of the album. Both songs could have been on the album originally had it not been limited to just 10 tracks.

Conclusion:  What stood out in 1989 fades into the woodwork today.

2/5 stars