Warren DeMartini

REVIEW: Ratt – Detonator (Part Five of The Atlantic Years series)

Part Five of Five

RATT – Detonator (Originally 1990, 2020 reissue — The Atlantic Years 1984-1990 box set)

Hit the emergency breaks!  If Ratt were spinning their tires commercially, then Atlantic sought to change course.  Producer Beau Hill was given the deep six, and new stewardship was sought.  Desmond Child was one of the most successful writers of the 80s, and so Child was hired to co-wrote every song on Detonator.  From his stable of talent came co-producer Sir Arthur Payson.  Even Jon Bon Jovi showed up for a backing vocal.  (Returning the favour, Ratt’s Robbin Crosby played on Jon’s own Blaze of Glory.)

Needless to say, the fifth and final Ratt album on Atlantic was a change in direction.  The album split fans, with some balking at the new commercial sound of the band.  Others appreciated the slicker, tighter songwriting.

Opener “Shame Shame Shame” (and its “Intro to Shame”) is a gleaming example of the new collaboration, bearing sweet fruit.  The bite of the old rodent remains, and the song is trimmed of any fat the old Ratt was carrying around.  Warren’s guitar tone is buttery beauty.  While DeMartini shines, Robbin Crosby was noticeably less involved with this album.  He was suffering from addiction and only has two credits on Detonator.  He had six on Reach for the Sky.

“Lovin’ You’s A Dirty Job” was the lead single, and indicates even the squeaky clean Desmond Child couldn’t scrub Ratt free of sleaze.  He helped make them more effective at it, and the result is a song reminiscent of “Lay It Down”, but without the menace.  The next track “Scratch That Itch” has a hint of the heavy Ratt from Dancing Undercover.  The guitar smokes even if the melody does not.  But then, “One Step Away” is virtually all melody!  It is nothing like the Ratt N’ Roll of the past, but is an undeniably catchy summer rock tune.  It sounds more like a Poison single, but with more bite.  It could even be the album highlight.

The album has some surprisingly tough deep cuts.  “Hard Time” is simple and effective.  Pearcy shows his fangs and Desmond keeps it melodic.  “Heads I Win, Tails You Lose” is…less effective.  You can definitely hear Jon on it, and at least Warren’s lead guitar tone is brilliant.  Otherwise it is filler.  “All Or Nothing” and “Can’t Wait On Love” are the two Robbin co-writes.  These are some of the most Ratt-like tracks.  Quite a lot stronger than the usual Ratt album cuts.

“Givin’ Yourself Away” is quite un-Ratt.  This is not a band known for their ballads.  Pearcy isn’t that kind of singer.  “Givin’ Yourself Away” only works in its context:  a song written for radio in the last dying days of the hard rock era, right down to the contrived key change at the end.  It is thick with backing keyboards.  Diane Warren and Desmond Child co-wrote it with Pearcy, so you can use your imagination.  The people it was written for (Bon Jovi fans) will love it.

Closer “Top Secret” is closest in sound to old-school Ratt.  It could have been on Out of the Cellar for the vibe it exudes.

This CD, more than the others in the series, is packed with bonus tracks.  Two tepid remixes of “Lovin’ You’s A Dirty Job” are here for the collector.  But what some people forget is that before they split, Ratt released one more amazing tune:  “Nobody Rides For Free”.  This stripped-back gem was from the Point Break soundtrack in 1991 — the opening track on it, in fact.  It was the first music video to feature Ratt as a four-piece without Robbin Crosby.  Yet it remains a tough, mean Ratt track with great lyrics and chorus.  Maybe better than anything on Detonator itself.

Detonator, like most Ratt albums, is a bumpy ride.  This time the valleys are deeper, but there is also less pure filler.  The result is a Ratt album that is a more consistently entertaining listen.  The slicker production isn’t an impediment to enjoyment.  But it didn’t save Ratt’s fortunes.  Crosby was out, and the band was put on ice shortly after.  But like most rodents, Ratt was hard to get rid of!

3.5/5 stars

The Atlantic Years 1984-1990:

REVIEW: Ratt – Reach for the Sky (Part Four of The Atlantic Years series)

Part Four of Five

RATT – Reach for the Sky (Originally 1988, 2020 reissue — The Atlantic Years 1984-1990 box set)

One might suspect that Ratt’s decline in sales (peeling off approximately 1,000,000 buyers every album), they decided to change things up a bit.  The first three Ratt platters were very much in the same mould.  Little variation, just repeating that “Ratt N’ Rott” formula.  Initially they ditched producer Beau Hill to work with Mike Stone, but the record label wasn’t happy and brought Hill back to finish.

Indeed, the opener “City to City” does sound like a new rodent.  You can’t mistake them for anyone else once Pearcy starts yowling, but the slick song is fresher.  Chugging away in a mid-tempo style, it’s a bangin’ start.  But it’s the second track (and second single) that really kicks.  “I Want a Woman” retained the sleaze but contained more focus on melody with an arena-sized chorus.

The third track, and first single, was the controversial “Way Cool Jr.”.  Ratt with horns; oh my!  It was the biggest leap for the rodents and it did give them a minor charting hit.  Dipping into the blues, and eschewing the heavy histrionics.  Letting the groove of the song work, and not overpowering it.  Truth is Ratt should have tried stretching out a long time before.

Now that the big tracks are out of the way, how does the rest of the album hold up?  Not too badly.  Old-style Ratt returns on “Don’t Bite the Hand”, but at least with more melody than Dancing Undercover offered.  They go ballady on “I Want to Love You Tonight”, kind of a new thing for Ratt, and one they’d explore again in the near future.  That’s side one.

A heavy shuffle called “Chain Reaction” kicks off the second side, a welcome return to velocity.  They return to the mid-tempo zone on “No Surprise”, which sounds like something Gene Simmons might have written for an 80s Kiss album.  Good song, adequate hooks.  “Bottom Line” is in a similar ball park.  If it sounds like Ratt had help writing these songs, it might be because Beau Hill has a credit on most of them.  He only had one on Dancing Undercover.  That could be why this album has so much more melody and attention to songwriting.  The hit-ready “What’s It Gonna Be” is a prime example, almost sounding like Van Hagar.  A little too hard-edged for OU812, but perfect for a Ratt.  A foreshadowing of the kind of songs they would write for their fifth album.

The album closes on a hard rocker that Hill didn’t co-write called “What I’m After”.  A decent closer that doesn’t quite gel fully, but close enough for rock n’ roll.  Or Ratt N’ Roll.

Of all the discs in The Atlantic Years box set, Reach for the Sky has one of the best bonus tracks.  It’s an acoustic version of “Way Cool Jr.” from MTV Unplugged which chronologically happened in 1990 with Michael Schenker on guitar, filling in for Robbin Crosby who was in rehab.  The unforgiving unplugged format can separate the men from the boys, and Ratt make the grade.  Pearcy proves he can do that Ratt voice without layers of overdubs and effects.  Meanwhile, Bobby Blotzer plays some interesting non-drum percussion parts.  With Schenker on board, the mid-song acoustic segment really smokes.  Ratt could have had a whole new side to their career, had they pursued this swampy acoustic direction with Michael instead of breaking up.

But that is still in Ratt’s future; there is one more album to go on this series.  Reach For the Sky sustained Ratt’s sales.  There was no decline this time and they sold a million.  That still wasn’t good enough.  Phone calls were made and Desmond Child, Dianne Warren, Sir Arthur Payson, and one Jon Bon Jovi were about to enter the picture.

Whether Reach sold enough copies or not is irrelevant to the quality of the music, which polished the sound up to a necessary level after the disappointing Dancing Undercover.  It was a step towards the commercial, but they couldn’t do two tuneless albums in a row and survive.

3.5/5 stars

 

The Atlantic Years 1984-1990:

REVIEW: Ratt – Dancing Undercover (Part Three of The Atlantic Years series)

Part Three of Five

RATT – Dancing Undercover (Originally 1986, 2020 reissue — The Atlantic Years 1984-1990 box set)

Ratt’s fortunes continued to fall on their third album Dancing Undercover.  Their debut went triple platinum and the second album went double.  You didnt need an expert prognosticator to predict that the third album would go platinum and no further.  Which is still very respectable, but the trend was not good.

Opening single “Dance” was solid, with a poppy melody and stuttery 80s guitar lick.  Sleazy pop, rodent style.  A stock Ratt prowler comes second, called “One Good Lover”.  It packs punch, wicked guitars, and a few decent hooks.  Without missing a beat, they accelerate into “Drive Me Crazy” which has a speedy Hollywood-built engine.  Drummer Bobby Blotzer impresses with the machine gun fills.  Unsurprisingly, the drummer has a writing credit on it.  Decent tune, with a clunky arrangement.

The band slides into “Slip of the Lip”, which made for a pretty cool live-style video.  It is a clear album highlight, and most successfully nails the sleaze rock vibe that Ratt peddle in.    They end the first side on the incendiary “Body Talk”; straight-up Ratt thrash.  Probably the heaviest Ratt track ever, even “Body Talk” made for a wicked video.  It was hard to picture Ratt pushing it this fast and hard, but they did, and successfully so.

“Looking For Love” had to be a sleaze rocker. The second side doesn’t open on a great song, but it certainly is a Ratt song.  You couldn’t mistake it for any of their peers.  It does boast a pretty good chorus, even if the rest of the song doesn’t quite nail it.  On the other hand, “7th Avenue” has a menacing vibe and not much else.  “It Doesn’t Matter” has some life.  Unfortunately the second side just doesn’t have enough bite, nor enough good songs.  “Take a Chance” borrows a few chords from “Slip of the Lip” but isn’t nearly as good.  At least the closer “Enough is Enough” has a nice clean guitar part for variety’s sake, but side two is virtually without hooks.

This edition comes with a single edit of “Dance” as the bonus track, which at least allows the album to end on a good song, albeit a repeated one.

2.75/5 stars

The Atlantic Years 1984-1990:

 

 

REVIEW: Ratt – Invasion of Your Privacy (Part Two of The Atlantic Years series)

Part Two of Five

RATT – Invasion of Your Privacy (Originally 1985, 2020 reissue — The Atlantic Years 1984-1990 box set)

Going triple platinum on their debut album, Ratt had a lot of expectations going into a followup.  They resumed working with producer Beau Hill and didn’t change up much in their formula.  The result was a double platinum second record, another sales success.  But what about the tunes?

Lead track “You’re In Love” was chosen as a speedy, sleek, metallic and melodic single.  A step up in songwriting, “You’re In Love” packs power and horny Stephen Pearcy passion.  Wicked solo by Warren DeMartini.  The simple riff/melody combo was all the rodents needed to score a hit and a career highlight.  As an album opener, it revs the engine but it is also the fastest track you’ll get on Invasion of Your Privacy.

A tasty heavy riff opens up “Never Use Love”, a nice chugging album track.  Nothing here in terms of a memorable chorus, so strictly album filler.  Not road tape worthy without a decent chorus.  Great Robbin Crosby solo though.  Fortunately the slick first single, “Lay It Down” comes in for the save.  Take “You’re In Love” and slow it down to a sexy locked groove, and you get “Lay It Down”.  Pearcy was not one for subtlety.  “I know you really want to lay it down,” he beckons, and no points for guessing what “it” is.

Track four, “Give It All”, is a decent album cut, with the hooks and chugging Ratt N’ Roll style riffs that people expected.  A track with single potential, had they released another.  Another pretty good album track, “Closer To My Heart”, slows it down but not quite into ballad territory.  More like a slow dirge to close side one.

The second side opens on “Between the Eyes”, a disjointed tune that needs some tightening up.  Some cool hooks but nothing to tie them together into a song.  “What You Give Is What You Get” boasts a cool, tough little chorus and some quality guitar.  Great tune other than a misfitting pre-chorus.  It has a dark, foreboding vibe that Ratt rarely nail this well.   “Got Me on the Line” is a pretty solid deep cut, typical uptempo Ratt N’ Roll.  The solo in particular smokes.  “You Should Know by Now” is a bit clunky, but you can hear what they were going for.  They were trying for a big pop rock chorus, but they welded it to the wrong song.

Closing on “Dangerous But Worth the Risk”, the album comes to a strong ending.  It chugs along with that Ratt N’ Roll groove that embodies the sound of Motley Crue assimilating all of Hollywood California in a single night.  Though Ratt’s sound is not something as unique as they used to sell it as, it does have a niche.  It rarely squirms out of that niche.  Invasion of Your Privacy does not stray far from the debut, and doesn’t add any new wrinkles.  It’s the next batch of songs and all but equal in strength to the first batch.

Each CD in this box set comes with bonus material from singles, and this time it’s a single edit for “What You Give Is What You Get”.  The guitar solo is sadly trimmed by 20 seconds for the radio, but no problem hearing this cool song twice.

3.5/5 stars

 

RE-REVIEW: Ratt – Out of the Cellar (Part One of The Atlantic Years series)

Part One of Five

RATT – Out of the Cellar (Originally 1984, 2020 reissue — The Atlantic Years 1984-1990 box set)

Ratt’s first full-length Out of the Cellar was a multiplatinum smash.  The band didn’t come out of nowhere, with a successful EP already under their fur.  Though an undeniable commercial success, was Out of the Cellar that great?  Let’s listen with fresh ears to the recent reissue in The Atlantic Years 1984-1990 box set, and see if we can hear with objectivity what those rodents were up to.

The disorienting sound of backwards drums heralds in opener “Wanted Man”, an inventive way to make their introduction.  These Ratts were cowboys, although they wore too much makeup for the ranch.  A simple, slow, chomping riff is menacing enough while Stephen Pearcy growls though.  The capable harmonies of the band and especially Juan Crocier help nail the melodies that Pearcy alone can’t.  A great track worthy of a multiplatinum album.

“You’re In Trouble” is…less worthy.  Clunky bass, chaotic guitars.  But “Round and Round”?  Still as great as ever.  As regal as these rodents are ever likely to sound.  A keen sense of melody, rhythm and vibe mixed together with a sweaty Stephen Pearcy.  Brilliant solo work from Warren DeMartini, and perfectly layered harmonies under the production of Beau Hill.

A nice choppy guitar bodes well on “In Your Direction”, a slinky number that serves Stephen’s style well.  Square, head-bangin’ rhythm from Bobby “Da Blotz” Blotzer.  Decent song, but with only one trick.  “She Wants Money” is more fun, a fast upbeat blast on a familiar theme.  Robbin “King” Crosby on lead guitar here.

The second side opens “Lack of Communication”, a biting track just missing one key ingredient:  a decent chorus.  The saw-like riff smokes, the verses are great, but it never resolves into a definitive hook.

“Back For More” is a little disjointed but salvages it with a killer chorus.  Screamin’ Pearcy and the rodent choir give it the final polish.  Brilliant solo work here by Warren.  Then, one of the best non-singles “The Morning After” will leave you drenched.  It has a bit of a Quiet Riot vibe (Carlos Cavazo ended up in Ratt much later).  “I’m Insane” is mindless fun; just bad boy rock with the popular “I’m crazy” theme that their pal Ozzy was milking for millions.  Finally the album closes on “Scene of the Crime” which has a neat guitar hook that unfortunately is all but unrelated to the rest of the song.  Some cool melodies with the patented Ratt harmonies here.

The box set comes with minor bonus tracks on each disc.  This one has a single edit (3:46) of “Round and Round”.  No problem hearing “Round and Round” twice, but missing most of the solo?  Ugh.  Really bad edit.

Good start to the Ratt The Atlantic Years 1984-1990 box set, and better than memory served.  Rest in peace to Tawny Kitaen: the cover model on this album, the first EP, and the box set itself.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Ratt – Ratt & Roll 8191 (1991) #200wordchallenge

200 word

It’s the #200wordchallenge!  Rock journalist Mitch Lafon has challenged me to up my game.  Back in his print days, Mitch used to have a strict 200 word quota — no more no less.*  It separated the wheat from the chaff.  Click the link to see all the entries.

Scan_20160822RATT – Ratt & Roll 8191 (1991 Atlantic)

Ratt used to claim that their music was so unique that it deserved the title “Ratt n’ Roll”. This 19 track compilation is the one to get to test that theory. With all the key songs, including two from the first EP and a newbie, Ratt & Roll 8191 (Yes, that’s the actual title) will provide all the spills, thrills and chills that Ratt are known for. And in fact, it makes for a heck of a 77 minute CD. You’d think that would be overkill. You’d be wrong. Sleezy hard rock, flashy 80’s guitars, big drums and hooks are in store for you.

So “You Think You’re Tough”? Spin this CD “Round and Round”. Before you know it, “You’re in Love”. Get down and “Dance” just like “Way Cool Jr.”! Soon you’ll be “Back For More”, in fact it’s only “One Step Away”. Or one click away, rather, but keep in mind that “Nobody Rides For Free”. Still, Ratt & Roll can be found affordably. If you’re loaded with cash, look for a Japanese version with a 3″ bonus EP from MTV Unplugged featuring guest Michael Schenker!

If you don’t pick up this album, “Shame Shame Shame” on you.

4.5/5 stars

Scan_20160822 (2)

*Not including title or score

REVIEW: Ratt – Out of the Cellar (1984)

Scan_20150801RATT – Out of the Cellar (1984 Atlantic)

Out of the Cellar was my first Ratt album, acquired in a trade from next door neighbour George.  Considering how big Ratt were at the time, I expected it to be better.  In the 80’s, I felt like Out of the Cellar was a handful of singles padded out by filler.  I haven’t played the whole album in years (at least five), so this review is coming from a fresh perspective.  Dusting off the CD, I note on the credits the name of producer Beau Hill — never one of my favourites.

One of the aforementioned singles, “Wanted Man”, opens the album on an up note.  The cowboy motif has been popular in hard rock at least since David Lee Roth wore buttless chaps.  Tough, slow and menacing is “Wanted Man”.  Everything about it is classic hard rock.  Finger-blurring solos, thick backing vocals (courtesy of Juan Crocier mostly), and a big chorus are all it takes in the world of Ratt.  “Wanted Man” has always been a high point from Out of the Cellar, and it remains just as cool today.

“You’re in Trouble” kinda smells funny, as rock songs with funky bass often do.  Great chorus, but the rest of the song fails to generate any sort of fist-pumping.  This is easily forgotten since the third track is the big one.  “Round and Round”…what is it about this song?  It’s still irresistible today.  Why?  Everything clicks.  It is the perfect formulation of Robbin’s riffing, Warren’s picking, and Steven’s sneer.  Bobby and Juan keep the pulse tough and punchy.  It’s just one of those magical songs from that era that still has the goods.

Moving on, “In Your Direction” is suitable for an album track.  Ratt referred to their sound as “Ratt N’ Roll”, because according to them, it was their own sound unlike other bands.  That may be so, but unfortunately Ratt N’ Roll is pretty limited as far as genres go.  If you cross “Wanted Man” with “You’re In Trouble”, you get something like “In Your Direction”.  Ratt albums have always suffered from too many soundalike songs.  Smoking solo though — very Eddie-like.  “She Wants Money” is pretty good.  These old melodies are coming back, as are old memories.  “She Wants Money” is one of the strongest non-singles on Out of the Cellar.

Frustratingly, “Lack of Communication” is a good song that lacks a good chorus.  “Lack of communication, back off!”  Something’s not clicking there, which is too bad because the rest of the song was really decent.  What we need now is another single.  “Back For More” was always outstanding for a Ratt song. The acoustic intro was the only soft moment, on an album composed 100% of rockers. “Back For More” is punchy and memorable, a pretty great example of Ratt N’ Roll because it doesn’t sound too much like the other songs.

Stormy guitars and cool Pearcy vocals keep “The Morning After” rocking ’til dawn. “I’m Insane” ain’t too bad, another nondescript pedal-to-the-metal Ratt N’ Roller. “Scene of the Crime” is another fairless faceless Ratt song, which closes the album. It’s a fairly limp ending, and there’s nothing about the production that really aids or abets the album.

Listening to Out of the Cellar today is much the same as it was in the 80’s. It has enough high points to give credit where credit is due, but given the chance to listen to it or a “best of” CD, you’re going to go with the compilation. It’s too bad Ratt couldn’t have tightened up some of these songs a bit first, in the writing stage.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Whitesnake – Greatest Hits (1994)

WSWHITESNAKE – Greatest Hits (1994 Geffen)

I don’t own this CD.  Never have, actually.  I gave it enough in-store play (only while working alone!) that I have no problem reviewing it. This Greatest Hits CD dates back to 1994, the year I first started working at the Record Store. As such, it was the first ever official Whitesnake Greatest Hits CD, the first of many. The band had been broken up for about four years at that point. Even by 1994 standards, it was only an OK release. It did contain some rare tracks, but was limited to Whitesnake’s 1984-1989 Geffen output only. For budget-priced collections, I would recommend the cheaper 20th Century Masters – The Millennium Collection because it still has all the hit singles from that period at a lower price. For fans who need more, the much better Whitesnake Gold or Silver Anniversary Collection make a more complete picture with more rarities and deep album cuts. These of course weren’t available in 1994.  Today music buyers have a lot more to choose from.

One inclusion that some listeners may not enjoy about Greatest Hits is the version of “Here I Go Again” chosen. This is not the well-known album version that most people have heard. This is the “single remix” with different guitar solos (by guest Dan Huff) and more keyboards. Some radio stations do play it from time to time, but I think most casual buyers would listen to this and say, “I don’t like it as much”.  And nor do I, but it is a rarity.

Otherwise, this album (like 20th Century Masters) contains every hit single from the period, and nothing from the blues-based records before. It does feature some other cool rarities: the B-side “Sweet Lady Luck” featuring Steve Vai, “Looking For Love”, and “You’re Gonna Break My Heart Again”. However, with the many compilations and remasters released since 1994, these songs are no longer hard to find. “Sweet Lady Luck” was even released on a Steve Vai boxed set!

Rounding out this selection of hits and rare tracks are deeper album cuts.  These are include the glossy Kashmir-esque “Judgement Day”, “Crying in the Rain ’87”, “Slow Poke Music” and the wicked “Slide It In”.  They help balance out the ballad-y hits that Whitesnake were adept at writing.

Interestingly, when this album was released, David Coverdale assembled a new, shortlived Whitesnake and toured for it. That version of Whitesnake included former members Rudy Sarzo and Adrian Vandenberg, both of the 1987-1990 version of the band. It also included drummer Denny Carmassi (Coverdale-Page) and guitarist Warren DeMartini (Ratt). Shame that no live recordings from this version of the band have never been released. The band disolved for several year again after this, only to reform in 1997 with a new lineup including Carmassi and Vandenberg.

This album is only mildly better than 20th Century Masters, but is inferior to the more recent, more comprehensive compilations I have mentioned. Buy at a sensible price point.

2/5 stars
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