KISS – “Smashes, Thrashes & Hits” (1988)

KISSReleased in 1988, Smashes, Thrashes & Hits was a KISS compilation featuring 15 songs.  At the time of its release it was the third “greatest hits” style package the band had released.  KISS released Double Platinum in 1978 and Killers in 1982 (though Killers wasn’t released in the United States).  Nowadays there are so many KISS compilations out there that it’s impossible to keep track.  KISS has found a way to re-package the same songs over and over to extract every last dollar from their dedicated fan base.  For example, if you include live albums, box sets, as well as hits compilations, the song Rock And Roll All Nite has appeared on about twenty different KISS albums!

I love to make fun of KISS, but I’ll be damned if anyone tries to tell me they didn’t have some good songs.  It kind of reminds me of a great George Costanza line from an episode of Seinfeld where he says “If you take everything I’ve accomplished in my entire life and condense it down into one day, it looks decent!”If you rifle through the huge KISS catalog and combine all the best songs on one album… it’s decent!  Smashes, Thrashes & Hits is proof positive.  It features 13 KISS “classics” as well as two new songs.  The new songs are Paul Stanley/Desmond Child collaborations in the hair band vein of 1987’s Crazy Nights album.  In one song Stanley sings that “love’s like a muscle and you make me want to flex” while in the other he sings that “love’s like a glove and it fits just right”.  So… yeah… new songs.

It’s hard to argue with the 13 hits compiled on Smashes, Thrashes & Hits.  All deserve to be there.  Unfortunately there wasn’t enough room for everything, so certain favorites are excluded including Hard Lock Woman, Cold Gin, or anything from Crazy Nights.  But since Crazy Nights had just come out a year earlier it’s easy to understand why something like Reason To Live didn’t make the cut.  (Note: The U.K. version of Smashes, Thrashes & Hits actually did include two songs from Crazy Nights.)

I grew up with an older brother who was an absolute KISS fanatic.  He probably has all twenty of the aforementioned albums which include some form or another of Rock And Roll All Night.  So I am very familiar with the KISS catalog through the process of osmosis.  In fact, I’ve heard songs like Detroit Rock City and Love Gun so many times that I’m pretty numb to them by this point.  Nevertheless, this compilation is a gold mine of KISS treasures.  While KISS is known for their big “shout it loud” choruses that etch themselves on your brain, I’ve got to say that they wrote some of the catchiest verse sections of any band around.  The verse sections on tunes like Strutter, I Love It Loud and Lick It Up are ridiculously catchy.  And let’s not forget the opening line of Deuce — “Get up and get your Grandma outta here!”.  One of my favorite lyrical pearls!

The version of Beth that appears on Smashes, Thrashes & Hits does not have the original Peter Criss vocal track.  Instead, then-KISS drummer Eric Carr sings on this version.  He does a surprisingly good job, but it’s no match for the classic original.  Normally I would cry foul on something like this, but since Eric Carr ended up passing away a few years later it is kind of sweet to have this version to remember Carr by.  My score: A+

Blue Tears – “Blue Tears” (1990)

Blue TearsAnother reviewer pointed out that the Blue Tears album is basically an overt attempt to combine Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet and Def Leppard’s Hysteria.  I could not agree more!  (In fact, I’m about to echo almost every point made in that review.)  It seems to me that Blue Tear’s leader Gregg Fulkerson (writer, vocals, guitars, keyboards) saw the mind-boggling success of the aforementioned albums and thought he could do with them what Resse’s did with peanut butter and chocolate.  Sounds like a pretty sound business venture to me — on paper, at least.  After all, those two albums each sold in the tens of millions.  If Blue Tears could have managed to siphon some residual table scraps from those kind of sales — to even sniff the underwear of those albums — they could have (maybe) sold a cool half-million.  Of course, it didn’t turn out that way.  That’s because even when you make a shrewd business move like Blue Tears, at the end of the day the odds are almost insurmountable for rock bands to “make it”.  It also didn’t help that Blue Tears came out a few years after Slippery When Wet and Hysteria, or that the album was released by one of the worst rock labels — MCA.

Gregg Fulkerson drew “inspiration” from Jon Bon Jovi with regards to his singing style and his lyrics.  But since Jon Bon Jovi’s lyrics were essentially a rip-off of Bruce Springsteen, I’m not sure what we call Fulkerson’s lyrics.  A double rip-off?  Meanwhile, the production on Blue Tears takes its “inspiration” from Mutt Lange’s knob job on Hysteria.  Each chorus comes by way of an army of voices meticulously layered together, and the snare drum has that stiff, over-processed sound that Hysteria helped spread like the plague across the late-eighties rock landscape.

The cynic in me cries out that Blue Tears is nothing but a soulless imitation of two soulless records.  Yes, I do think that Slippery When Wet and Hysteria were soulless — but I won’t deny that they were packed with hits.  I also cannot deny that Fulkerson also knew how to write hits.  It’s just these particular hits never became actual hits.  Album opener Rockin’ With The Radio could very well have made a splash in the mid-eighties when the likes of Sammy Hagar, Night Ranger, and Autograph were dominating the airwaves with their vanilla rock anthems.  And the song Crush would have certainly been a hit if it had been included on HysteriaCrush is basically the best song Def Leppard never wrote!  (Listen for yourself here.)  I would like to think that in some parallel universe that strippers are “putting themselves through college” dancing to Crush instead of Pour Some Sugar On Me.  The truth is, about half of Blue Tears is pretty darn entertaining.  Call it a guilty pleasure.  My score: B- 

Whiplash – “Power And Pain” (1986)

WhiplashWhiplash was a a thrash trio out of New Jersey.  All three were named Tony.  You may think that’s a heck of a coincidence, but the fact is there are some places in the northeast where you can’t spit without hitting someone named Tony (my hometown in southern Rhode Island included).

Power And Pain (Roadrunner Records) was one of the fastest and most intense thrash albums to come out in 1986.  It’s right up there with albums like Reign In Blood by Slayer and Pleasure To Kill by Kreator.  But unlike those other bands, Whiplash actually tried to put some hooks in their songs.  Unfortunately, I think the vocals by guitarist Tony Portaro are a big negative for this album.  He sings in one of those harsh, proto-death voices — which I hate.  While I realize there is a certain amount of showmanship and drama that singers must use to better get their point across, I don’t like it when they use a fake voice instead of their natural voice. That’s why I will never “get” death metal.  It just seems like faux aggression to me.  The best music is genuine.  Whiplash’s neck-breaking thrash attack was indeed genuine, but the vocals were too forced — and I can’t seem to get past that.  My score: C+

Amulance – “Feel The Pain” (1989)

AmulancePower, speed, and thrash metal collide on Amulance’s Feel The Pain.  This 1989 release comes to our ears courtesy of a five-piece act out of Illinois.  Amulance were signed with New Renaissance Records, which was basically the poor man’s Metal Blade in the eighties.  Evidently the deal was a bad one and Amulance became another victim of bad business in the shady music industry.  It seems New Renaissance had quite a track record for screwing bands over.  As such, Feel The Pain was the only Amulance album (until a partial reformation decades later).  Despite the fairly ragged production, the band does their best to shine through on this nine-song slab.  Shades of Metal Church and even Iron Maiden wiz by on this spirited sonic brew — as do scrappy speed merchants like Purgatory and Bloodlust.  Amulance were a likeable band, and one with a heavy metal purpose as pure as the driven snow.  Feel The Pain may not exactly be a lost classic but it’s still one of the better New Renaissance releases.  My score: B-

Attack – “Destinies Of War” (1989)

AttackAttack’s Destinies Of War is one of the great unsung masterpieces of eighties heavy metal!  This album was the high water mark for a German power metal project that (unfortunately) toiled in obscurity during their run in the eighties and nineties.  Attack was the brainchild of Ricky van Helden — the band’s composer, bassist, and singer (as well as producer, sometimes drummer, and sometimes guitarist).  Ricky van Helden was a master of many trades musically, and he was in possession of an amazing ear for rich, melodic heavy metal.  Destinies Of War was the third Attack album.  Any fan of Iron Maiden, classic-era Helloween, or Blind Guardian owes it to themselves to check out this record!

The reasons I love Destinies Of War are many.  First, this is a true “album” in the sense that it is paced and sequenced for maximum enjoyment when played from start to finish.  The guitar work is excellent.  The duo of Gerd Sossnierz and Chreddy Riepert dish out ripping solos as well as tons of great harmony parts.  While impressive, the guitar playing never gives way to excess.  The same is also true for van Helden’s vocals.  There is a certain restraint to Destinies Of War — a trait not always practiced by eighties metal bands.  Ricky’s singing is never over-the-top, as he opts instead for a tuneful and understated delivery (with a heavy German accent).  There are a few times, however, that van Helden unleashes a ferocious scream.  This feature is used sparingly — but to great effect!

Ricky and Attack produced Destinies Of War themselves.  They did an excellent job of balancing all the instruments while maximizing the power of the big melodic hooks to the fullest.  The background vocals were particularly well-done.  The production has definitely withstood the test of time.

The lyrics of Destinies Of War are fantasy-based.  Each song feeds into the fantasy — creating a mystical and medieval atmosphere.  My interpretation is that Destinies Of War is a loose concept album.  Things start of with the lightning fast Wonderland — a song in the style of Helloween that sets the scene in some far-off utopian land.  However, that tranquility is summarily destroyed in the sequence of songs that follow.  In numbers such as Back To Attack, You’re Not Free, and Live Or Die, evil invaders shatter the peace as they bring war upon the land.  Warriors clash with evil on the battlefield.  Swords and shields collide as the body count mounts.  Attack does an excellent job of mixing up the tempos during this stretch so that each song has its own personality.  They utilize a classic staple of “epic” Euro-power metal — the galloping rhythm — to heighten the story-telling and really draw the listener in to a completely different time and place.  The album reaches its climax on the seventh song — the epic Death Rider.  This nine-minute opus is probably my favorite Attack song of all time!  It builds ominously and slowly, but eventually all hell breaks loose.  This is like Attack’s very own Hallowed Be Thy Name.  Listen for one of van Helden’s mighty screams around the five minute mark.  The mysterious “death riders” decimate the evil but the war has come with a terrible price.  The next two songs, The Last Surviving Man and Destiny Of War are more somber and reflective numbers.  They represent the aftermath of war.  This is where the original vinyl LP (released on ZYX Metallic label) comes to a close, however the CD version adds an extra track called In This Night.  I think In This Night makes for a better ending to the “story”.  Unlike the mournful Destiny Of War, In This Night finishes the album on an optimistic note.

Since its original German release in 1989, Destinies Of War as been re-issued a few times.  In the nineties it was released by van Helden’s own Iceland Records with a different cover.  At the same time Destinies Of War was released in Japan by the Victor label with yet another cover (and two bonus cuts).  In 2016, both Metalizer Records and Canometal Records re-issued Destinies Of War.  I hope these new re-issues will bring some much needed attention to this woefully underappreciated record!

I have been reviewing heavy metal albums from the eighties for several years here at “PLAY IT LOUD!”.  The ones I take the most pride in reviewing are the forgotten gems that have slipped through the cracks of time.  Indeed, the reason I really started “PLAY IT LOUD!” was to document my search for albums and bands such as these.  I feel like I’ve found some great stuff along the way from the likes of Wildfire, Waysted, Trance, Breaker, and of course, Attack.  These are the albums that bring me a lot of pleasure as a collector and fan, though that enjoyment is a little bittersweet because I know that these records never received their just due.  I’ve loved Destinies Of War since I first discovered it several years ago.  Maybe someone else will stumble across this review and listen to Destinies Of War as a result.  My hope is that they’ll find as much enjoyment in it as I have.  It is to albums such as Attack’s Destinies Of War that this site is sincerely dedicated!  My score: A+

Electric Angels – “Electric Angels” (1990)

Electric AngelsMy older brother has a massive CD collection.  He proudly displays the collection on a large area of shelving taking up an entire wall of his den.  I would say he’s got maybe 400 or so CDs on the shelves (alphabetized, of course).  The thing is, he has about twice as many CDs tucked away somewhere out of sight — CDs that haven’t made “the wall”.  There’s only so much space on the wall you see.  So when he gets a new CD that is “wall-worthy”, that means an another CD gets bumped/downgraded to storage in a closet somewhere.  Every time I go over his place I check out the wall.  As the years go by, I’ve noticed that certain CDs disappear as new ones arrive.  Only the best make the wall and it gets harder and harder to maintain a slot as his CD collection grows.  I’ve noticed over the years that Electric Angels hasn’t moved.  There it is sitting steadfast in the “E” section year after year.  It’s strange, because Electric Angels isn’t exactly considered a famous release.  My brother is not nearly the hair band fanatic I am.  He has a much broader musical palate.  That’s why I became somewhat curious as to why this lightly regarded CD has stubbornly resisted extradition.  Though I had never heard Electric Angels, I’ve always had the intention of listening to the album — eventually.  The thing is, I’ve got a lot more albums that I have been waiting to review.  Electric Angels has always been in the queue (as are all eighties hard rock/metal albums), but just not on the immediate short list.  Anyway, this Christmas my brother put his “wish list” on Amazon as he does each year at my behest.  (I don’t like being creative with my gift giving.  Tell me what you want and I’ll get it.)  Lo and behold, there’s f*cking Electric Angels on the list!  This being the Rock Candy Records “Remastered & Reloaded” collector’s edition.  Not only is Electric Angels on the wall, but now he wants a second copy?  Needless to say, when I bought my brother the CD as a gift, I added another one for myself!  Electric Angels had officially jumped the queue!

A few months later…

Based on the album cover and year of release, I was expecting something sleazy and raunchy.  At best I was thinking of something along the lines of Guns N’ Roses (based mostly on the hats they’re wearing).  At worst — Faster Pussycat.  But Electric Angels isn’t all that sleazy.  This is actually well-behaved rock with surprisingly vanilla vocals from some guy named just “Shane”.  (Interesting side note: there was another band that came out around the same time called Law And Order who also had a singer called simply “Shane”.  Different guy though.)  The production by Tom Visconti is clean and crisp which has allowed Electric Angels to withstand the test of time quite well, though I think it was a bit too polite (especially the backing vocals).  I feel like Visconti and the band failed to capture a lot of energy on the recording.  It’s a little too much “angel” and not enough “electric” if you know what I mean.  I equate this album to something akin to a sober Hanoi Rocks.  Electric Angels is a solid rock n’ roll record with some decent sing-a-long hooks — but it’s not the “sleaze rock classic” that the sticker on the Rock Candy collector’s edition claims.  If you want a lost sleaze “classic” I would try Junkyard’s Junkyard or Dirty Looks’ Turn Of The Screw.

At the end of the day is Electric Angels really “wall-worthy”?  I don’t know, that really depends on the size of your wall.  My score: B

Frehley’s Comet – “Second Sighting” (1988)

Frehley's CometI think we can all agree (with the benefit of hindsight) that Ace Frehley was (and is) the coolest and most lovable of the original KISS members.  The way he seems to cluelessly fumble through life and yet somehow land on his feet makes him an endearing character and someone you want to root for.  He famously never took a guitar lesson (and can’t read music) yet still became one of the most beloved guitarists of the seventies.  He also can’t sing worth a damn but he’s pulled off some real gems like New York Groove and Rock Soldiers with his signature laid-back vocal style.

After leaving KISS, Ace disappeared for a few years before returning with 1987’s Frehley’s Comet — an excellent album.  The not-so-secret weapon on Frehley’s Comet was Tod Howarth.  Even though I hate the fact that he spells his first name with only one “d”, Howarth’s contributions to the band really helped make the record a well-rounded platter.  Howarth wrote some songs, sang about half the tunes, and also played guitar and keyboards on Frehley’s Comet.  He was the ying to Ace’s yang.

After the stop-gap live EP called Live + 1, Frehley’s Comet returned in 1988 with the proper follow-up to their 1987 debut.  Second Sighting was said to be a rushed effort and one the band wasn’t entirely happy with.  Again, Frehley and Howarth split singing and song-writing duties.  Their writing styles were very different.  It seemed to work well on the first album but not so much on Second Sighting for some reason.  Perhaps if the two had collaborated more instead of writing separately the album would have been a little stronger?  Nevertheless, the album has its moments.  Lead track Insane is probably the most fleshed-out of the Ace contributions — it has a great lead riff and a decent hook.  But my absolute favorite song on the album is actually Separate.  This is another Ace song that seems like it was written in about nine minutes, yet it just sticks in my brain.  I love the simple (but effective) palm-muted verse riff as well as the neanderthal drum beat.  The chorus is memorable, too — even though the lyrics are half-assed.  Second Sighting ends with a tune called The Acorn Is Spinning.  This is mostly an instrumental but has some spoken word sections (about a boxer taking a dive in a prize-fight).  What I love about the spoken word parts is Ace’s thick New York accent!  You can take the kid out of The Bronx but you can’t take The Bronx out of the kid!  My score: B

Album Reviews (Apr 29, 2016)

More reviews…

Don Dokken – Up From The Ashes (1990)

The relationship between the members of the band Dokken was notoriously dysfunctional.  Lead singer Don Dokken and guitarist George Lynch were always at odds, but the push and pull between the two egos seemed to work from a creative standpoint.  Dokken delivered three platinum and one gold album during their original run — which ended in 1989.  After the inevitable break up, it was only a matter of time before Don and George each formed their own new band.  In 1990, Don Dokken’s solo band went head to head with George Lynch’s band Lynch Mob (which also included Dokken drummer Mick Brown).  Don Dokken released Up From The Ashes and Lynch Mob released Wicked Sensation.  You’ve got to believe these two guys wanted to prove to themselves, each other, and the world who was the real genius behind Dokken — at least in their minds.  So who won?  Well it depends on who you ask.  I personally give the nod to Lynch Mob.

Don Dokken assembled a formidable line-up of established pros for Up From The Ashes,  the most noteworthy of which was ex-Europe guitarist John Norum.  Despite the new faces, Up From The Ashes sounds very much like another Dokken record.  Don was obviously content with sticking with the Dokken formula.  Up From The Ashes is more of the same commercially viable melodramatic rock with strong guitar work, except this time it’s Norum delivering the solos and not Lynch.

Up From The Ashes could actually be called Dokken-lite due the high percentage of ballads and quasi-ballads on tap.  I guess it shows the direction Don wanted to take with Dokken if Lynch hadn’t been there to challenge him.  In truth, I find Up From The Ashes just a bit uninspired — only because it plays it so safe.  By staying within his comfort zone, Don Dokken appeased his fading fan base but did little to attract new fans or bring back the Dokken fans that had moved on.  My score: B-

Attacker – The Second Coming (1988)

Screaming for vengeance from America’s armpit, New Jersey’s Attacker returned in 1988 with their follow-up to 1985’s Battle At Helms DeepThe Second Coming appeared on Mercenary Records.  This was a much different album from the epic-style power metal of the debut.  This time around Attacker came out with a brand of speed metal that called to mind the likes of Agent Steel and Savage Grace (circa 1984’s Master Of Disguise).  The lead vocalist for Battle At Helms Deep (Bob Mitchell) was out and new vocalist John Leone was in.  In my opinion Leone was a much better singer than the shrill and screechy Mitchell.  Leone’s vocals were like a cross between Rob Halford and David Wayne (Metal Church).  The album is relatively short with just eight tunes (one of which is a short instrumental).  Bassist Lou Ciarlo wrote all the songs.  There’s very little in the way of variety here from song to song, but this new and refurbished Attacker delivered a straight shot of metal up your ass.  When all is said and done, The Second Coming isn’t nearly as original as Battle At Helms Deep, but it does have the better vocals which (almost) evens the scale.  Fave cut: The Madness.  My score: B-

Forced Entry – Uncertain Future (1989)

Uncertain Future was released on Combat Records in 1989.  It was the first full-length album for this Seattle thrash band.  It seems that Forced Entry’s main purpose in life was to pack as many tempo changes into their songs as humanly possible.  This makes the album a somewhat jarring and difficult listen for the average fan (like myself).  If you’re really into the technical aspects of thrash (perhaps a musician yourself) then you may better appreciate Forced Entry’s style.  But if you are simply a fan of “song” then you may have a hard time with Uncertain Future.  This is some harsh stuff.  My score: C

Samhain – Unholy Passion (1985)

This five-song EP arrived in 1985 on Plan 9 Records.  Though the rather titillating cover was a step up from the first record (1984’s Initium), there’s little else here that could be considered progress with respect to the debut.  Glenn Danzig continued to explore his rather odd Samhain vision — one lost somewhere in the netherworld between punk and heavy metal.  Samhain was a band unsure whether to continue with the gimmickry of Misfits or try to be taken seriously as something more real world scary.  While it’s true that Samhain sounded like none other, I’m not so sure that any band would (or should) want to.  My score: C+

Frehley’s Comet – Live + 1 (1988)

Ace Frehley’s first album after leaving KISS was called Frehley’s Comet (1987) — and a damn fine album it was!  In 1988, Ace followed up with the five-track EP Live + 1 (with Frehley’s Comet now as the band’s official name).  Contents include two live cuts taken from the Frehley’s Comet album — Breakout and Something Moved (both voiced by Tod Howarth).  The version of Breakout is extended thanks to a superfluous drum solo from Anton Fig.  (Get the skip button ready for that one.)  Two more live cuts were from Ace’s KISS days — Rip It Out and Rocket Ride, the latter of which Ace introduces by telling the crowd it’s a song about “entering a black hole”.  A not-so-clever double entendre there.  The EP ends with a new studio track called Words Are Not Enough.  This is an upbeat and catchy rocker.  They threw some keyboards in there, too — just in case you needed a reminder it was 1988.  My score: B-

Vengeance Rising – Human Sacrifice (1988)

I was online one day researching an album for one of my reviews when I came across Heaven’s Metal Magazine’s “Top 100 Christian Metal Albums Of All Time List”.  The number one album on the list was Vengeance Rising’s Human Sacrifice (released in 1988 by Intense Records).  It just so happens that I own this album.  I obtained a copy of Human Sacrifice on cassette when I bought someone’s entire metal collection on eBay.  I had never gotten around to listening to it, but when I saw the aforementioned list above my interest was piqued.  Though I am by no means an aficionado of Christian metal, I now knew I wanted to hear the so-called “most radical Christian album ever released” for myself.

When Human Sacrifice was first released the band was simply called Vengeance, but threats of litigation by the Dutch band Vengeance resulted in the name change to Vengeance Rising.  My cassette copy of Human Sacrifice is a 1989 issue by Medusa Records that has the name Vengeance Rising on it.

I guess Human Sacrifice made quite a stir in the Christian metal community when it dropped in 1988.  First of all, this is an “extreme” Christian metal album.  Evidently it is one of the first of its kind.  Vengeance Rising was not another Stryper gayly soaring towards the heavens on wings of cheese.  Nay, Vengeance Rising was “brutal” thrash/death metal — each song as prickly as a thorn in the Nazarene’s crown.  But it really doesn’t matter because the vocals of Roger Martinez can’t possibly be taken seriously.  His deranged voice is some sort of proto-death/black metal hybrid that sounds like a possessed Grover from Sesame Street.  I know AC/DC’s Brian Johnson once sang that “rock ‘n roll ain’t noise pollution”, but I bet even ol’ Brain would change his mind if he heard Martinez take to the microphone like a rabid jackyl hopped up on Jesus juice and seemingly on the verge of a full brain embolism.

Turns out this Martinez guy later turned his back on Christianity and even became a Satanist (according to the band’s Wikipedia page).  Talk about a shit show!  My score: D

Blonz – Blonz (1990)

Another in a long parade of hair band clones that arrived at the turn of the decade, the band Blonz delivered just one album before disappearing into the ether.  The self-titled album came out on Epic Records (part of the CBS Records mega-label that was dispensing hair metal like Pez directly to the cavity-ridden mouths of a sweet-toothed America).  Blonz (all dudes by the way, in case you were wondering) hailed from Georgia.  Blonz’s southern roots can be heard coming through on the song It’s The Same.  Unfortunately, this is really the only song that is infused with southern flavor.  I wish Blonz had explored this sound a bit more.  It may have better separated them from the pack.  The two tracks that start the album (Miracles and Hands Of Love) are catchy tunes with nice hooks.  Both remind me of Bon Jovi.  In fact, singer Nathan Utz’s voice was like a cross between Jon Bon Jovi and Jeff Keith (Tesla).  As with all hair band albums, a power ballad is a necessity.  Blonz delivers not one but two ballads with What’s On Your Mind (forgettable) and Rainbow (decent).  My score: B-

No Shame – Good Girls Don’t Last  (1989)

No Shame was an all-female quartet that released just one album called Good Girls Don’t Last on Columbia Records in 1989.  It’s a fairly average collection of glam rock with a couple of pretty good tunes.  Cheater and Good Girls Don’t Last are my personal faves.  No Shame were unapologetically glam, but not so over-polished that they lacked a definitive edge.  Singer Jacqui Lynn helped define the band’s tough-but-sexy style with her spirited performance.  She was a little grating on the high notes and not exactly the smoothest operator on the microphone — as she vamped it up too much — but one can’t deny her passion.  But unfortunately at the end of the day, No Shame didn’t have the hits to make enough people take notice.  It may be true that good girls don’t last but these girls didn’t last either.  My score: C+

Cry Wolf – “Crunch” (1990)

Cry WolfIn 1990 the mainstream music world had become over-saturated with glam hard rock.  All the labels were flush with hair bands.  As a result, a lot of very talented bands went unnoticed because there was only so much room at the top.  Eventually the whole bubble burst in the early nineties and even the platinum sellers were dropped by their labels.  Almost overnight, an entire genre was gone from the airwaves.  Ultimately, all but a relative few of the hair bands were forgotten.

Cry Wolf was one of many quality hair bands that didn’t get a real chance to shine.  In 1990 Cry Wolf’s Crunch was released by Grand Slamm/I.R.S. Records.  Much of the album was comprised of songs previously heard on their 1989 Japan-only release Cry Wolf.  The Crunch album was their American debut.  Like many of rock’s great bands, Cry Wolf was bolstered by a top-notch singer/guitarist duo.  Singer Timmy Hall had a great voice and charisma that translated well to tape.  Guitarist Steve McKnight was another in a long list of expert axe-men vying for attention in a crowded market.  McKnight was a tasteful player who could unfurl a melodic solo with the best of ’em.  I like his guitar tone on the rhythm tracks — it has a little bit of fuzz but a real sharp bite, too.  A fine example of the dynamic duo of Hall and McKnight at their best can be heard on a gem called Pretender — the video single from the album and my personal fave of the lot.  Other highlights include Face Down In The Wishing Well, West Wind Blows, and one of the new songs exclusive to the American debut, Road To Ruin.  My score: A-

Cold Sweat – “Break Out” (1990)

Cold SweatThe story of Cold Sweat is similar to a couple of other bands — Badlands and Lynch Mob.  In all cases, a veteran guitarist from a well-established act ventured out on his own, partnered with a relatively unknown singer, and made a strong hair metal album.  Jake E. Lee (ex-Ozzy Osbourne) formed Badlands, George Lynch (ex-Dokken) formed Lynch Mob, and Marc Ferrari (ex-Keel) formed Cold Sweat.  Of the three, the band you probably haven’t heard of is Cold Sweat.  That might be because Cold Sweat’s one and only album Break Out was released by MCA Records — the label where hard rock bands went to die.  MCA signed some really talented bands during the hair band heyday, but unfortunately their promotional department couldn’t sell them to the buying public.

Marc Ferrari found himself a great singer by the name of Rory Cathey to make this very solid and very professional bluesy hair metal record.  The band sounds great.  Certainly, there’s no denying the talent present here.  The one partial complaint I have is that Break Out is very much a by-the-numbers album for its time.  That’s not a complete knock because I think that the so-called “hair” genre was a good formula.  I’ll take a by-the-numbers album any day because I’m a junkie for the stuff.  But what Break Out is missing are those two or three standout songs that transcend above and beyond the realm of the “very good”.  Both Badlands and Lynch Mob had some really killer songs on their respective debuts — the kind of songs that keep me coming back to those albums time and again.  Break Out falls a little short in that regard.  My score: B