Album Reviews (Nov 5, 2016)

More album reviews…

Vain – No Respect (1989)

Vocalist and songwriter Davy Vain slithered into record stores in 1989 with his band Vain and their debut album No Respect (Island Records).  With teased hair, tight leather pants, and emaciated bodies, the boys of Vain looked like your prototypical sleaze outfit.  The only twist on the formula was Davy’s whiny, emotive vocal style.  As such, I refer to Vain as “emo-sleaze”.  This was a darker and more angst-ridden take on the well-worn late eighties sleaze genre.  Surprisingly, critics seemed to look upon the album favorably.  I personally do not consider No Respect an especially brilliant release, though I do concede it starts off with two very solid tracks in Secrets and Bite The Bullet.  Things cool off a bit after that — as many of the songs sound too much alike.  A low-light would have to be the lyrics to the song Laws Against Love — whereby ol’ Davy laments those pesky statutory rape laws keeping him from legally banging his underage lover.  Rape laws can be such a buzzkill!  My score: B-

Sammy Hagar – Danger Zone (1980)

Sammy Hagar had a pretty successful solo career before he famously joined Van Halen.  Between 1976 and 1980 he recorded five studio albums with Capitol Records.  But it wasn’t until he switched to Geffen Records, starting with 1981’s Standing Hampton, that his solo career really started to take off in terms of commercial success.  1980’s Danger Zone was his final studio album for Capitol.

Sammy had some good songs in his catalog, but you won’t find any of them on Danger Zone.  This is one unforgettable album — and by that I mean you can’t forget what you never remembered in the first place!  This listless and uninspired record goes in one ear and out the other.  It’ll never even take up space in your memory bank.  Except for the song In The Night (Entering The Danger Zone) and maybe Bad Reputation, Danger Zone is as generic as it gets.  My score: C

Vamp – The Rich Don’t Rock (1989)

I can’t pass up any eighties hair metal album.  When I saw the cover of Vamp’s The Rich Don’t Rock, you know I just had to get involved.  Will you look at those four magnificent bastards!  (That’s the U.S. cover on the left.  The cover on the German release is different.)  I expected cheese city, but to my surprise Vamp managed to side-step Velveeta (for the most part) and come through loud and proud!  Well… okay, maybe that drum solo in All Nite was a little much!

The Rich Don’t Rock is a pretty obscure album despite the fact it was released on a major label (Atlantic Records).  The band operated out of Germany, though their singer Tom Bellini was American (I believe).  Bellini could flat out wail!  Vamp gets points for consistency and for being a little heavier than the average hair band.  You can hear a little bit of that Euro-metal fire in their sound (like maybe some Pretty Maids).  The thing that The Rich Don’t Rock lacks is one or two real gems to put it on the radar.  Without any signature moments to capture the public’s short attention span, The Rich Don’t Rock was bound for the discount bins.  It also didn’t help that Atlantic did almost nothing to support this release.  My score: B-

Hericane Alice – Tear The House Down (1990)

Like Vamp (above), Hericane Alice were signed to Atlantic Records.  Like Vamp (still above), Hericane Alice are long forgotten.

Minnesota’s Hericane Alice brought absolutely nothing new to the hair metal genre on their second album Tear The House Down.  But I’m not going to turn my nose up at the album just because it’s as unoriginal as a Xerox print of my scrotum.  I’ve heard this brand of party metal a million times before, and I’ll hear it a million times more.  Honestly, it never gets old to me.  Is Tear The House Down great?  Not really.  But in the absence of anything else to listen to, I could probably survive on this album alone for a good five to seven days.  That’s quality sustenance!

Hericane Alice adhered so closely to the established hair metal formula that these songs practically wrote themselves in 1990.  All you needed was four or five guys with long hair and leather boots to get in the same room and POOF! — songs called Wild Young And Crazy and Crank The Heat Up were pooped out like soft-serve ice cream.  Get a spoon and dig in.  My score: B-

Child’s Play – Rat Race (1990)

Child’s Play was a popular band in and around the Baltimore area.  They landed a record deal with Chrysalis and released Rat Race in 1990.  Unfortunately, Child’s Play’s regional success didn’t translate to nation-wide popularity.

After hunting Rat Race down, I was a little disappointed with the album upon first listen.  However, something about the band’s sound, their attitude, and the crisp production of the album compelled me to keep trying.  Eventually I warmed up to Rat Race, though I can’t exactly call it a great record.  It has its moments.  Howard Benson did a helluva job producing Rat Race (as he had done previously on Bang Tango’s Psycho Cafe).  The album has a lively sound with good fidelity.  Child’s Play rocks out pretty hard throughout this album.  To their credit, they were able to balance finesse with street-wise nastiness quite well.  The first five songs are the best.  This includes the party rockin’ opener Good Ol’ Rock And Roll, the humorous My Bottle, and the mellow Wind.  After the first five songs, Rat Race takes a bit of a tumble.  These songs don’t stick with me after they’ve finished.

While researching Child’s Play for this review, I was saddened to find out that the vocalist on Rat Race (Brian Jack) passed away in 2012.  My score: B-

Queen – Greatest Hits (1981)

Oh the majesty!  1981 saw the release of Queen’s first greatest hits package.  Simply titled Greatest Hits, the track list of the album depended on the region of the world where it was released.  For example, the North American version of Greatest Hits is slightly different than the U.K. version.  This review pertains to the North American version released by Elektra Records.  Here’s the track list.

Greatest Hits compiles fourteen classic Queen cuts from 1973-1981.  All of Queen’s studio albums up to that point with the exception Queen II (1974) were represented.  This album was my introduction to Queen way back in my childhood.  I still have a tattered cassette copy that I borrowed/stole from my friend Steve displayed proudly on my book shelf.

Needless to say, Queen were one of the greatest rock bands of all time.  The fourteen tracks on Greatest Hits are merely a drop in the bucket of what Queen accomplished, but this album concerns itself only with the highest charting hits from Queen’s catalog from ’73-’81.  On a single album, you will be hard pressed to top the wall-to-wall brilliance exhibited on Greatest Hits.

Think about the legendary rock acts of the seventies like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, AC/DC and Aerosmith.  All were great in their own right.  All spawned countless soundalikes.  The amazing thing about Queen is that they’ve never been copied.  Nobody has the balls to try.  Who could pull it off?  That was Queen’s unique gift.  Here were four fantastic beasts that came together to make some of the best rock music of the 20th century.  My score: A+

Queen – A Kind Of Magic (1986)

A Kind Of Magic is one of the worst Queen albums.  It contains several songs which were used in the movie Highlander, and another one used in Iron Eagle.  The albums finds Queen drifting into mediocrity, and it is another low point on their wildly inconsistent eighties run.  Once again, the band’s persistence on (over)using synthesizers and stubborn refusal to truly rock-out makes for a frustrating listen.  Sleepy tracks like One Year Of Love and Who Wants To Live Forever steer the listener into an “adult contemporary” frame of mind — a place no sane rock fan wants to be.  The best song is Princes Of The Universe — a hard rockin’ track penned by Freddie Mercury that served as the theme to Highlander.

The tour in support of A Kind Of Magic was Queen’s last with Freddie Mercury.  Though they didn’t come to the United States, their stadium shows in Europe were the stuff of legend — cementing Queen’s status as quite possibly THE quintessential stadium band of all time.  My score: C+

Queen – The Miracle (1989)

What a butt-ugly cover!  But it masks a pretty decent Queen album.

Artistically, I think The Miracle was a modest comeback for Queen after the dull and anemic A King Of Magic.  It is highlighted by the righteous anthem I Want It All — one of the hardest rocking songs Queen had recorded in years.  Freddie Mercury sounds a bit like Roger Daltrey in the verse sections of I Want It All — as he put a little more grit in his voice to give the song some extra muscle.  Another highlight is the poignant rocker Was It All Worth It.  This song, written by Mercury, was the final cut on the original LP version of The Miracle (CD versions added extra bonus tracks).  It’s quite possible that Mercury and Queen thought The Miracle could be the last Queen album due to Freddie Mercury’s terminal illness.  If so, Was It All Worth It served as a powerful and moving final message from Mr. Mercury — as he pondered whether everything he had experienced as a rock star was worth it in the end (SPOILER — he says it was).  It turns out that Queen would be able to make one more album with Freddie before he died of AIDS.  Innuendo came out in 1991 and featured another dramatic send-off message with its final song The Show Must Go On.  Note: During the recording of The Miracle, the members of Queen knew Freddie Mercury had AIDS — but the public did not find out until a day before his death in 1991.

Other highlights of The Miracle include the uplifting Breakthru and the guitar-driven stomper Khashoggi’s Ship.  The only song that I really don’t care for on The Miracle is the weak My Baby Does Me.  This track sounds like a collaboration between George Michael and Hall & Oates.  Not that there is anything wrong with either of those two artists, it’s just not what I’m looking for on a Queen album.

The Miracle was not a successful album in the United States.  Queen was not heavily promoted in the U.S. at the time, as they had not toured the U.S. since Hot Space.  My score: A-

D.R.I. – 4 Of A Kind (1988)

D.R.I. (Dirty Rotten Imbeciles) are considered one of the forefathers of crossover thrash — a mixture of hardcore punk and thrash metal.  By their fourth album, 4 Of A Kind (Metal Blade Records) is more or less thrash.  Bad thrash.

On 4 Of A Kind, the songs are dull, toneless, and tuneless.  Tracks rely solely on the rhythm guitar riffs of guitarist Spike Cassidy.  Lead guitar solo breaks are few and forgettable.  As such, the songs lack texture and direction.  There’s no story to tell with these songs.  It’s really just Cassidy running through his Rolodex of riffs for 35 minutes and then you’re done.  Vocalist Kurt Brecht’s plain, atonal yelling doesn’t add much to the equation, either.  To think that D.R.I. is sometimes lumped in with Suicidal Tendencies as one of the great, early crossover bands is kind of an insult to Suicidal Tendencies.  These guys couldn’t hold Mike Muir’s jock strap.  My score: C-

D.R.I. – Thrash Zone (1989)

I must admit, D.R.I. had a pretty cool logo.  I wouldn’t mind having that street sign on Thrash Zone to myself.  It would look good on the wall of the man cave, eh?  Of course, if I had my own “thrash zone” in my house, I wouldn’t be thrashing out to Thrash Zone — that’s for DAMN sure.  This one is pretty much a continuation of 1988’s 4 Of A KindThrash Zone is lifeless and boring.  The bad vocals are matched by equally bad lyrics.  But then again I guess these crossover bands are kind of impervious to criticism in a way, aren’t they?  Their whole identity was kind of based on a certain ‘I don’t care’ attitude.  My score: D

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