Smashed Gladys – “Social Intercourse” (1988)

smashed-gladysWith their jet-black hair and sunken cheeks, Smashed Gladys were livin’ hard and livin’ free in a world of decadent sleaze.  Smashed Gladys were fronted by a female singer named Sally Cato.  Ms. Cato had a raspy, tough-as-nails voice and an attitude to match.  She poured everything she had into her performance as Smashed Gladys clawed and scratched for a big break on their second album Social Intercourse (Elektra Records).  Cato’s lyrics were nasty, dirty, and chock full of sexual squalor.  Despite Cato and company’s fighting spirit, the songs rarely rise to the level of the competition (of which there was plenty).  Sub-potent hooks will kill ya every time.  Nevertheless, Smashed Gladys didn’t go down without delivering a memorable sleaze anthem in Sermonette.  Another fave is the low-class piece of smut called Legs Up.  That big break never came for Smashed Gladys and Social Intercourse ended up being their final album.  Oh well… sleazy come, sleazy go.  My score: B-

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Billy Squier – “Enough Is Enough” (1986)

billy-squierBilly Squier’s career peaked in the early eighties thanks to the smash success of Don’t Say No (1981) and Emotions In Motion (1982).  He became an arena headliner during his tour for Emotions In Motion.  Unfortunately, that’s where things started to turn.  By Squier’s own admission, he was upstaged on that tour by his opening act Def Leppard (who were white-hot at the time while supporting their colossus Pyromania album).  Squier’s 1984 album Signs Of Life would be his last platinum album.  His dubious video for Rock Me Tonite (which featured Billy dancing effeminately around his bedroom) was a disastrous blow to his reputation.  By the time he followed up Signs Of Life with 1986’s Enough Is Enough, only a small fraction of his fan base remained.  Once the most important rock act on his record label (Capitol Records), Squier now watched as his preferential treatment faded with each passing year.

In past reviews, I’ve kind of whined that Billy Squier’s albums were over-produced.  There is some truth there — especially with Emotions In Motion and Signs Of Life.  However, on the flip side, Squier certainly made the most of his studio time.  Billy used every tool he had at his disposal in the studio.  On albums such as Enough Is Enough, you have to admire all the details that went into producing these tracks.  Listen on headphones and you’ll hear lots of cool effects, different instruments, and superb backing vocals.  These songs were totally fleshed out.  You can tell that Billy and producer Peter Collins were anal retentive about making Enough Is Enough sound perfect.  In fact, that’s how the album got its name.  Squier had tweaked the album to the point of exhaustion, whereby he finally proclaimed “enough is enough” and deemed the record fit for release.  Billy Squier really was a genius in the studio.

With Enough Is Enough Billy Squier impresses once again with his patented rock-meets-pop style. Though the album lacked a can’t miss hit, there are numerous highlights.  Love Is A Hero, which features backing vocals by Freddie Mercury, is the album’s most immediate ear-grabber.  However, a few more gems start to shine through after a couple play-throughs.  Powerhouse has a driving beat and booming chorus.  ‘Til It’s Over starts off with a little Hendrix-style riff before making an about-face to a mellow tune with a sea shanty vibe.  Wink Of An Eye is an expertly arranged dynamo that closes the album on a high note.  My score: A

Pretty Boy Floyd – “Leather Boyz With Electric Toyz” (1989)

pretty-boy-floydTotal glam to the max!  Pretty Boy Floyd were trying to extend the glam metal legacy that was passed from Hanoi Rocks to Motley Crue to Poison.  You can hear the influence of all three bands on Leather Boyz With Electric Toyz.  Whether this record is the product of Pretty Boy Floyd’s reverence to past masters or a shameless rip-off is up for debate.  The optimist in me hopes for the former.

Obviously, to enjoy Leather Boyz With Electric Toyz, you’ll have to view glam metal as a bona fide genre worthy of consideration.  I do, and I do.  It’s all about the bubble-gum bop of the melodies crashing against over-driven guitars.  It’s candy sweetness and degenerate sleaze all at once.  Songs glide like lipstick over the pouty gobs of our fair boyz.  Not quite as good as its forefathers, but a solid entry into the glam metal Olympiad.  This album is heavier than it looks — though it looks gayer than Liberace’s cape closet.  Pretty Boy Floyd’s cover of the early Motley Crue highball Toast Of The Town is the standout of the record.

Leather Boyz With Electric Toyz comes not without its share of controversy.  Turns out that most of the songs where written by ex-member Aeriel Stiles — who was not given any credit in the album’s liner notes.  Here’s the scoop.

Leather Boyz With Electric Toyz actually made it on to Rolling Stone‘s “50 Greatest Hair Metal Albums Of All Time“.  Not that Rolling Stone has any credibility whatsoever — it’s a pinko commie rag and it totally sucks.  However their “50 Greatest Hair Metal Albums Of All Time” list ain’t half-bad at all.  They even have Lord Tracy’s Deaf Gods Of Babylon on there!  I thought I was the only person who had ever heard that album!  My score: B

Sacred Rite – “Is Nothing Sacred” (1986)

sacred-riteHawaii’s Sacred Rite released their third album on Medusa Records in ’86.  Is Nothing Sacred also saw release by the Dutch label Megaton Records.  This would be the last Sacred Rite release of the band’s initial eighties run.

Sacred Rite’s self-titled debut was excellent — a cogent bit of metal sorcery that conjured bits of prog, U.S. power metal, and the NWOBHM.  Sacred Rite stirred them all together in a bubbly cauldron to create a powerful witch’s brew.  Their sophomore effort, 1985’s The Ritual, was not as good — though solid.  Unfortunately, Is Nothing Sacred continues the trend of diminishing returns for Sacred Rite albums.

Is Nothing Sacred has a nice, live sound.  All the instruments are well separated and the bass work of Peter Crane is particularly impressive.  Though Sacred Rite maintained their unique sonic blueprint on this record, this particular Sacred Rite banquet is a pretty dreary set.  The eight-song track list includes a sleepy ballad, an instrumental, and a pair of soggy, moody cuts that close out the album.  Surprisingly, the standout cut is a deft cover of Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles.

Props to Sacred Rite for maintaining their musical identity at a time where many of their ilk were turning to a harsher metal style in accord with the metal trend of the day.  Sacred Rite always came across as a well-oiled foursome sincere in their metal conviction.  They were much darker than one would expect from a band out of Hawaii.  However, Is Nothing Sacred is a little too sluggish for my taste.  My score: C+  

Trixter – “Trixter” (1990)

trixterGroup these guys with Slaughter and Firehouse as bands debuting in 1990 with a clean and crisp brand of prefabricated commercial rock.  By 1990, the template for “hair bands” had been pretty much set in stone.  Slaughter, Firehouse, and Trixter adhered closely to the established rules.  They took few chances, stuck to the formula, and were rewarded with healthy sales.  I guess you could say they took the corporate route, but there’s no denying that talent played a part in their success, too.

Trixter were young and good looking.  (Except maybe for the drummer Gus Scott — it looked like he had a Chia Pet growing out of his scalp.)  Those boyish pin-up looks certainly helped Trixter get their foot in the door.  They had a couple of popular videos on MTV and girls swooning for them.  Trixter was released by Mechanic Records, an imprint of MCA Records.  Usually, MCA flopped with hard rock acts.  They couldn’t organize a sock drawer.  But Trixter went gold in 1991.

For the heaviness quotient, Trixter were on par with the likes of Bon Jovi on the Richter scale.  That’s pretty much one step above AOR.  They had an air of positivity that suited their smiling faces.  The song Give It To Me Good best exemplifies the good vibrations Trixter were toting along.  In fact, I would go as far as to say that Give It To Me Good is a gem of a tune — and by far the best song on the album.  (Here’s the video for Give It To Me Good.)  One In A Million would be my second choice.  It’s no coincidence that these two tunes were two of the three “hit” songs from Trixter.  They are the cream of the crop for sure.  The rest of the album is okay, but there’s a couple of ballads that drip like a leaky faucet, as well as a few generic rockers.  All in all, Trixter is not an inconsequential release, but with the exception of its two strong singles, it’s not essential either.  My score: B

Queen – “The Game” (1980)

queenThe Game is one of my favorite Queen albums.  This album is like a pot-luck dinner — each member of Queen brings something different to the table.  Freddie brings the bean dip, Brian brings the chicken wings, Roger brings the Swedish meatballs, and John brings the rice pudding.  The Game is all over the place — but it’s still highly entertaining.  It’s a smorgasbord of ideas from four distinct writers — each coming from a different head space.  Each song on The Game is credited to a single Queen member.

The Game spawned two number one hits in the United States — Freddie Mercury’s rockabilly tune Crazy Little Thing Called Love and John Deacon’s disco-funkster Another One Bites The Dust.  These two monster hits help catapult The Game to multi-platinum sales (currently certified at quadruple platinum in the United States).  Other well-known Queen “classics” found on The Game include Play The Game (by Mercury), Need Your Loving Tonight (by Deacon), and Save Me (by Brain May).  Truth be told, every single song on The Game is a good one.  The only cut I sort of question is the silly Don’t Try Suicide — but even that one has grown on me!  Chalk it up to the “Freddie Mercury effect”.  The man had the Midas touch.

It should be noted that The Game was the first Queen album in which synthesizers were used.  However, the synthesizers were used sparingly and subtlety.  Future Queen albums would over-use synths to a toxic degree.

Though Queen could be wildly inconsistent at times, on The Game they were firing on all cylinders.  They were taking chances (as they often did) — but succeeding at every turn.  My score: A+

Queen – “Flash Gordon” (1980)

queenQueen signed on to record the soundtrack for the sci-fi film Flash Gordon.  The album and movie were both released in 1980.

I saw Flash Gordon when I was really young — maybe eight or nine.  Needless to say, it blew my f*cking mind!  I was already a Star Wars nut at the time, and Flash Gordon was probably the closest thing to Star Wars I had ever seen.  Years later, I re-watched the film and realized it wasn’t exactly the cinematic masterpiece I remembered, but it is still a cool movie.  When I was young, I took Flash Gordon at face value.  Now, I see it differently.  I see the humor in it, as well as the cheese and the camp.  I also appreciate how much Queen’s soundtrack enhances the viewing experience.  Queen’s music was an integral part of Flash Gordon.

As a stand alone album, Flash Gordon doesn’t always captivate.  You really need the visual to go along with it.  That is because most of the album is comprised of instrumentals with snippets of movie dialog interspersed throughout.  There are only two full-fledged songs with lyrics — Flash’s Theme and The Hero.  These are the first and last songs on the album, respectively.  Flash’s Theme is a great Queen song.  It captures the campy essence of the movie while also delivering it with the patented pageantry and bombast of Queen.  The Hero is just as good.  It closes the album (and movie) in exhilarating fashion.  The song revisits a few motifs that are repeated throughout the soundtrack and works them into a rousing finale.  If there is a reason to own Flash Gordon, it’s because Flash’s Theme and The Hero are quintessential Queen.  As mentioned above, these two tracks are bookends of the Flash Gordon album.  What lies between them consists entirely of instrumental pieces — predominantly synth-based.  The use of synths makes sense.  This was a sci-fi movie in the year 1980, and synthesizers were synonymous with a “futuristic” sound at the time.  It is a bit ironic that some thirty-six years later, synthesizers have the exact opposite effect.  They sound positively dated in 2016.  Much of the instrumentals are very atmospheric in nature.  Lots of noodling about.  Again, without the visual context, this can make for a somewhat lackluster listening experience.  There are a couple of tunes that are more rocking in nature — Football Fight and Battle Theme.  But without the voice of Freddie Mercury to go with them, they lack the flair of essential Queen.

All in all, Queen did a fine job with their soundtrack to Flash Gordon.  It seems that they took the task seriously.  Conceptually and thematically speaking, Flash Gordon is the most uniform album of Queen’s career.  All their other albums are very eclectic — due, in part, to the different writing styles of the four members.  But on Flash Gordon, each member of Queen bought in to the same central idea of what the soundtrack should be.  The result is Queen’s most cohesive album — though far from their best.  Flash’s Theme and The Hero are must have for Queen fans.  The rest, I could take or leave.  The best way to experience this music would be by just watching the movie.  If you’re just listening to the album all by itself, it can be a little boring.  My score: C+

Queen – “Hot Space” (1982)

queenHot space?  More like “hot mess”, am I right?  Queen were once a band that refused to use synthesizers on their albums.  They went so far as to explicitly state as much in the liner notes of their records.  This changed on 1980’s The Game — where synthesizers crept in for the first time.  But on 1982’s Hot Space, Queen were positively obsessed with synthesizers, and worse yet… drum machines.  As a result, a good portion of Hot Space pretty much sucks.  The first five songs are crap.  Queen broke the first rule of rock… which is to rock.  There are so many things that I would rather do than listen to the first half of Hot Space.  I’d rather share a sleeping bag with a porcupine.  I’d rather wear a thong made of steel wool.

The second half of Hot Space is a little more bearable.  Brian May’s Put Out The Fire is the only song on the album that at least attempts to rock.  Meanwhile, lighter songs like Calling All Girls and Las Palabras de Amor (The Words of Love) house the album’s best melodies.  Hot Space‘s penultimate cut Cool Cat shows off Freddie Mercury’s smooth falsetto, though the song itself is average at best.

Queen tacked on Under Pressure, their classic collaboration with David Bowie, to the end of this record.  The song had previously been released in 1981 as a stand alone single, and had also appeared on the North American version of their Greatest Hits compilation (also from 1981).  The inclusion of Under Pressure here is a most welcome addition to an otherwise disappointing Queen release.

Queen were a home run hitting band.  Everyone knows that when you swing for the fences all the time you get a lot of home runs, but you also strike out a lot.  Most of the Hot Space album is a big swing and a miss.  The overabundance of synths and drum machines ruin a good portion of the album.  I think Queen were emboldened by the chart-topping success of Another One Bites The Dust — a disco-style tune from 1980’s The Game.  Queen tried too hard to repeat that success with more “dance” tunes.  They miscalculated what the public wanted and expected from Queen.  It was a bad idea and a waste of their talents.  On a positive note, the songs from Hot Space came off MUCH better live than in studio.  My score: C+

Toxik – “World Circus” (1987)

toxikWorld Circus was the first album by New York’s Toxik.  Featuring the impossibly high-pitched vocals of Mike Sanders and the blazing guitar pyrotechnics of guitarist Josh Christian, World Circus is an over-the-top metal extravaganza traveling at dangerously high speeds.  The album starts off with Heart Attack — a song shot like a rocket all the way from Uranus directly to your anus.  It’s quintessential Toxik — mixing speed, thrash, power, and shred metal into a high test cocktail that’ll torch your tits.  More of the same hyperactivity follows suit, though the non-stop intensity leaves me a little worn and weary by album’s end.  Sanders’ dog whistle vocals are a bit ridiculous (it’s often hard to understand the lyrics) but he’s still miles better than that clown-faced hack King Diamond!  Christian’s quick-picked guitar heroics are something to behold, but again, it all becomes a blur by the time the initial sting of Heart Attack wears off.  Seems to me Toxik flew too close to the sun on this one!  Their sophomore effort, 1989’s Think This, is a little more down to earth (and with a different singer, too).  My score: B-

Quartz – “Deleted” (1980)

quartzIn 1980, Quartz found themselves lumped in with the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) despite having debuted a full three years earlier with 1977’s Quartz (Jet Records).  1980 saw the release of four different Quartz products.  Most notably, there was their stellar full length Stand Up And Fight — a classic NWOBHM treasure.  A live album simply titled Live Quartz, and a 3-track EP/single called Satan’s Serenade were also released.  Jet Records, perhaps in an attempt to capitalize on the NWOBHM buzz surrounding Quartz, re-released 1977’s forgotten Quartz LP in 1980.  They re-dubbed the album Deleted and packaged it in a simple paper sleeve.

Deleted was produced by Black Sabbath legend Tony Iommi.  He did a fine job on this surprisingly solid Quartz debut.  Indeed, Quartz come off as a more articulate Black Sabbath on this hearty platter.  We are first introduced to the band on the standout lead number Mainline Riders.  Housing a gargantuan Sabbathian riff that could make any stoner drool (more than usual), this ode to cocaine (I think) captures Quartz at their mystical, dazed best.  Riffs abound on other potent rockers such as Devil’s Brew and Pleasure Seekers.  Quartz opt for a lighter touch on the hazy Sugar Rain and the somber Little Old Lady.  Both songs successfully find their mark thanks to Mike Taylor’s excellent vocals.  (Note: Taylor recently passed away in September, 2016.)

Deleted shows that Quartz were top-flight metallurgists well before the NWOBHM scene gobbled them up.  The re-release of their 1977 album with a crinkly brown sack over it implies some level of shame or disgrace, but with Quartz’s bowl-toking debut nothing could be further from the truth!  My score: B+