THE HAIR METAL CUP RUNNETH OVER IN 2008
[Welcome to our new column Hair Metal Happy Hour, which will be manned by the fine writer Michael S. Robinson. Things have been admittedly less hairy around here lately, but we hope to rectify that situation with this semi-regular column. Huh huh, he said “rectum-fry.” – Ed.]
It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost twenty years since glorious hair metal ruled the charts and MTV. Once the crispy, crunchity sounds of the Pacific northwest took over, many of our cock-rocking heroes from the 80s faded into oblivion, while others continued to record sporadically, enjoying varying degrees of success, or lack thereof.
Now it’s 2008, almost 20 years to the day since Stryper released In God We Trust, and we find ourselves in the midst of unarguably the greatest year for hair metal releases since the 1980s. I’m not sure what any of us have done to bring about this incredible turn of good fortune, but it’s worth pausing to analyze, and give thanks for the bounty of hair metal we have been given, and are about to receive, in 2008.
Things started off pretty nicely with a new Dokken release, Lightning Strikes Again, that saw the band returning to form from their 80s heyday. Sure, George Lynch and Jeff Pilson are gone, but guitarist (and band attorney) Jon Levin has filled in nicely, with his songwriting, tone and performance so close to that of Lynch, it’s a bit creepy. But most importantly, there really are some killer songs on Lightning Strikes Again, four or five of the tracks sounding like they could have come from Under Lock and Key or Back for the Attack. Don’s voice is not what it used to be, but with a lot of help on backing vocals by veteran Jeff Scott Soto (Jeff Pilson is sorely missed in this department), the classic, full-harmony Dokken sound shines through, and Lightning Strikes Again has to be the best record the band has done since Back for the Attack.
Next up, Def Leppard, and their latest, Songs from the Sparkle Lounge. Once you get past the silly title, this is actually a pretty solid collection of songs. Recent releases such as the useless covers album Yeah and the somewhat experimental X were hardly classics. Sparkle Lounge is the band’s finest effort since Euphoria, and the more I listen to it, I may even consider Sparkle the better album. The less polished production is somewhat old school for the band, taking us back to the days of High ‘N Dry, but the songs are definitely the typical catchy, pop influenced ‘metal’ that the band is known for. I still think Vivian Campbell is far too underutilized in the band, but I guess it’s a steady paycheck for him. (Speaking of Vivian Campbell – you know what the definition of “metal” is? Dio’s Last in Line video.)
Whitesnake’s Good to Be Bad – this record really just kicks your ass, start to finish. I’m actually still stunned at how solid of a release Coverdale was able to put together. Good to Be Bad manages to capture sounds from every period of the band’s history, featuring some bluesy, dirty tracks, some 80s pop-metal cheese, and a hint of contemporary rock. Coverdale’s voice has some noticeable wear and tear, that’s for sure, but he is still just so effective and convincing as a flat out rock star. This record is so good thanks in large part to guitarists Doug Aldrich and Reb Beach, especially the former. Aldrich, whom I have been a big fan of since his work on Hurricane’s killer Slave to the Thrill record, did an incredible job writing these songs with Coverdale, and his guitar tone is just balls to the wall amazing. I’m not sure how much Reb Beach actually played on this record, and I am certainly a big Beach supporter, having admired his work with Winger (he was the best part of that band, by far) and his strong performance on Dokken’s Erase the Slate. Anyway, with Coverdale getting up there a bit in age, one would have to wonder if this could be the last Whitesnake record, and if it is, what a way to go out. This is definitely my favorite record of the year thus far.
Just released is Motley Crue’s Saints of Los Angeles (SOLA). I knew from the first time I heard the title track as the record’s lead single that we were in for a treat. I’ve never loved a Crue record start to finish (and based on their autobiography, The Dirt, neither has the band), but Dr. Feelgood was as close as they came for my taste. SOLA is really the band’s first true effort together with all four original members since Feelgood (Generation Swine doesn’t count since it was written with John Corabi originally in mind for the vocals), and the results are impressive. Sonically, this record is just full of the usual in your face, sleazy, crunchy tone and attitude that you know and love from previous Crue releases. All the typical Crue topics are covered – sex, drugs, alcohol, trying to make it in Hollywood, etc., and it all just works. Vince Neil, who so often struggles with his live performances, really does an outstanding job in the studio with his vocals, and it’s nice to see Mick Mars throw down some solid riffs and solos. I’ve never been a huge Mars fan, but after reading Nikki Sixx’s Heroin Diaries and Motley’s The Dirt, I feel so sorry for the guy, I am just thrilled that he gets to continue doing what he loves to do to make a living.
Coming in July is the new, and supposedly final release from Toronto’s Harem Scarem. A lot of people outside of Japan and Canada don’t know too much about this band, but wow, are these guys good. Their first two records are absolute melodic rock classics, and their records in recent years, whilst not quite the melodic metal masterpieces the first two were, have been more than solid, and feature some brilliant guitar work from virtuoso Pete Lesperance. I would put Harem Scarem’s first two releases up against any Bon Jovi record; the problem is that they were about half a decade too late to the party, their first record released in 1991. I’ve heard song samples from the upcoming release (Hope), and while fans won’t be getting the return to the classic sound they have been patiently waiting for (which Dokken just brilliantly delivered), the tunes do sound decent and in line with the band’s three or four most recent releases.
August will bring us a new release from Extreme. Speaking of good guitarists, holy shit is Nuno Bettencourt good. Not that you needed me to tell you this, but how amazing is it that we’re less than two months away from a new collection of songs to feature his incredible playing? Of course, there was nothing brilliant about the band’s last release, Waiting for the Punchline, as that record sucked worse than Van Halen III, but if the lead single “Star” is any indication, I think Extreme fans could be in for something great when Saudades De Rock hits the streets on August 12. (By the way, how amazing was Nuno on Pornograffitti? Honestly, that might be one of the top five greatest guitar records of the hair metal genre. Okay, we’ll save this for another column.)
This next record may or may not make its way out in 2008, depending on which band member you ask, but Stryper’s Murder By Pride is supposedly mixed and ready to go. With singer/guitarist Michael Sweet joining Boston for a summer tour and possible future recordings, who knows when this record will see the light of day. The first single from Stryper’s Murder By Pride was just released via iTunes, appropriately enough a cover of the Boston song, “Peace of Mind.” No one will ever be able to fill the shoes of Brad Delp, and Michael Sweet is one of my all-time favorite singers, but give Stryper credit – this is a great cover of a classic rock song. Not only does it include Boston’s Tom Schulz as a guest on guitar but features the return of Stryper’s signature layered harmony vocals and dueling lead guitars, two elements that were tragically missing from the band’s last record Reborn.
Look, a lot of people were and are quick to dismiss Stryper because they are a Christian band, and/or pranced around in yellow and black spandex, and whilst the latter could certainly be cause for concern I would put Stryper up against any band from the hair metal genre. They had everything – an amazingly talented lead singer who could scream with the best of them and play a mean guitar; a showman drummer with hair that was feathered like the wings of a majestic bird who toured with a fire pole in order to dismount his kit, and an absolute mastery of harmony vocal production, even bettering Def Leppard in this department. Honestly (no pun intended), if you never gave Stryper a chance back in the 80s, pick yourself up a copy of To Hell With the Devil or Soldiers Under Command and you will see what I am talking about. Murder By Pride, Michael Sweet has promised, is a return to the band’s classic sound, and if the “Peace of Mind” cover is any indication I cannot wait for this record to surface.
I’m not sure if I left anyone off my 2008 hair metal ‘year in progress’ review, but I’m sure someone will be quick to point out any gross omissions. With the absolute disaster and crushing disappointment that was Sebastian Bach’s Angel Down in 2007, I was hoping that maybe, just maybe, we would get just one solid hair metal release in 2008. Here we are, the year only just halfway over, and our hair metal cup runneth over. I’m not sure if this is a sign of the apocalypse, or just dumb luck, but history might just come to regard 2008 as the 1986 of the 21st Century.