Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Badlands - Badlands
Formed in 1988 by guitarist Jake E. Lee, after he got fired from Ozzy Osbourne's band, together with singer Ray Gillen and drummer Eric Singer after they met a similar fate in Black Sabbath. The line-up was quickly completed by bassist Greg Chaisson. In May 1989, a year following their formation, the self-titled debut was released. As a fan of both Ozzy and Black Sabbath as well as Gary Moore whom Eric Singer toured with during the 'Wild Frontier' tour, I remember being more than piqued when I first heard about this band and their upcoming debut release. Despite being shocked at what I heard once I got a copy of 'Badlands', it wasn't negative shock. Rather, I was swept off of my feet by the awesome hard-edge bluesy rock they played. Guess I automatically assumed and expected something more akin to these cats' previous excursions but I couldn't have been further off the mark.
I think it only took two seconds before opener 'High Wire' had me hooked. That opening riff is vicious and when Gillen starts to belt out over the thunderous backline of Singer and Chaisson, how the hell can you not get hooked? Fast, blistering and a pure joy to hear. The somewhat slower but hook-laden 'Dreams In The Dark' follows and is organic and earthy in feel. Don't know if anyone, before or after this album, has ever captured the feel of a season as well as Badlands. The duo of the acoustic instrumental 'Jade's Song' which leads into 'Winter's Call' always brings out the beauty of the dying embers of Fall and the approach of Winter. Have no idea how they did it but this duo of songs are absolutely amazing. A much darker tone seeps through 'Dancing On The Edge'. It's faster and heavier and the blues is gone in place of metal. Well, as close to metal as Badlands ever went. 'Streets Cry Freedom' is the most diverse track on display. Heavily soaked in blues, it moves freely and elegantly between tempos and styles. Sounds confusing? Well, it's not, in fact it works perfectly.
'Hard Driver' follows and never has Gillen sounded as much like David Coverdale as he does here. I mean that in a positive way and it pushes this Whitesnake-esque rocker to great heights. Next up, Badlands takes us down into the heartland of delta blues with 'Rumblin' Train'. The band is in top form and Jake plays a blistering solo. Bringing back the seasonal feel 'Devil's Stomp' has me fooled. About 1.45 into the song, the band switches from the acoustic beauty and throw caution to the wind and simply annihilates. Awesome stuff! Mainly slow but with bursts of stomping rock, 'Seasons' is a dark brooding affair with a lot of hints of Led Zeppelin. The vinyl version ends with this song while the cd version includes 'Ball & Chain'. A mid-paced blues rocker where the band eventually go full tilt with the heaviness.
Overall, 'Badlands' is steeped in heavy power blues with a strong presence of roots rock mixed with Led Zeppelin and early Whitesnake. Listen closely and you hear how Gillen is phrasing his singing like Robert Plant and David Coverdale, but he is more of a screamer than these two legends. Musically, it is the same especially in the song structure. I'm not saying this a copy-cat recording, on the contrary Badlands nurtures their influences very well and blend them excellently with their own stuff. Being the anorak or the trainspotter that I am, I was expecting Jake's guitar playing to sound just like it does when he played for Ozzy but it doesn't. I guess he embraced the freedom of this new band to the fullest and did his own thing. However, there are brief moments here and there where snippets of 'Bark At The Moon' and 'The Ultimate Sin' shines through.
In my opinion 'Badlands' was a great debut by a band with so much potential. But too much internal bickering lead to their down-fall. Saleswise the album apparently sold 400,000 copies and what record label wouldn't want that? However, Atlantic wanted to streamline Badlands in time for their sophomore albums, 'Voodoo Highway', which the band refused. Simultaneously, Gillen and Lee started to fight and became bitter enemies which naturally curtailed what could have become something absolutely fantastic.