Friday, July 4, 2014

Crate Digging - Slave Raider - What Do You Know About Rock n Roll?

I'm the last person in the world you'd expect to review this album.

I have no "nostalgic" fond memories for hair metal.  In fact, I missed most of that scene, being fully immersed in graduate studies and living on a hardcore diet of Jazz, Postpunk, and Afrobeat.  In fact, I really can't stand "schmaltz" metal.  Just the mere mention of bands like Poison, Slaughter, and Warrant is enough to instigate a gag reflex so intense it can tear Arnold Schwartzenegger's abdominal muscles.  Why just the other day, I threw out a Highway Chile LP I'd found for a buck because it was simply to sappy to listen to.

And there's more.  If I'd spent any time believing the All Music Guide review of this album, I definitely never would have picked it up.  Calling the band a "poor man's Twisted Sister" without the talent to "move off the bottom rung," it was hardly a ringing endorsement to get me to open my wallet.  But I never believe anything All Music writes.  And besides, I'd been on a "lost" metal LP kick lately and in truth, I'll buy just about anything for a dollar.

So, with $1 spent, this slice of '80's glam trash made it's way into my collection.

And it won't be leaving anytime soon.

Yeah, sure, it's glammy and pompous and over-the-top in ways I can't even begin to describe.  It's outrageous and schmaltzy and slick.  And it's a damn fun, kick in the ass burst of pop metal that I can't stop listening to.

Certainly, having the legendary producer Chris Tsangarides on board helped.  It certainly helped convince me to lay my $1 down.  The bad "skeleton"band drawings on the back also helped.  I'm a sucker sometimes for schtick.  But in reality, it's the music that will keep this baby on my vinyl shelves.  Plain and simple, Slave Raider kicks ass.

I don't know enough about Twisted Sister, or WASP, or any other Hair Metal band to give you a proper comparison.  I missed the whole scene remember?  And by missed it, I mean missed it.  To my knowledge, I've still never even heard a WASP song.  It probably happened sometime, but I don't know when, where or what song.  The only reason I own any Twisted Sister is because dedicated Ripple scribe Woody swears by them, so I picked up a couple.  And they're much better than I feared they would be.

But my guess is that Slave Raider falls somewhere in between Twisted Sister and WASP. Certainly, they do in terms of image, with their post-apocalyptic garb and "war paint" make up.  Musically, it's my guess as well.  Big, I mean HUGE, anthemic choruses with enough melody and chops to kick the songs into high gear.  Think, "We're not Gonna Take it" big choruses.  But what really sets it  up for me is the unexpected heaviness (hence the WASP reference.).   Yeah, it's slick and produced and pop, but damn, they got some big heavy power chords in there and ramrod those mastodon-sized riffs through each song like a freaking jailbreak from Jurassic Park.

So, let's set the stage.  Not being a fan of hair metal, knowing the album was going to have at least a moderate-sized "cheese factor"and having read the All Music Guide obituary on the album, I plopped this platter onto the turntable with a mixture of reservation and trepidation.  I fully expected to hate it, but heck, I paid my buck and I fear no music, so what the heck.  Lower needle to wax.  Wait for the surface noise to pass, and  . . .

"Is there Rock n Roll in Heaven?" was actually almost enough for me to dismiss the album right off the bat.  Starting off with an overly slick group chorus, I feared I was about to enter Slaughter territory.  But it slowly got better with some nifty guitar and a vocalist who was just a bit different.  Just nuanced enough to get my attention.  More Kix or Jackyl than a Vince Neal or Brett Michaels clone. The chorus here is huge in big 80's hair metal standards, which isn't necessarily a good thing for me.  But damn, if it isn't well-written and catchy enough to keep me listening.  And the riffs don't slow up underneath it.  Around this time, I noticed what sounds like a distinct female voice in the backing vocals of the chorus, which isn't revolutionary, but somehow fills that perfect tone.  Damn, I liked this song.  Not so much on first listen (because I came in biased) but on repeats it definitely stood up.  Damn, shoulda been a big metal hit back in the day.

The guitar riff that kicks off "Youngblood" is meatier and heavier and simply meaner, raging right into a stormer of another slamming 80's metal song.  Sure it's a bit cliched, but all 80's metal was to some point.  The guitars are solid.  Not over the top shredding for no reason, but flamboyant enough to really stand out.  "Bye Bye Baby," keeps the rocking in full gear, but it really was about mid-way through "Keep on Pushin'" that I suddenly realized I was really digging this album.   The tone is dirty and sinister.  Chainsaw Caine really unleashes his voice here and it's a damn fine performance.  Big backing vocals bring on that Hair Metal melody but it's the meat of the guitars that keeps it all together.  This is a big heavy sound that simply chugs along.  Not wimp metal or sap.  It's a massive crowd pleasing stomp of riff-mania.  Damn, if I'd been in the audience when the band played this, I'd be head banging with the lot of them.

By the time 5th song on side one, "Sin City Social" tears through my speakers I'm a fan.  Not just enjoying the album, but digging it.  Praising my lucky stars for pulling it out of the $1 bin and condemning All Music for another in their long list of "we're critics, not music lovers" reviews.

Is "What Do You Know About Rock n Roll?" a great album?  No, of course not.  It wasn't a game changer, didn't revolutionize a dying genre.  It's not an album I'd ever imagine a future Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee holding up as he gives his induction speech as the biggest inspiration of his career.  But then it doesn't have to be.  Chainsaw Caine, The Rock, Lance Sabin, Nicci Wikkid, and Letitia Rae crafted a balls out blast of good time fun metal.  It's got big riffs, heavy guitars, choruses that can be heard from Mars, and more hooks than could be found at a bass fishing competition.

In fact, the album is so fun it may make me rethink my entire life's bias against hair metal and re-explore some the albums from then.  I've even gone so far as to pull the Highway Chile album out of the trash.  It's sitting on my desk waiting to be the next listen.

 Let's see if a review follows.


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