The Oblivion Express

Comeback attempts by acts that should just go away.

Whoever said that the classics never go out of fashion probably wasn't referring to popular music. In a field where styles date faster than President Clinton on a weekend fundraiser, it's hardly startling that for most artists, fame is as fleeting as the glow of a nearly spent spliff.

What is surprising, though, is the number of past-their-prime performers who've recently resurfaced to seek out one more hit of the limelight. From cochlea-crushing corporate rockers to preening pop poseurs, acts that have hardly sold a disc in a decade or more are suddenly proffering product like there's no tomorrow, courtesy of labels such as CMC International and the aptly named Deadline. The following list reviews ten of these releases, providing in the process the most compelling argument for the creation of a music-industry pension plan since the latest Stones tour.

LEGENDARY(?) LINEUPS
Quiet Riot
Alive and Well
(Deadline)

As is true with all of the groups in this category, the fact that Quiet Riot's roster has remained intact probably has less to do with the bandmembers' loyalties than it does with their inability to secure employment in surroundings that don't feature warm beer, diesel fumes and backstage blow jobs. To be fair, this package, billed as a collection of "new and greatest hits," reveals that the Riot squad has withstood the ravages of age better than most of its peers; at least the players haven't lost the shoulder-length coifs they've no doubt been wearing since the Reagan administration. Unfortunately, the group's musical abilities also remain best suited to that era. Each of the fifteen selections here is at least one guitar solo too long, and vocalist Kevin DuBrow's trademark stuck-pig squalling does for the band's occasional attempts at VH1-style balladry what the O.J. Simpson trial did for the Juice's odds of appearing in a new Naked Gun movie. But a more glaring fault is Quiet Riot's career-long lack of identity. The cover of "Highway to Hell" on the disc is so faithful to the AC/DC original that Bon Scott is probably yawning in his grave.

Night Ranger
Seven
(CMC International)

This release illustrates the dilemma facing many would-be resurgent rockers: Should they remain true to the musical approach that won them glory in the first place, or update their sound in an attempt to appeal to younger listeners? If Seven is any indication, the Rangers chose to pursue both strategies, thereby guaranteeing disaster on both counts. The act's songwriting schizophrenia surfaces most blatantly in "Sign of the Times," a tune that marries unconvincingly barked verses (complete with a plug for Jack Daniel's) with heavily harmonized choruses in a manner that will please neither the nose-ringed crowd nor onetime hair-band boosters still into acid-washed denims. (In a similar vein, "Peace Sign" attempts to capitalize on the neo-hippie trend, to laughable effect.) As for the band's occasional attempts at social commentary, it digs no deeper than the keyboard-heavy "Don't Ask Me Why," which offers the line, "What is this road called life?" For Night Ranger, that road should have ended years ago.

Dangerous Toys
Pissed
(Deadline)

Throughout Pissed, the members of this Austin-based combo party like it's 1989. Near-listenable numbers include the twangy, acoustic-guitar-driven "Screamin' for More" and "Promise the Moon," an arena-ready power ballad that might make Skid Row screecher Sebastian Bach cream his Spandex. But tracks like these are outnumbered by offerings such as the title cut, which suggests a humorless version of Faster Pussycat, a group of Dangerous Toys contemporaries who at least had the sense to disappear once their fifteen minutes of quasi-fame had elapsed. These guys, by contrast, persist in putting forward the kind of vocal and instrumental pyrotechnics that have been passe since Axl Rose got rich. Case in point: "Illustrated Man," a four-and-a-half minute ode to--what else?--tattoos. Hear it soon at a tractor pull near you.

Nazareth
boogaloo
(CMC International)

Give the members of this creaky quintet some credit: Approximately twenty years after their weepy rendition of "Love Hurts" became a senior-prom staple, they're still capable of making music that's halfway hip. Examples on boogaloo include "Robber + the Roadie," a spunky, Blasters-esque piano stomp that contains a gratuitous Jackson Browne reference that may or may not be a dig. Equally agreeable--if you can tolerate singer Dan McCafferty's painfully constricted snarling--is "Talk Talk," a pop confection propelled by a Celtic-influenced guitar lick. On the negative side, leering compositions such as the stereotype-heavy "Cheerleader" quickly wear out their welcome, and the pro-Dixie sentiments of "God Save the South" strike an even less-savory note. This last number might please audiences weaned on the musical wisdom of Lynyrd Skynyrd, but for listeners from the hip-hop generation, it's likely to be as welcome as a Klansman at a Jesse Jackson rally.

Blue Oyster Cult
Heaven Forbid
(CMC International)

At first listen, supporters of even moderately good taste may be unable to tear themselves away from this recording--but that's only because they'll want to hear how bad it can actually get. Those who hang in for Heaven's 45-minute duration won't be disappointed. Sporting absolutely no stylistic concessions to the Nineties, the CD is rife with numbers such as "See You in Black," which uses an alternately plodding and jerky time signature to propel a seduction fantasy that is set against the disturbing backdrop of an abusive husband's funeral. Elsewhere, "Power Underneath Despair" recounts a convict's plan to snuff a rival, while "Harvest Moon" attempts to bring out the warm-and-fuzzy side of these thinking-person's potheads by way of a convoluted farm-failure narrative that even John Mellencamp might reject. The most telling element of the last effort--and of the album as a whole--are the lines "I see the days grow shorter/I feel the nights grow cold/Young people feelin' restless/Old people feelin' old." Would that the members of Blue …yster Cult were playing shuffleboard rather than making records like this one.

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