Monday, February 26, 2018

The Greatest Album Is...Crack A Smile

Every band that has been around for a while and released great records runs into this debate; what is their greatest album? The greatest album is… is a column dedicated to tackling that age old question. What is the greatest album recorded by Poison? Join with us now as the question is answered and arguments are made that the greatest Poison album is Crack A Smile.  

When Poison went to record their fifth studio album, Crack A Smile, they were at a crossroads. Long gone was original guitarist C.C. DeVille. His replacement, Richie Kotzen had been fired from the band after it was discovered he was having an affair with drummer Rikki Rockett’s fiancĂ©. Blues Saraceno came in and took over lead guitar duties. Glam was a dying musical genre, and while their previous album Native Tongue had decent sales numbers, they paled in comparison to the first three Poison records. The band had also changed their musical style from glam slam party jams, to socio-political blues rock. It was a huge change that fans had a hard time accepting. So, when Poison went into the studio to record Crack A Smile everything was conspiring against them. They had to make a hit record or their career could be over.

There are very few Poison fans that would choose Crack A Smile as the band’s greatest album. It wasn’t recorded with beloved guitarist C.C. DeVille. It was released five years after it was finished and the band had moved on from those songs. There are no concert staples contained on the record because none of the songs have ever been played live. It’s hard for fans to even know this album, let alone embrace it as the best. Yet, once the album has been consumed a few times, the beauty of the record clearly comes into focus.

Crack A Smile showed that Poison was going back to their party style of glam metal, leaving the seriousness of Native Tongue in the past. Returning to their roots paid big dividends musically. Poison was loose and fun on this record, having a party with their music, and they produced songs that are as classic as any material from their first three records. Except for the cover of the Dr. Hook hit “Cover of the Rolling Stone,” the entire band wrote every song for this release together. And it is that band unity that makes these songs so strong, focused, and fun.

Sexually charged fantasy songs are plentiful with “Best Thing You Ever Had,” “Shut Up, Make Love,” “Baby Gets Around A Bit,” and “Sexual Thing.” All these songs focus on the theme of being used just for sex and that is not portrayed as a negative. It’s taken more tongue in cheek and shows the humorous side of a man being used just for his body. Every boy’s fantasy. Poison hit the mark with songs like these and if Crack A Smile was released in 1987 these all would have been top ten hits.  

Power ballads are also accounted for with “Be The One,” and “Lay Your Body Down.” Poison reminds everyone how power ballads are done with both these songs. They are magnificent beauties that show the ability to write majestic slow jams. And while neither song is as grand as “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” both are amazing in their own right.

“Lay Your Body Down” was even released on the band’s greatest hits record, which ironically came out before Crack A Smile. “Lay Your Body Down” is the stronger of the two with some of the best lyrics the band has ever crafted. The opening lines of “I spend my life waiting for that famous final scene…I believe you know the one…where she falls in love with me” are just fantastic! It’s great artistic writing, painting a scene and setting up the rest of what is to come. “Lay Your Body Down” could give “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” a challenge for best Poison ballad. And while it probably wouldn’t win it would be a close race. “Lay Your Body Down” is stunning.

One of Poison’s best songs is also included on Crack A Smile. “No Ring, No Gets” is a tremendous, light hearted, humorous track that has fun with a serious topic. Blues Saraceno shows off his skills with the solo and the beat of this tune make it a great sing along song. “No Ring, No Gets” would have been a huge concert staple if it was recorded at a different time in the bands career. As it is, Poison should consider adding this gem to their set for upcoming tours. Even the fans who don’t know the song would fall in love with it after one listen.

Crack A Smile is the best work Poison ever recorded and that level of talent would carry over for the studio songs that were included on Power To The People. Even with a new guitarist, Poison was at the top of the mountain with Crack A Smile. If this album had been released at an earlier time in the band’s career it would be as beloved as their first three records are. Unfortunately, Crack A Smile suffered from poor timing and genre preference changes. Thus, it is a record that not a lot of fans know about, and the ones that do are die-hards only. The casual fan has never heard Crack A Smile and that’s the real shame.

The greatest album is…Crack A Smile.

Vital Statistics
Release Date: March 14, 2000
Produced By: John Purdell and Duane Baron
RIAA Sales: Did not receive certification
Peak Position on the US Charts: 131
The album was recorded in 1994 and 1995 but put “on hold” by Capitol records. It would finally be released in 2000 with bonus tracks, due to fan demand.
“Sexual Thing” and “Lay Your Body Down” were previously released on Poison’s greatest hits album.
No song from this record has ever been played live by Poison.

Shut Up, Make Love
Be the One

Track Listing
Best Thing You Ever Had
Shut Up, Make Love
Baby Gets Around A Bit
Cover of the Rolling Stone
Be The One
Mr. Smiley
Sexual Thing
Lay Your Body Down
No Ring, No Gets
That’s the Way I Like It
Tragically Unhip
Doin’ As I See on My TV

Band Members
Bret Michaels – lead vocals, rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboards
Rikki Rockett -drums, percussion
Bobby Dall – bass, backing vocals
Blues Saraceno – lead guitar, piano, backing vocals

Sunday, February 18, 2018

CD Review: Pop Evil - Pop Evil

It has been a while since there has been a CD review here at The Rock And Roll Guru. There are several reasons for this, time being one of the biggest. But when a new Pop Evil record was announced, I knew that I had to write a review for this one. I have been with this band since their earliest days and they have been one of my favorites since the night I first learned of their existence. Hard working, dedicated, hit making machines that are constantly on tour, Pop Evil is one of the greatest modern rock bands around.  

I am certain I say this every time Pop Evil puts out a new album, but they just get better with each release. Pop Evil is the latest incarnation of greatness from this little band that could. The record is filled with uplifting messages of hope and peace and belief in yourself, something that is usually at the core of good hard rock records. It is why fans are so drawn to the music in the first place, it makes them believe that they can achieve anything. Pop Evil is at the forefront of that inspirational type of music and their self-titled release is further proof.

Pop Evil is the first album to be recorded with new drummer Hayley Cramer. Chachi Riot brought a crazy and intense drumming method to Pop Evil that was fun to watch live. When he announced his departure from the band it was a huge disappointment, but Cramer, an animal in her own right, has filled in nicely and won over fans. Her drumming style is different than Riot’s, but her timing and ability is just as grand. She has been a wonderful replacement. Cramer was a great find for Pop Evil and after being on the road with the band for a while, she got to show off her work in the studio setting with Pop Evil. The end result shows that she is a valuable asset to this band.

The first single from this album was the hard hitting “Waking Lions.” Filled with signature Pop Evil sounds and styles, “Waking Lions” is a fantastic song about awakening the beast within to overcome challenges and achieve all the dreams that are possible in life with hard work and perseverance. This is something that Pop Evil is familiar with. They are a band that has built an immense, devoted following based on the strength of their music and their endless touring.  They know how to awaken the beast within. “Waking Lions” shows the high end of lead singer Leigh Kakaty’s vocals which sound as majestic as ever. Kakaty’s voice is powerful on this track and makes the music soar.

I will admit that I do miss guitarist Tony Greve, but Nick Fueling is a master in his own right. He’s been with the band for as many years as Tony was and has now played on more albums than Greve. Nick’s style helped propel the band in directions they may not have otherwise gone in.  While Greve was more of a hard and heavy style of guitarist (in the vein of Pantera), Fueling is more of a modern rock guitarist ala Shinedown or Nickelback. Fueling’s style is a better fit for this incarnation of Pop Evil and since he joined the band they have gravitated toward that modern sound that will fill arenas with fans and win over newcomers.

Uplifting and inspiring, the track “Be Legendary” is destined to be another top 5 single for a band that is filled with them. This song could almost be a sequel to “Waking Lions.” “Be Legendary” contains positive messages of always giving only your best and pushing yourself to be a legend. It’s songs like this one that make Pop Evil such a fun and admirable band to listen to. They don’t wallow in self-pity or cry over life’s tragedies. Instead the band promotes ways to overcome hardship and inspire all to lift themselves up and achieve the best that they can. These themes started way back on War Of Angels and were fleshed out on the following releases. Pop Evil have gotten to the point where they have honed their skills in this type of songwriting and can really inspire not only the youth of today but those that are middle aged as well. We should all strive to be legendary indeed.

One of the most unique and innovative songs that Pop Evil has ever recorded is contained on this new release. “Nothing But Thieves” is a six-minute gem that works al different types of tones and musical styles not normally known in Pop Evil’s music. This branching out for the band was a bit of a risk, but one that worked well as “Nothing But Thieves” is probably the best song on Pop Evil and could be one of the best songs the band has ever recorded. It starts slowly with chimes and keyboards and then builds in intensity until exploding at the 2-minute mark proclaiming that we know what it’s like and we make mistakes in being right or wrong, branding ourselves nothing but thieves. “Nothing But Thieves” combines so much into one song which is what makes it so powerful. Fueling’s guitar solo at the end is magnificent and completes the song in a majestic way. After hearing “Nothing But Thieves” several times, it is my hope that the band will continue to experiment with their music in this direction. The payoff is well worth the risk.

God’s Dam harkens back to early Pop Evil with Kakaty’s voice sounding like it is 2007 all over again. The song reminds me of early, unreleased demo tracks that Pop Evil had recorded before Lipstick On The Mirror. As far as ballads go, this one is up there with some of the strongest that Pop Evil have recorded. Kakaty’s voice shines and the lyrics are some of the greatest the band has written. And while “God’s Dam” isn’t a true ballad in the sense of “Monster You Made,” or “100 In A 55,” it is still a beautiful piece of music that fans are going to be singing along with in concert as soon as the song is performed live.

Pop Evil has recorded another incredible album that fans are bound to love and newcomers should welcome with open arms. The band has a storied history for making hits and with Pop Evil there are more hits that can be added to their repertoire. Hard rocking and heavy as well as soft and sweet, Pop Evil hits all the right places for rock music lovers. It is an inspirational record that is as beautiful as it is uplifting. Pop Evil soars. At this point in their career no one really expected anything but greatness from the band and they delivered it once again.

Ryo’s Rating: 9 (out of 10)

Track Listing
Waking Lions
Colors Bleed
Ex Machina
Art Of War
Be Legendary
Nothing But Thieves
A Crime To Remember
God’s Dam
When We Were Young
Birds Of Prey

Friday, February 9, 2018

Friday's Rockin' Roundup - A Lot Going On Edition

Holy Hannah, there was a lot going on in the world of music this past week! There was also a lot going on in my personal life too. Some good, some bad, and some just too much work! It happens. I have a very demanding day job and I try to keep up with this blog and my newly launched KISS podcast, while still making time for reading, movies, games, family, and friends. Sometimes I need to remind myself that I should slow down and enjoy life for whatever it is handing me at that moment.

I’m really not complaining. I like to be busy and I like to get things done. I just tend to overcommit sometimes. And then there are times when everything happens all at once. Like new releases, tickets to concerts that I really want to see, and huge breaking news from some of my favorite bands. And that’s what I experienced this past week, which has led me to my first Friday’s Rockin’ Roundup for 2018.

So, while I was playing catch up in the world of all things Ryo Vie likes (and work), here’s what rocked this week!

Just hours after tickets went on sale for their upcoming summer tour, and a day before the band’s first concert in quite some time, Boyd Tinsley announced that he was “taking a break” from the Dave Mathews Band to focus on his family and health for a while. This news shocked the DMB fan community and caused one of the most popular fan sites to overload and shut down due to high traffic volume. The responses to this announcement are mixed. While some fans are really upset that this announcement did not come prior to the tickets going on sale, others are just sad and hope that everything is okay with their favorite fiddle player. I fall into both camps. On the one hand, I do hope that Boyd is okay and that the health issues are not serious. On the other hand, I wish I would have known this prior to buying tickets because it may have changed my decision about going or at least about how much to spend on tickets. As it is, I am going to two shows this summer. I just know they aren’t going to be the same without Boyd. It’s going to be odd and somber at times.

I’ll admit that with all that’s been going on lately, this announcement totally caught me by surprise. But thankfully, in a good way! I had no idea that Poison was gearing up to hit the road this summer. And taking Cheap Trick and Pop Evil out with them is quite a bonus. Long time readers know how much I love Pop Evil and Poison, so this is practically a must see show for me. The problem is I have DMB tickets for the night that Poison is in my home state. Now I am frantically scrambling to see what other nearby shows there are that will fit my schedule. Ugh! The problems of a die-hard music fan!

After a long hiatus, The Gaslight Anthem is finally getting back together! They plan to tour in honor of the anniversary of The 59 Sound, their breakout album that most (if not all) Gaslight fans adore. Tickets for all the announced North America shows have sold out, so I am hopeful that the band will add more dates. They currently do not have any shows scheduled for their home state of New Jersey and I can’t see them doing this tour without a show or two in The Garden State. Thus, like most fans, I will wait and see if future shows are added and if they include a stop in Jersey. If they do, expect me to be there!

Pearl Jam announced some stadium shows for this summer. Tickets go on sale soon, however, if you were one of the lucky ones to become a “verified” fan, then you will have the opportunity to buy tickets next Friday, February 16th. If there are any tickets left after that (doubtful), the general on sale will be February 21st at 10:00 AM. Unfortunately, the closest show to me is almost 6 hours away, so I did not try to get “verified.” I still have some issues with the whole verification through Ticketmaster process anyway, but that’s a topic for another time. I may or may not try to get general tickets for Fenway in Boston, but I’m real hopeful that PJ will add some dates to the NYC area. MetLife stadium is a great place to hold a concert in the summer!

Not to be outdone by his band that’s been on hiatus and is now returning with a boom, Brian Fallon will release a new solo album today. Sleepwalkers is the second solo album from Fallon and every song that I have heard from this record is magnificent. I can’t even begin to describe how talented Brian Fallon is or how much I love his music. It is filled with such passion that it just overwhelms me (in a very good way). There was a great article posted on the independent that talks about his new record, The Gaslight Anthem, and much more. It’s definitely worth reading, especially if you are a fan!

I’ll wrap up this edition of Friday’s Rockin’ Roundup with a shameless self-promoting plug. The latest episode of my Podcast The Psycho Circus Podcast is up. It’s also available on iTunes and Tune-In. This episode covers my favorite KISS album of all time, Destroyer, so I really hope that it gets a lot of listens. And if you like what you hear, think about subscribing. My plan is to post a new episode every week until I collapse from over-commitment!