by Brent Jensen
Cinderella frontman Tom Keifer launches the first solo record of his career, The Way Life Goes, in the spring of 2013. As such, his opportunity to validate his authenticity as a genuinely pure musician has finally come. And it's a big moment for those who believed he was always capable of thriving beyond Cinderella's '80's hair rock pedigree.
Most fairweather fans who revelled in Cinderella's pinkish-purply hair rock bacchanalia back in 1986 most likely came for the bombast and stayed as long as it lasted. The '80's music video served as the perfect vehicle to foist a band like Cinderella and their debut record Night Songs upon the public- the video for lead-off single "Shake Me" featured requisite flashy, trashy big-hair-bigger-makeup girls strutting their way through a campy tongue-in-cheek storyline. The single itself cranked out staccato power chords that recalled KISS' "Calling Dr Love" and Motley Crue's "Ten Seconds To Love." Did the lyrics to "Shake Me" narrate the pubescent Holy Grail glory of anonymous, random sex at command? Of course they did. The opening lyric sums it up nicely- "I met this girl around quarter to ten / I made her once she said make me again". The branding was good enough to make them MTV staples. In fact, maybe too good.
Night Songs was really only successful because of Cinderella multi-instrumentalist and lead singer Tommy Keifer's (and ergo Cinderella's) greatest advantage- his musical abilities and mystique as a performer reached beyond the cartoonish corniness of hair rock. Keifer was legitimate, and he was believable, even when not many of his Sunset Strip peers were. Keifer may have been at the vanguard of a movement that colourfully reconfigured the hard rock heroes of the previous decade for screaming girlies the world over, but his downfall was that he was labelled as the same- a parochial figure in a genre that is taken seriously by very few and ridiculed by a great many. In the same way that Michael Richards couldn't escape his Kramer typecasting post-Seinfeld, Keifer and his band have suffered the fate of a simplified hair band branding. Keifer could hold his own alongside hard rock's elite, but because of that Night Songs cover alone, he was doomed to die (and be typecasted) by the same sword by which he lived in Cinderella.
Keifer's androgyny channelled the smooth fluidity of a late '60's Jagger-Richards composite, mysteriously asexual and as anathematic to some as it was intriguing. Keifer had a Steven Tyler-esque carriage about him that allowed him to pull off the routine where so many others failed. On Night Songs, Keifer uses a falsetto singing style that while not quite as shrill as say Mark Slaughter's, is just bluesy enough without nodding too deliberately in Tyler's direction.
And if we're being honest, Cinderella is essentially The Tommy Keifer Band. With no disrespect intended to the other members, Keifer represents the band much in the same way that Jim Morrison did The Doors. In both cases, their respective bands would virtually be non-entities without the charisma of their respective front men. Look no further than Ray Manzarek's pitiful attempts to cash in on The Doors brand by trotting out The Cult's Ian Astbury in Morrison's place on tour in the '90's for proof. It was sacrilege (I like Astbury, but that kind of shit just shouldn't be allowed). Keifer can almost be looked at as a victim of circumstance, in the sense that he was born a decade too late. He did well to use the pop-metal environment as a launch pad much (in the same way Guns N' Roses did), as every Cinderella record that followed Night Songs moved further away from hair rock and closer to the blues. Unfortunately, it seemed that Keifer and Cinderella made too much of a cock-rock impression in their early years, and they would never be able to get up from underneath the hair-band mantle the way that GNR did.
Cinderella's sophomore record Long Cold Winter endeavoured to avoid the Night Songs fake-metal formula, the only visual reminder being the band's dubious pinky-purply color scheme of their logo on an otherwise very plain album cover. Incidentally, with the exception of the band logo, the back cover of the album is exactly identical to the Stones' Beggars Banquet. Keifer implicitly attempted to send this message when he kicked off Long Cold Winter with a spare, unaccompanied slide guitar number called "Bad Seamstress Blues." But despite this opening salvo, the album fell into a familiar pattern- the track sequencing was identical to that of Night Songs. "Fallin' Apart at the Seams" was "Night Songs". First single "Gypsy Road" was a less salacious and more rootsy "Shake Me". The ballad was the third track on both records. And so on. Any potential comparison to classic Stones or even Aerosmith was eliminated by Cinderella's formulaic approach to track sequencing. With Long Cold Winter, they basically decided to release another version of their debut, even if it was most likely at the behest of the record company.
Given the time, it's not surprising that a formula was followed. Each of the newer songs did show slight signs of maturation against their predecessors. But hair band fans, Cinderella's main draw, didn't want signs of maturation. The same thing happened to Ratt when guitar whiz Warren DeMartini tried to pass off "Way Cool Jr." as a Ratt song. Ratt isn't a blues band in the eyes of their core fan base- they're a dirtbag Sunset Strip hair band, and they always will be. Nobody cares about a hair band's influences.
Poor Tom. There were some moments on Long Cold Winter that gave a glimpse of Cinderella's blues potential, mainly in Kiefer's lead playing on the otherwise generic title track. There was some creativity in the arrangements and glimpses of something more. The breakdown of "Second Wind" recalled early Aerosmith, but it flamed out before really taking the song somewhere worthwhile. And really, this was the unfortunate paper tiger that was Long Cold Winter. It flashed some brief elements of greatness, but fell short of the work it emulated. The musicianship was more than capable, but formula and '80's sheen prevented Keifer and Cinderella from stepping out of the long shadow cast by the gravitas of their rock and roll forefathers.
"Heartbreak Station" from Cinderella's 1990 album of the same name is probably their best song from a songwriting point of view. But even then, the song is overlooked in favor of the likes of Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn". Keifer played the game by the same rules as Cinderella's peers during their time, but couldn't escape from a hair rock purgatory that must have been more like hell for him.
And now, with his forthcoming solo release, Keifer has finally seized the opportunity to demonstrate authenticity and genuine musicianship beyond the confines of formulaic genre and a manufactured '80's branding. His legitimacy as a gritty, organic musician had been eclipsed for decades by his entry through the front door with Cinderella, trapping him in a closed system above Sunset Strip vapidity but beneath Aerosmith and the Stones.
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