Perfect Sound Forever


C.C. DeVille, Rikki Rockett and Bret Michaels, Houston TX, 2011

Goin' Home with Poison
by Van Halen Kurtz
(December 2011)

Bands are like girls.

Sometimes, it's just time for a new one. Sure, you never forget your first and maybe that's the problem: there's just too much to remember. Another way of putting it is, there's too little to discover. It doesn't matter if there's alternate takes or demo versions or whathaveyou, been there done that, and come to think of it, whatever did you see in her in the first place? If she was as perfect as you thought when you first met her, you wouldn't be on the look right now, wouldja?

Now, where to go to find a new one? Too new and it's gonna be too hard to relate. Too hard to keep up. Sure, it seems like it'll be be fun having some hot young model, faster than ever, been a while since you felt this sorta rush, but after the pop flashes, there don't seem to be too much in common. She just keeps going on and on, just one riff, over and over, no middle eight, no chorus, it's all production. She doesn't understand a word you're saying. Where's the guitar?

What I need is someone my age. But someone new. Not too new, just a good snug fit. So it's back to those bands I didn't listen to back in the day. Way back then, I was current, or so I thought- I had PiL and New Order and even the silly Ramones to take home. But it didn't work out with them, they didn't age well, dead end. So who's available now? Well, look who's still out there swinging, still in decent shape, and eventually I find myself attracted to a band like Poison. What the hell.

I start off cautious with a greatest hits. That's like a few no-fail first dates, right down to some nookie right off the bat. "Talk Dirty To Me," wow, what a potent dose, just a handful of simple guitar chords I used to play myself before I grew up and got boring, only these guys aren't bored with that handful of simple chords. They're reinventing the wheel, without knowing it. It runs. And that's why it sounds fun. It is the sound of fun. That's no dirty song- it's so artless it's innocent.

As Steve Huey (Allmusic) put it: "[D]erivative and formulaic, to be sure, but Poison wholeheartedly embraced that formula from the beginning with a conviction often missing in their peers, and it's that ridiculous, good-time excess that keeps [their] catchiest songs [...] just as much fun today, if not more so."

"I Want Action," and I'm getting it. Discovering girls and guitars all over again, like I'm fourteen, listening to Kiss, Slade or The Sweet again, only it's not again, I'm hearing those bands through the skulls of players I never heard until last week. "I Won't Forget You," with its chiming rhythm guitar and echoey backing vocals, it's practically The Hollies. Then I notice the covers they play -- "We're An American Band," "Your Mama Don't Dance," even "You Don't Mess Around With Jim" -- and I see, these guys were 12-years-old, listening to the same radio station the same time I was.

It's like: Waitaminute, you mean you went to the same high school as me, and we didn't get together 'til just now?

Of course, there's a big difference between a few first great dates, making out and all, and taking it to the next step, which is moving in together. Now we're talking about getting all the original albums. This metaphor, like most of Bret Michaels' lyrics, is a total no-brainer, the hits are the dinners out and the laughs and the love-makin,' and the rest of the album is the day-to-day stuff like dealing with the in-laws and the mood swings and the pile of laundry nobody's gettin' to.

So, what else is on their debut (Look What the Cat Dragged In, 1986) besides the hits (which includes the Alicesque title track, a perennial show opener, and "Cry Tough" which its 'sensitive' Spector beat). Whatcha expect? Buncha quickie boogie -- chugging beats, shoutalong choruses, dive-bomb guitar -- plus one AC/DC-style stomper, nothing super memorable but nothing that sends the party out the door. Makes ya wonder how it can come so easy at the time, that classic killer first album. Like that frisky first year living together in that perfectly shabby apartment.

Next up, second album (1988's Open Up and Say... Ahh!), and Poison closes the deal. The two big hits are supernova big -- "Nothin' But A Good Time," wahoo, and, you know it, "Every Rose Has Its Thorn," with its unrhyming chorus as guileless as an eighth grader's love note. But, produced. T-shirt time, PDA. Slip on the ring. Take off the makeup, Sunset Strip fraternity/military initiation rites are over, here's 'maturity': that is, if Bob Seger ("Fallen Angel"), Aerosmith ("Back To The Rocking Horse") and Ted Nugent ("Tearin' Down The Walls") represents manhood, ha ha. Honey, I got the raise.

It's like you're married now but ya still hit the bars on weekends. Life's good. Good love. Get it while you can 'cause now come the problems. Isn't it always the third album (in this case, 1990's Flesh & Blood). Damn. Maybe it's just she's pregnant but you're still at the bar. "(Flesh & Blood) Sacrifice," the strain is showing. Sure, there are still ecstatic moments, like "Unskinny Bop," nothing beats a skanky riff and a good-time beat, even "Ride The Wind," with its crass Bryan Adams' bravado, puts out, but "Life Loves A Tragedy" and, er, "Something To Believe In" are about as much fun as waking up at 4AM.

Next thing you know, accusations, arguments, fist fights -- separation.

C.C. DeVille would probably disown these words today but, after getting thrown out of Poison, he said: "The first album was more the way I was, when I wasnít writing songs to sell records. But what happened with the second and third albums, I was very conscious of making sure if Iím gonna do a record, itís gotta sell, because everyone has to pay for houses." Like Russell Hammond in Almost Famous, right? But it kinda explains how DeVille ended up guest soloing on Warrant's "Cherry Pie."

Mortgages, diapers, late nights at the office. Also known as the grunge slump. Suddenly everyone's got bags under their eyes. Poison's fourth album (Native Tongue, 1993), the one with the new guitarist no one wanted to hear, had some single with a big church choir in the background. Hey, guys, stop acting your age, there's always U2 if we wanna feel sorry for ourselves. Sure enough, another album, with the requisite "heavier sound," with another guitarist whoever, that didn't even get released 'til, like, five years later. Like anyone noticed. Like anyone in the bar is interested in that "old guy" sitting by himself.

Maybe it's time to stop sticking quarters in the jukebox and go to the phonebooth and try talking to your ex. Jus sayin'.

So they get back with DeVille. More or less sober but he sounds 19-years-old on the trashy, Keef-styled "I Hate Every Bone In Your Body but Mine," and that's a good thing. Why is it every bad thing people say about Poison is the same every good thing they say about Chuck Berry? Cliché? Like long hair, big tits, blue eyes and a sexy smile are cliché. Try to deny! Sometimes a rainbow, baby, is better than a pot of gold. I'll give all the ladies out a there a heads up: don't tell that cute lookin' boy playin' guitar you love his songs unless you really wanna hear him play them day in and day out, forever.

Now the kicker. The same technology that 'killed the album' provided an opening for the comeback. Behind The Music, then The Surreal Life, then, oh yeah, Rock of Love. And grunge even played a part, parodying (thus 'iconicizing') such 'hair metal' excesses as car crashes, facelifts, rehab and, oh yeah, Pamela Anderson. Eventually bands like Poison realized the market was drooling for the ultimate Poison tribute band. Poison. By time of Hollyweird (2002), Poison was in on the laugh, stoopid stoned & dum, creating the template for Mötley Crüe's similarly introspective (and self-depreciating) comeback, Saints of Los Angeles.

Blame Dan MacIntosh (Anti-Music). When he declared "[Poison] will never be cool," he just went and made it so. Fool.

Greatest Hits again, bring it on. Back on stage, usually with other bands reviving two-and-a-half album careers, but also with Kiss who know a thing or two about selling T-shirts, high tides or low. Unless Bret Michaels can hit with with one of his country tunes, Poison will be onstage twirling guitars, flipping drumsticks and high-fiving one another 'til mountains crumble into the sea and stars fall from the sky. Marriages are work, son. And, whew, since the fans demand a new album every five years or so yet they don't wanna hear any of it at the concert, why not just rush out some covers (Poison'd!), hey not bad at all, before getting back to the next season of Celebrity whatever.

Nothing like a good ol fashioned brain hemorrhage to make ya appreciate what ya got right at home.

That's my girlfriend we're talking about.

At least for now.

But I hear Cinderella might be comin' back.

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