[published]: 2001
[in]: Peacedogman
[article]: Guitargument

This is just excerpt from the article published. The whole article you can read at Peacedogman Guitargument.

Most regular readers of the Peacedogman site are familiar with the Guitargument we featured a few months ago with myself and Brian Russ of the BNR Metal Pages. During the exceedingly pleasant exchange with Brian, he mentioned his fondness for the writings of one Martin Popoff. I had read a few of Martin's reviews, and decided to contact him to see if he would be interested in an brutal exchange of views. It took a little bit of time for us to come up with a theme for this one, but we decided to take a topic that is often beaten to death on music forums (overrated vs. underrated) and push it out onto the web in living color and excruciating detail. To round out the debate, I invited Ray Dorsey from the CHAOS REALM review page to join us as well.

While the three of us have become all-too-familiar with the workings of the music industry over the years, there are still those bands that can really hook a reviewer. As much as we observe bands with the best industry connections, marketing, packaging, and image getting most of the label backing and promotional attention, it doesn't stop that fleeting hope. Some discs are just so killer and some artists so talented, we just know that a copy belongs in every rock fan's household. All we can do is belt out the accolades and encourage the artists to bust their ass and get in front of anyone that will see them play. But sadly, great edgy discs often fall to the wayside, receiving minimal acknowledgement (except among musicians and music nerds like us).

So, the question is...which albums from each decade (70s, 80s, 90s) received way too much hype and promotion? We all three pondered this question and included detailed reviews. Plus, which musically superior albums in the same time period should have gotten more attention and didn't? We included reviews of those also. And that's when the groaning and arguing started...

Peacedogman: Gentlemen, thanks for participating in this latest Guitargument. We can start with my reviews of the 70s picks if that's OK. Then we'll move on to Martin's 80s picks and Ray's for the 90s.

Overrated: DEF LEPPARD - "Pyromania", 1983 (PolyGram)

Peak Billboard chart position: 2

Superstardom arrives, and so begins an unstoppable physical and creative degeneration. Musically, "Pyromania" is a direct evolution from its stirring predecessor, however Mutt Lange's much bally-hooed production is sabotaged (in my opinion) by a disheartening over-electrolysis of the drum sound, and an unwarranted, un-rock'n'roll, painstaking approach to detail that strips what is actually a fairly heavy album of its sweat and grit. Some more than acceptable weekend rock here, and an emphasis again on big beat and mega-huge atmosphere, while Elliott's vocals sound strained and distantly mixed as if drowning by design. Harmonies are mechanical and ultra-layered (I think the appropriate word is PHONY), and the overall sound is just too calculated and larger than life to rock, let alone breathe. Of course, somewheres around ten million fans might disagree (the record was officially seven times platinum by '88), but to me this marked the beginning of the odious decline to the abysmal muzak wretch that is Hysteria. However, no argument with glorious explosions like "Stagefright" and "Die Hard The Hunter".

- Martin Popoff

Underappreciated: KICK AXE - "Vices", 1984 (Pasha)

Peak Billboard Chart Position: 126

A rich and powerful masterpiece of hard rock songcraft, "Vices" is a celebration of living on par with the most cherished highs from Van Halen, Kiss and Aerosmith. The elements that make "Vices" brilliant are many, first and foremost being the king-of-the-world vocal prowess of George Criston who soars, screams, yelps, and croons all over this, Criston turning in a performance so sincere and inspired, that the band can't help but be lifted to new heights in the process. And the playing is awesome, bottom-heavy, chunky, sparse and tasteful. Solos are metallic and resolvingly melodic, drumming is manic but somehow level-headed, production is hi-tech, overtreated but warm. Musically "Vices" occupies the space between simple, economic, mischievous metal and melodically complex hard rock pageantry. Just about everything inspires here, the smooth cruising riffs of "Cause For Alarm" and "All The Right Moves", the other-worldly philosophizing of "Just Passin' Through", and the anthemic bad boy stomps of minor hit "Heavy Metal Shuffle" right through the autobiographical title track. Vices remains a devastating and enduring piece of metal history after the passing years, the drift, and the ultimate break-up of KICK AXE. It's unfortunate that the overflowing talent on this album had not been recognized and nurtured. After all, this is the label and production team that brought us the obscenely successful debut from QUIET RIOT. Instead, it seems that someone had prematurely pushed the panic button, causing the subsequent stylistic shifts that would be "Welcome To The Club" and "Rock The World", albums that tended to cloud the band's obvious knack for spirited songcraft. "Vices" on the other hand, is a necessity of life.

- Martin Popoff

Peacedogman: Why do you think 'Vices' didn't make it big? It seems the band certainly had backing, at least initially...I remember (and may still have) the writeups in HIT PARADER and similiar zines shouting praises for the album. Not to mention the label and the presence of Proffer (obviously a talented producer with connections....and a fascination for poodle rock). Their later albums were touted on the Metalshop playlists as well.

Martin Popoff: Why didn't they make it? Management were apparently crooks and the organization were doing more drugs and drink than the band, which was also a lot.

Peacedogman: The KICK AXE album still doesn't really do much for me. I remember picking up a vinyl copy sometime in '84, along the same time as WHITE WOLF's first album. While neither album had me doing cartwheels, I actually prefered the WHITE WOLF, kind of dismissing the KICK AXE album as having "the HELIX sound" (ugh!). I know the band paid their dues, slugging it out in clubs since the mid/late 70s before catching their break, but in the final analysis, comparing the slick, well-promoted Pasha-released "Vices" to LEPPARD's obviously overrated "Pyromania", haven't you kind of picked "eggshell" over "off-white"?

Martin Popoff: Correction, KICK AXE had been going since the mid-'70s. In fact, "Heavy Metal Shuffle" was written in 1975! I just think that album SHOWS the dimension, hue, versatility of a band that is that old - yet I didn't know how long they'd been around when I first praised it to the hills. Also, there weren't a lot of cliches, the band "held back" and went sort of slow and chunky, and they had an incredible vocalist/stylist/technician in George. Every song on that damn record is different from the last, and there was always a sense of irony - "Maneater - an isatiable lust for flesh!" The way that line is delivered is with a wink. Now DEF LEPPARD - they were already beginning what would become the biggest sell-out in hard rock history, matched only by AEROSMITH and no one else for miles down the line. Cliches were everywhere, the much vaunted production values of the album now merely sound dated, and EVEN THEN, no one gave a damn about the production. It was thought, eh, OK, a little too faked, as are the vocal harmonies. These much vaunted vocals were actually LOUSIER harmonies than those of say QUEEN or SWEET. They sounded sterile - so why all the praise? Plus, Joe clearly can't sing. He sort of "snivels." But I don't hate this record. I hate "Hysteria" and "Adrenalize", so yeah, I see your point. I'd give "Vices" a 10 and "Pyromania" a 7. But we're talking overrated. "Vices" sold maybe (and I know this number because I asked Larry, but I'm too lazy to look up) 120,000 in the states. "Pyromania "is something like 10,000,000. WHITE WOLF sorta sucked, a little loose-bolted, unready, half-baked, like the first "heavy" HELIX album. "Vices" was full-blooded, confident, mature, but still fun.

Ray Dorsey: With both of the albums involved, man it's been a long time since I listened to either all the way through! Of course, I've been the victim of the "Pyromania"-osmosis over the years. You really couldn't help but hear what was played from it, even trying to avoid radio as much as I have over time. I still remember the first time I heard "Pyromania," I could not believe how fucking horrible it was after the first two. Man, the guitar sound is just as flaccid as can be. I remember a friend of mine was at the record store where I worked and all he kept saying was, it sounded like their guitars were not even plugged in. Absolute total sellout record, but then again, even that doesn't sound nearly as bad when you line it up with "Hysteria." What an absolute pussy record that was. On KICK AXE, very interesting to hear this again, I'd forgotten it really. To be honest....well, it is just not doing a whole lot for me, but I must say that it is surely still better than "Pyromania." Kudos to the drum sound, as the drums do have that Bonham-kinda thud. But the music, well, it just is not really up there for me with something like even the Rhett Forrester-era RIOT, and that was the lesser of the RIOT stuff. In listening to KICK AXE, it does seem like maybe they could have mixed it up more with the rhythms from song to song and that would have made this a more interesting listen.

Peacedogman: Ray is kind. Yeah, if you read what I said "mid to late 70s", there's no need for correction. And I agree that WHITE WOLF is nothing to write home about. I just lump it in because I came back from the record store with those two titles (and maybe a RAVEN album, if my memory is correct...!) It's funny, because even now, as then, the KICK AXE album sounds somewhat mechanical to me. The drums on "Heavy Metal Shuffle" and the PRIEST-anthem stylings of "On The Road To Rock" still leave me flat. The cover of "Thirty Days in the Hole" that they did (was that on that album?) is cringe-worthy. As for me, I think for a time period like the early 1980s, I would have liked to have seen some of the obscene amount of LEPPARD's praise and money go to bands like RIOT (obviously the 'real' RIOT lineup that cranked out "Fire Down Under" / "Restless Breed" / "Born In America" would be my favorite time period for the band.) Total straight-ahead metal attack with a keen sense of melody and real rock balls. Maybe I'd go for the first HEXX album, maybe something by GASKIN, or CULPRIT's "Guilty As Charged" over KICK AXE for the time period. Not sure...

Martin Popoff: Yeah! Man oh man, that CULPRIT album does NOT hold up. I remeber the hype at the time but it's pretty horrible. GASKIN pretty much sucked too, but had their rip-roarin' magic moments. Hexx weren't so hot either. But yes, I and a ton of metalheads agree that RIOT should have been huge - "Narita" and "Fire Down Under" scorched! But KICK AXE as mechanical - that was a unique thing about them. They intentionally were sluggish and it was brilliant - it came from the band's love of SABBATH and the drummer's love of Bonham and his thick grooves. That's why "On The Road To Rock" is so cool - it is restrained and sounds like it's wrestling with its bulk.

Ray Dorsey: Talking about CULPRIT, after seeing the mention of it, I just hauled that out & spun it. Whew! Man, I thought I remembered that being a lot better than that! I also pulled out HAWAII's first one, and even with the pretty horrendous recording, that totally shredded the CULPRIT. This got me on a little old-Shrapnel kinda bent and now I'm listening to the LE MANS album, the one on Shrapnel. I actually like this better than CULPRIT. GASKIN, the first one, what was that called "End Of The World" or something? That had a kinda ANGEL WITCH feel on some cuts, not as great as the first AW record by any means, but some similarities (some similar Binks-ian drum fills). I remember getting the 2nd GASKIN and thinking it was a piece of shit and selling it immediately.

Peacedogman: At any rate, I'm in agreement with everything that's been said regarding "Pyromania". I just don't think the song craft is there either, when compared with the first two. There are maybe a couple of tracks on the whole thing, that if you strip away the THOUSANDS of layers of production, would be good acoustic songs."Foolin", "Too Late" maybe, and "Comin' Under Fire"... but the thanks. I agree with Ray about the HAWAII discs (and that VIXEN stuff too w/ Friedman!). But really, despite's Martin's articulate responses ("that album sucks"), I'm gonna say I'll stick with CULPRIT tracks like "Tears of Repentance" and "Same To You" along with the previous discs I mentioned over anything on that KICK AXE disc.

Martin Popoff: All that Shrapnel stuff sounds pretty laughable now, even HAWAII, but, I was surprised, especially CULPRIT! The over-busy drumming, cliches, bad recordings, silly fills from everybody, speeding up, slowing down... yeesh! "Pyromania" I think did have a bunch of pretty good songs, "Foolin", "Die Hard The Hunter", "Billy's Got A Gun". In fact I'd almost grudgingly give them the fact that the songs were better structured and more mature, but man, it is the beginning of a huge sell-out, and I love how really, all that money was a waste, 'cos no one NOW thinks that it sounds all that great or, in fact, that silly little production details even matter.

Peacedogman: Bad recordings, speeding up and slowing down? There's aspects of these elements in a lot of my favorite records. Sorry, but it's not all about production. CULPRIT, HEXX, HAWAII, may not have had the pleasure of working with people like Tom Allom early in their career. Sure, I know these albums weren't exactly the second coming of "The Wall" production-wise, but I'd rather hear a bunch of kids that can barely play banging out VENOM covers with attitude than all the super-slick coke party blowjob albums of the early 1980s. There's more great guitar licks on the first two HEXX albums than anything that's been mentioned so far. Like I said before, and without beating a dead horse, KICK AXE hits me the same way "Pyromania" does. Couple of good songs, and lots of "let's rock 'n roll" early HELIX fodder (and BTW, even in 84, "Heavy Metal Shuffle" was even more cliched than "Rock Rock Til You Drop"), but we can agree to disagree and move on.