Review Summary: The epitome of the 80's album: flashy, boisterous, full of swagger, and ultimately a lot of fun.
To a large extent, the 80’s were a strange time. Young people, free from the drug-infused haze of the previous generation, found out they had a say in the world; companies started targeting their products towards this new demographic, often backing them up by means of cartoon shows and movies; fashion was obsessed with neon, spandex and permed hairdos; and he music world saw the rift between mainstream and underground become even deeper, with the appearance of the more extreme genres of rock’n’roll.
Out of the combination of all these factors rose a new musical genre, which combined the decade’s youth’s fashion trends and mentality with the ever-touching sound of amplified electric guitars. Because of its highly aesthetic side, this new genre was quickly dubbed “glam rock” or “hair metal”, basically an offshoot of glitter rock and proto-punk acts such as the New York Dolls, Alice Cooper, Gary Glitter and KISS. Its epicenter was Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, where band members were easily spotted due to their carefully lacquered hairdos and garishly-colored tight pants.
One such band was Poison, founded by one-time classmates Bret Michaels, Bobby Dall and Rikki Rockett. Initially calling themselves Paris, the trio initially featured Matt Smith on guitar, until he decided to return home and was replaced with perhaps the band’s biggest asset, C. C. DeVille. One name change later, Poison was ready to take on the world, from their home base of the Troubador Club.
However, things wouldn’t be so easy, and it would be three years before Poison eventually released their debut album. With a cover photo featuring the group so primped up they actually got mistaken for women, Look What The Cat Dragged In
borrowed from Mötley Crüe and the New York Dolls, mixing those influences with a poppier sound to create an album which is a proud product of its time, and predictably did well at the time of release.
Now, as mocked as Poison – and, particularly, Bret Michaels – are in these post-porn-movies, post-Rock Of Love
days, the truth is they weren’t a bad band to begin with. Sure, they visuals were garishly, laughably over-the-top, and their lyrical content is often cringingly juvenile; but at their best, this band could whale like the best of them, and even as early as this debut album, they proved able to concoct some deserved genre classics.
Take opener Cry Tough
, for example. Appealing to radio sensibilities without losing its street cred, this is a well-crafted pop-rock song which provides a nice entryway to the Poison sound. Elsewhere, the group gets punkier, their Dolls and Crüe influences shining through on tracks such as Play Dirty
or #1 Bad Boy
; however, even at their rowdiest, the band never lose sight of their more melodious side, managing to appeal to a large fanbase. This explains why tracks such as Cry Tough
or mandatory power-ballad I Won’t Forget You
can sit comfortably side by side with the rock’n’roll explosion of Let Me Go To The Show
or the tongue-in-cheek lewdness of I Want Action
or Talk Dirty To Me
But their penchant for hooky choruses is far from being Poison’s only strength. Unlike many of their peers, who used the flash to hide musical shortcomings, this band’s members are uniformly good musicians, with Michaels’ competent, yet somewhat limited vocals actually constituting the weakest link. DeVille’s guitar solos are blistering, his riffs huge; Dall is an above-average bass player for the genre, and benefits from a fat sound in the mix; and Rockett has a couple of interesting fills and breaks, apart from providing solid, thumping beats throughout.
Would that the same could be said of the lyrics, however; while at times broaching interesting themes - like on I Won’t Forget You
, which is about leaving your loved ones behind when you need to move on – they mostly exhibit the usual juvenile fixation on sex and partying, as well as containing a pair of cringe-worthy couplets ([i]”she’s got pizzazz/like a razzamatazz”, ”I’m no upstanding citizen/but I’m standing up just the same”
). All in all, while they do not detract from the musical side, they go some way in explaining why Poison is viewed with such scathing derision nowadays. Add to that a couple of less interesting tunes, like I Won’t Forget You
– a particularly boring representative of its genre – Want Some, Need Some
or Blame It On You
, and you’ve got an album which, while undeniably strong, still falls short of classic status.
In the end, however, Look What The Cat Dragged In
still contains enough fun-loving hooks to constitute a worthy buy for fans of the genre and of the 80’s as a whole. If you’re in a mood for some light-hearted, fun-loving music, you could do worse than to procure this record. As long as you don’t expect the height of intellect, disregard the ridiculous drag queens on the cover, and get past some of the lyrics, you will manage to have a blast with this album, which is the perfect epitome of its decade: flashy, boisterous, full of swagger, and ultimately a lot of fun.
I Want Action
Talk Dirty To Me
Let Me Go To The Show