Review Summary: A severe lack of any kind of interesting features bogs down what could otherwise have been a valid step forward for this band. For completists and insomniacs only.
Even with their recording career starting as late as 1986, by the early 90’s Poison were already falling apart. Like so many bands before them, they were ill-prepared for the rockstar lifestyle, and had plunged into the usual spiral of booze and drugs. The main victim of this was guitarist C.C. DeVille, whose drunk antics led to a rift with lead singer Bret Michaels, ending in physical confrontation. When combined with the dawn of a decade historically adverse to bombast hard rock, it seemed the end was near for Poison.
Still, the band stoically soldiered on, finding ways to cope with both these problems and stay alive a little longer. To replace the summarily fired DeVille, they called upon a 22-year-old guitar whiz by the name of Richie Kotzen; and to deal with the changing musical paradigm, they followed along the lines of many fellow bands, choosing to expand on the more mature sonic guidelines inserted in their previous album, Flesh And Blood
, and creating an entirely new type of sound and visual image, based on bare-roots tribalism rather than over-produced flash. However, as ingenious as these ideas may have seemed at the time, they ultimately backfired on the group big-time, with Native Tongue
standing to this day as one of the biggest mis-steps of not only Poison’s career, but any 80’s hard rock band.
Part of the blame for this will have to go to new axeman Richie Kotzen. Unlike C.C. DeVille’s, his style is overtly elaborate and complex, and does not suit the Poison sound at all. As a result, the album comes across as a little limp, lacking the gigantic hooks and fun, rocking solos of its predecessors. When coupled with a much higher acoustic input, this ultimately leads to a lack of interesting fretwork, which severely affects the album. At times, it almost feels like we’re listening to one of those faceless, bland radio-rock outfits, except with a few keyboards, gospel choirs and a different type of vocal thrown in. And that, as we know, is never a good thing.
However, that’s not the only thing wrong with these songs, as the writing itself is painfully uninspired. While the declared bid for maturity is commendable – after all, Poison were
getting older – it comes at the expense of anything even mildly resembling a chorus. With the exception of power-balladStand
- which sits on the threshold of cheesiness alongside Life Goes On
and Something To Believe In
from the previous album – there is not a single memorable song among the thirteen-plus-intro-plus-interlude that make up this album. Once the listen is over, all that sticks is one’s mind is a vague, murky ball of acoustic guitars, spiritual lyrics and New Orleans gospel influences. Even songs with slightly more interesting chorus sections, such as Stay Alive, Until You Suffer Some (Fire And Ice)
or Blind Faith
do very little to be remembered once the album is put away. As for the attempts at recreating their older sound – on Body Talk
and Ride Child Ride
– they come across sounding as forced, hackneyed and ridiculous as might be expected, and almost make Unskinny Bop
sound like a valid try. In short, when you have a fifteen-song hard rock album and you’re hard pressed to identify two
standouts, let alone three, you know something’s wrong with your songwriting.
What’s more frustrating, however, is that in certain aspects this had the potential to be a successful experiment for Poison. Richie Kotzen actually adds to the already rather high musical level of the band, and as a result these songs have some of the best musicianship in any Poison album. The lyrics have also improved significantly, with the previous fixation with sex being replaced with stories of down-and-out people trying to make a living in the cold, hard world, and a few spiritual “always believe” messages. As noted, the group occasionally revert back to their old subject matter and style, but these occurrences are the exception rather than the norm. It is a pity, then, that the songs just cannot live up to this evolution, making Native Tongue
one of the most boring albums this side of the Creed discography. Unless you’re an absolute Poison completist or you find it extremely cheap, avoid.