Review Summary: A dystopian nightmare that became one of the best records of the 1970's. And what an album cover! This is the best record in the Starz catalog.
Starz avoided the fabled sophomore jinx with the 1977 classic Violation, arguably the best album in their entire catalog. Ok, so there's only four records in their catalog, but nevertheless this would have to be regarded as their best statement. It is also the closest they came to a commercial breakthrough. The lead-off track, "Cherry Baby," climbed its way into the US top 40 albeit for only a brief stay. That song, along with its equally accessible follow up single, "Sing It Shout It," should have been enough to break Starz into the top tier of late seventies rock bands. Alas, it was not to be. However it wasn't from a lack of quality.
Historically we are told that Violation was supposed to be something of a concept record relating a story about some dystopian future where rock music has become a criminalized form of expression. Unfortunately Capitol records saw things differently and had the songs re-sequenced and removed any other hints of a unifying plot. Like another famously abandoned concept record, Who's Next, This one is no worse for its re-purposing...and may even be the better for it.
The two singles that were released could lead you to believe that Starz was making a move towards a more radio friendly commercial viability, however the other tracks are as combustible as anything on their debut record...and then some!
"Rock Six Times" is a ferocious rocker that, more than any other track, reveals the elements of the abandoned story line. Michael Lee Smith sings of his discovery of a "scratchy old record called Walk This Way" that apparently is the beginning of a life of delinquency. This, of course, is frowned upon by a committee convened to decide how to handle such young hooligans in the excellent title track. The accusatory choruses of "No that's a Violation!" reverberate over the decades into our world that itself is all too willing to embrace censorship in the name of political correctness. This song should be required listening on every college campus.
The record's best track is the ultra-violent "Subway Terror." Another of Starz excellent odes to the excitement of committing crimes. This riff-rocker seems all to relevant considering the recent NYC subway homicides that resemble the one committed in this song a little too closely. I have always thought this song and Thin Lizzy's "Killer on the Loose" deserve to be coupled together as some sort of homicidal celebration.
"All Night Long" is a straight-forward song that would have seemed perfect for their first record with its' Kiss-alike nature. With "Cool One" Starz injects their always dependable sense of humor into things and the results are fabulous. The "cuckoo" sounding choruses are unlike anything you would hear in this style of music and the story conveyed in the lyrics is equally delightful...and quite a bit nasty for the moral sensitivities of the late seventies. They wouldn't be playing this one on the radio! It has been suggested that the band was not too pleased with this version of the song, instead preferring the more straight-forward arrangement of the original demo recording. The demo version has been subsequently released over the years and I have to disagree. Though the original version of the song is fine, the final studio version as we have come to know it is highly original by comparison, and if producer Jack Douglas is the one who made this call...he made the right one.
"S.T.E.A.D.Y." has an ominous sounding beginning that does not portend the rollicking rocker that quickly evolves out of it. The album ends with a somewhat strange ballad called "Is That A Street Light Or The Moon?" Singer Michael Lee Smith was always a strength for this band and his voice lends an atmospheric feel to the song. It is said that this track was a leftover from the first record but the solemn atmospherics give this record a fitting end.
Violation comes across as Starz best and most aggressive record. However, in spite of having a legitimate top 40 hit with "Cherry Baby," the album failed to sell the number of units their record company was anticipating. One can only wonder why. This album, as well as any released in the decade of the seventies, is representative of the best of American Hard Rock. Drastic changes would be made on their next record in an attempt to crack the American market.