The fate of Warrant, essentially frontman Jani Lane and his four faceless friends from LA, is cosmetically the same as any of their peers: after dabbling in alternative metal after grunge hit, they rather ungracefully faded away, breaking up numerous times along the way. Still, for worse or for better, Warrant have at least been remembered, mainly on the strength of the title track from their 1990 sophomore release, Cherry Pie
Since leaving the band for what seems to be the final time (it’s always ‘for good’ with these bands- well it certainly can’t get much worse!), Lane has suffered worst than most; not only has he spent much of the last decade overcoming drug and alcohol problems, he now has a weight problem to add to his still unresolved publicity
problem. Put simply, nobody wants to touch him, and it’s not hard to see why. Yet, by the standards of his contemporaries, Lane was easily one of the more talented singers and songwriters, if not (and it’s important not to exaggerate this point) quite intelligent
Yes, it’s one of those comfortable injustices history sometimes bestows on us that Warrant will forever be derided as among the worst hair metal had to offer when, in reality, they were probably much closer to the best. They’re perhaps the one (yes, one, singular) band of the glam era to receive consistently glowing reviews both before and after the bubble burst. But perhaps that’s the lesson: the better hair metal gets, the worse hair metal gets, and vice versa. Or something.
ANYWAY, Warrant’s debut record, the charmingly titled Dirty Rotten Stinking Filthy Rich
(summing up the creative ambitions of an era right there) was a fun, if inconsistent, blend of juvenile party music and almost-sincere balladry which bought itself a slight air of legitimacy if only because the band couldn’t afford the type of overblown, pop-metal by numbers production bands like Def Leppard and Bon Jovi could. And herein lies the dichotomy: while Cherry Pie
harnesses the quintessential ‘80s metal sound, Jani Lane was simultaneously trying to distance himself from the scene with a rather more ‘mature’ approach to his songwriting.
Lane has since claimed that he was forced to write the title track, after submitting the album to the Columbia with no discernable hit singles. He wrote ‘Cherry Pie’, allegedly, in just forty-five minutes: a cheeky sex-themed party song with one of the most thinly shrouded metaphors on record: ‘[It] tastes so good, [it’ll] make a grown man cry, sweet Cherry Pie’. Jani’s timeline is certainly lent credence by the song’s remarkable similarity to Joan Jett’s ‘I Love Rock n’ Roll’ (and to a lesser extent Def Leppard’s 1987 hit ‘Pour Some Sugar on me’). The track also features a blistering guitar solo from Poison’s C.C. Deville, as well as a remarkably sexist video (even by hair metal standards) which would probably contribute much to their derision among grunge fans.
The intended first single, the countrified rocker ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ is probably one of the pinnacles of ‘80s rock in artistic terms (despite being released in 1990) and perfectly demonstrates the shift towards more ‘serious’ and sophisticated songwriting. Loosely based upon a news item about a Sheriff and Deputy who dump a pair of bodies in a lake (surely a warrant’s in order), with the title (a classic piece of slavery-era literature by Harriet Beecher Stowe) perhaps hinting at a racial dimension that’s not explicitly divulged.
‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ is probably the strongest example of the country/folk influence in latter-era hair metal (Poison and Bon Jovi being the other notables), with a finger-tangling acoustic guitar intro, and good-time banjo and harmonica action throughout before exploding into a massive riff-rocker to rival the best of the era. Lane’s vocal performance is particularly strong too, both here and on the wider album, his distinctive tenor easily the most identifiable aspect of the band’s largely formulaic sound.
To call this album top-heavy would understate the case ever so slightly; the pair of ballads ‘I Saw Red’ (the forgettable third single) and ‘Bed of Roses’ are melodically more advanced than their 1989 hit ‘Heaven’ and, indeed, any other ballad out there at the time (with the exception of Guns N’ Roses, who had so many sophisticated ballads they released them all on two CDs). The problem is that while they’re interesting, they lack the anthemic quality a good power ballad requires, while Jani’s voice in ‘I Saw Red’ is far higher than most males could aspire to, which I can only guess led to some painful audience participation at concerts.
The second half of the album is mostly forgettable ‘Cherry Pie’-esque rockers with titles that give the impression they’re far more interesting than they actually are: ‘Song And Dance Man’ and ‘You’re The Only Hell Your Mother Ever Raised’. In truth, there’d be little merit past the first four tracks were it not for the delightful ‘Love In Stereo’, a not-so-cryptic account of the elusive threesome and ‘Mr. Rainmaker’ which features an intro-to-guitar riff straight out of the Winger handbook (Winger are great provided you don’t listen past the fifteen-second mark in any of their tracks) and a chorus the size of your dad’s head.
As perverse as it may seem, I have the strangest feeling that if this album didn’t in fact offer some glimpses of the imaginative songwriting the later Lane releases would expand upon, it would actually be a lot more enjoyable. There’s nothing else as completely ridiculous as ‘Cherry Pie’ on this album, or in the rest of the group’s catalogue, but the majority is nonetheless anti-climactic coming straight after tracks like ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ and ‘Bed of Roses’ which could easily stand up in today’s pop market. As baffling as it is, there are a number of people both within and outside of glam circles who hold this up as a classic rock record. If that’s true, I think we’re all in trouble.
Jani Lane now looks like [url=http://ladyace.com/images/jani_lane.jpg]this[/url].