Review Summary: Another nail in the coffin of the hair metal movement - an amusing curio if enjoyed on streaming or found at a reasonably low price, but a definite pass for novices, casuals, or listeners presented with any kind of a choice.
Artistic movements are, by nature, cyclical. Any creative endeavour or trend that attracts a large number of advocates will inevitably spawn any number of bandwagonning, money-driven copycats seeking to chase the gravy train, creating market saturation in the very short term. This, in turn, causes the same audience who had supported the movement early on to become weary and turn against it, leaving evolution or extinction as the only viable options for survival within the genre. Needless to say, success rates in this regard are less than stellar, as more often than not, the previously successful endeavour simply gets abandoned in favour of a newer, fresher approach, causing the cycle to begin again.
The music market is no exception in this regard; much to the contrary, ever since the inception of the modern music movement, the so-called ‘pop’ market has seen such phenomenons come and go at the rate of approximately one every two decades or so. In the 30s and 40s, blues gave way to jazz; in the 50s and 60s, pop gave way to rock’n’roll, which then yielded to heavy and prog rock in the early 1970s; that same decade, disco came and went in a flash, replaced first by glam/glitter rock, and later by punk; punk itself gave way to new wave in the 1980s, while a few doors down, heavy rock was becoming increasingly more glammed up each passing year; and inevitably, that
movement, too, ended up becoming widespread to the point of saturation, causing newer and lesser-known groups to quickly be left by the wayside by an increasingly uncaring and weary audience.
Apparently, however, news of the genre’s impending demise were slow to reach Canadian shores, as at least one group from that country was brazen enough to attempt to make a career for themselves on the poppier side of hair metal – in 1991
That band was Big House, formerly a skate-punk (!) four-piece named Down Syndrome who, at the turn of the decade, decided to chase the gravy train and switch gears completely, adopting a highly commercial hard rock sound more in tune with radio trends of the time. Any curious party not aware of the group’s backstory would, however, be hard-pressed to guess at it based on the evidence presented, as never, over the course of their self-titled debut's 39 minutes, is even the rougher side of glam metal (as epitomised by Motley Crue or Twisted Sister) so much as flirted with; rather, Big House appear to have sprung to life as a fully-formed, perfectly honed pop-metal concoction, tailor-made for rock-radio airplay.
And yet, despite this carefully measured and polished recipe, Big House would suffer the same fate as so many of their fellow third-wave acts, suffering from a combination of shifting market trends, poor timing and, well, just not a whole lot of talent. In fact, close as their name might have been to that of the only post-1990 hair metal band to do well for itself – as was their sound – they ultimately lacked the songwriting skill and overall it factor
which helped make Firehouse a household name within the genre, even despite their late entry into it.
Not that Big House do anything particularly wrong
on their first and only full-length effort; on the contrary, nearly every compositional and stylistic decision on the album seems calculated to achieve maximum acceptance from the target audience. As any creator will quickly attest, however, good mechanics are not enough to produce truly spectacular results – true passion, investment and a sprinkle of personality go a long way as well. And unfortunately for Big House, all three of these elements are in very short supply on their sole studio outing.
As noted above, these four Canucks traded in the more openly commercial variant of hard rock and hair metal, such as it was understood at the onset of the last decade of the 20th century. The base sound for the ten songs on the album mixes equal parts Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Poison, Warrant and Firehouse, the whole sprinkled with just the right amount of Van Halen and Aerosmith for added flavour, and wrapped in a suitably glossy production, the better to not scare away pop audiences. Singer Jan Eik effortlessly transitions from a crooning Bret Michaels / Bon Jovi rasp on his lower register to an impressive approximation of Van Halen’s David Lee Roth on his higher pitch - with very occasional incursions into a Brian Johnson / Tom Keifer yowl - while his backing trio is equally undistinguished, playing their part undoubtedly competently, but seeming a little too content to openly recycle ideas from other, better bands (the opening riffs to All Nite
and Can’t Cry Anymore
are just a touch
too reminiscent of Bon Jovi’s Bad Medicine
and Livin’ On A Prayer
, respectively, while semi-acoustic power-ballad Baby Doll
is an almost note-for-note amalgamation of Poison’s and Def Leppard’s representatives of the genre). The result is an album which, while at no point offensive or even below-average, nevertheless fails at making Big House stand out from the third-wave hair metal pack in any way.
Opener and only single Dollar In My Pocket
lays out the blueprint for the rest of the songs on the album. While its opening few seconds mislead the listener into expecting a slab of early Aerosmith country-rock, it takes no more than a few moments for the song to morph into its true self, a pleasant if unremarkable pop-metal track which would not sound out of place on Cinderella’s Heartbreak Station
, or even latter-day efforts by Aerosmith themselves, as evidenced by Eik’s Steven Tyler mannerisms.
The remaining nine tracks follow on in this manner, ticking all the boxes in the commercial hair metal checklist without ever so much as trying to excel at any aspect of their craft. Even absolute standout Baby Doll
only ever asserts itself by virtue of being an unabashed re-write of two far superior songs, starting off openly and purposefully similar to Poison’s Every Rose Has Its Thorn
before escalating into full-on, orchestrated, over-the-top cheese, reminiscent of Def Leppard’s excellent Two Steps Behind
. Still, derivative as it is, the de rigueur
power ballad still manages to make for a good song in its own right, complete with easily the most immediately appealing chorus on the album – which, admittedly, is not quite as high praise as it may seem.
In fact, one of the most immediately apparent problems with Big House
, the álbum, is just how limp it is. There are virtually no memorable hooks to speak of, and - with the notable exception of Baby Doll
and irresistible Van Jovi party-rocker Happiness
– the remaining songs barely clear the bar for ‘average’, ranging from passably interesting at best (the rollicking All Nite
, stomper Nothing Comes 4 Free
) to hopelessly forgettable at worst (Refuse 2 Run, Devil’s Road, Angel On My Arm
or Can't Cry Anymore
, where the sole motive of interest is the inexplicable breakbeat (?!) coda). To the band’s credit, there is only one truly abhorrent moment – L.A.
, a meandering, structureless comedy of errors and bad decisions which desperately tries to gel as a cohesive song, but fails spectacularly with every new mis-step; unfortunately, and despite the band’s best efforts to make their middling material sound appealing and exciting, there is also very little worth coming back to beyond the two aforementioned standouts, with the rest of the album barely leaving an impression once it has stopped playing.
Ultimately, Big House – both the band and the eponymous album – lacked the songwriting skills and craft savvy to allow the Canuck hair-metal heroes to escape the overflowing barrel of early-90s hair-metal ‘never-weres’; and while the Edmonton four-piece were far from scraping the bottom of said container, they never looked particularly likely to escape it, either. Thirty years on, said appraisal has proven accurate, as Big House
, the album, amounts to nothing more than another nail in the coffin of the hair metal movement - an amusing curio if enjoyed on streaming or found at a reasonably low price, but a definite pass for novices, casuals, or listeners presented with any kind of a choice.
Nothing Comes 4 Free