by Fred Phillips
Warrant? Seriously? Is this some kind of test? Have I somehow offended the editors in my brief time here?
OK. I’ll fess up. In the late 1980s, I listened to Warrant. Most people of a certain age at that time did. I’ve never shied away from my checkered musical past. I’ve listened to some pretty awful stuff, and Warrant’s not even at the top of that list. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll say that I still like their 1992 album Dog Eat Dog (not to be confused with Dog Eat Dog’s 1993 album Warrant), which had a heavier rock style. Though it’s hard to find a Warrant fan these days, or at least someone who will admit to it, they sold 8 million records and had a string of hit songs, so someone was listening to and buying their music.
As one of the top commercial dogs of the final wave of 1980s “hair metal,” Warrant has been blamed (or credited, I guess, depending on how you look at it) for bringing about the end of that era. That’s a little unfair since the problems with the scene went way beyond any one band. Still, the stigma is there.
Even though Warrant tried to survive the 1990s with attempts at grungy alternative and lightweight industrial rock, those records had a big problem — other than not being very good: They were still Warrant. The name of the band itself conjures a certain image and most music fans will have a visceral reaction to it. If you’re reading this review, I guess I don’t have to tell you that. You just felt it.
So, what is Warrant in 2011? A look at the goofy title of their new record Rockaholic — to be issued today in Europe and May 17 in North America by Frontiers Records — should be enough to tell you. It, in itself, is a proclamation to those closeted fans of their 1980s work that they’re going back to where they started. They’re going to drop the pretensions and attempts to be relevant from the 1990s and just rock out with their … well, you know.
Singer Jani Lane is out on this record. He has been for a while, I just discovered in my research for this review. Rockaholic is the second album without him, the first being 2006’s Born Again with Black ‘n’ Blue Singer Jamie St. James, which apparently completely passed me by. The new guy here is Robert Mason (Lynch Mob, Cry of Love). Mason is a bit more of a classic hard-rock vocalist than Lane, whose pipes oozed the excess and frivolity of the original scene, but there’s still a heavy 1980s vibe to the vocals.
I’ve gotten this far without talking about the actual music on the album, but I guess I have to address it at some point. Like most of Warrant’s work, it’s a mixed bag. Well, if by mixed bag you mean something like Charlie Brown’s Trick or Treat bag where there are one or two pieces of candy and a whole bunch of rocks. There are a few songs you can pretty much write off after looking at titles like “Sex Ain’t Love” and “Cocaine Freight Train.” You can also tell which ones are going to be the sappy ballads, of which there are, naturally, way too many — “Home,” “What Love Can Do,” “Found Forever,” “Tears in the City.” I can’t recommend that you bother with any of them, but then I’m also not much of a fan of ballads.
Of the rockers, there are a few with something to offer. “Snake” and “Dusty’s Revenge” are probably the best of the bunch, drawing more from blues rock than the rest of the record. “Snake” opens with a pretty tasty guitar riff that has a little bit of ZZ Top in it. “Dusty’s Revenge” is a darker tune with a Western movie flavor. The acoustic-guitar opening with Mason moaning a little like Paul Rodgers is easily the best thing to be found on Rockaholic, and it reminds me a lot of Bad Company’s eponymous song in those moments. It’s heavier than anything else on the record, and if they’d opted to do more in this style, they might have had something here. “Candy Man” is another listenable moment, boasting a decent groove and showing off the better lower registers of Mason’s voice. Even “Dusty’s Revenge” is not a must-hear, but of the options, it would be my choice. It’s as close to candy as this particular bag gets.
The rest of the songs are pulled straight from the band’s past with little, if anything new to offer. If you can get past the 1980s clichés, there’s a decent slide guitar riff on “Sex Ain’t Love.” “The Show Must Go On” and “The Last Straw” are pure 1980s hair rock and probably OK for a listen or two if you’re of that era.
With few exceptions, the music on Rockaholic is fairly shallow and glitzy, and I won’t even get started on the lyrical content, which largely consist of the same rock clichés and single entendre the band pushed in its first incarnation. But, more or less, this record is what fans of Warrant who want to relive some “glory days” will want from the band, and it’s aimed squarely at them. As for non-fans, well, they probably won’t get past the Warrant logo on the cover anyway.