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Friday, May 26, 2006

Hold Your Fire

Despite what rock historians say about how grunge cleared all of the decks of popular rock music in 1992, hair metal didn't completely vanish during that time. I can think of at least three notable and wildly popular songs from this era with bands that had big hair, big choruses, big guitar solos and big drums. The way I think about bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, they were the policemen that showed up to the hair metal party and pulled the plug. There were still a few stragglers rockin' out, but by the time of Beavis and Butt-head, hair metal had turned into a popular joke.

First of all, there's Saigon Kick's "Love is On the Way." Probably the easiest way to have a crossover hit in any time period is by doing a ballad. This worked for a number of hair bands (from Warrant's "Heaven" to Extreme's "More Than Words" to even Guns N' Roses' "Patience") and this worked in 1992 for Saigon Kick's "Love is On the Way." A quiet little song with acoustic guitar, high harmonies and spare percussion (including a timpani), this was definitely not a "rock" song. Nice ballad though and it went Top 20 on the pop singles charts.

Secondly, there's Firehouse's "When I Look Into Your Eyes." Firehouse had a handful of hit singles between 1990 and 1993, including the powerhouse ballad, "Love of a Lifetime." "When I Look Into Your Eyes" from their second album, Hold Your Fire, went Top 10 in 1993. This stuff is standard power ballad: soft and sweet verses with loud and melodic choruses. Definitely the kind of material you'd hear at a wedding for people who remain at bay with Top 40 radio. If I were DJing a wedding, I'd throw on a Tom Waits ballad even if it clears the dance floor.

Third, there's Queensryche. Their 1991 ballad, "Silent Lucidity," was a huge hit on radio and MTV and for a time, it was inescapable. Listening to the song now, I can't help but think of Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" as far as arrangement and tone. I still think "Silent Lucidity" is a great song, especially with the acoustic guitar and strings. Like Dream Theater, Queensryche has one of those fanbases that sticks with them despite popular musical trends. Recent evidence is the Top 20 debut of Operation: Mindcrime II, the sequel to their '80s heralded concept album.

One other I should add is Poison's "Stand." Released in 1993, the gospel meets Led Zeppelin III track went Top 20 on the Billboard Rock charts. Displaying a more mature sound from the same guys who sang "I Want Action" and "Nothin' But a Good Time" years before, this version of Poison was short-lived. Native Tongue would end up out of print and in the cut-out bins in less than two years. As a matter of fact, I doubt this era of the band sans guitarist CC Deville would ever be mentioned in greatest hits retrospectives if it weren't for the song's popularity.

If you're noticing a recurring trend here, it's the relatively safe zone of the ballad. If grunge killed off any in particular with hair metal, it was the overproduced, cheesy sing-alongs with noodly guitar solos. The power ballads still had a few years left, but by the time of Beavis and Butt-head mocking anything and everything related to hair metal, an era had reached the autopsy stage.

Now with the younger generation that's currently into bands like Panic! At the Disco and Avenged Sevenfold, they were too young to remember a time when there was a hair metal backlash. Hell, a certain sector wasn't even born when Nevermind came out. Since they don't have the reference point of seeing cheesy metal be oversaturated, they're prime to be sold a modern update. As far as what this modern version will sound like, I get the feeling that guitar solos will be one of the trademarks.

Despite having to gulp at the thought of this, I'd prefer this than the typical screamy melodrama currently sold at wholesale. A loosening of the rope is gonna happen where people aren't gonna be so inclined to gush their heartbroken feelings over detuned mush. As the resurgence of hair metal tomfoolery was put to me best at a recent party by a Guitar Center employee: "It's coming back." Maybe this younger generation is too cynical than we think, but I'm pretty sure that they're not as cynical as the generation before them.

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