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+ {Bret Michaels}

American mainstream glam-metal, and its purveyors KISS, had already been doppelganged by MOTLEY CRUE, when POISON arrived on the scene in the mid-80s. Brazen-blond, bare-chested and donning the token bandana of the day (pick out two of three for rival Axl Rose), pin-up pouter Bret Michaels led an acerbic assault into a battle of the hair-metal bands, winning over a plethora of female admirers by the time power-ballad, `Every Rose Has Its Thorn’, scaled the charts. It’s a testament to the band that they’re going strong (as of 2011 and 2012), touring as support to MOTLEY CRUE and DEF LEPPARD respectively – hair-metal still growing… and all of their own it seemed.
Formed March ‘84, in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, the crux of the early line-up, singer Michaels and drummer Rikki Rockett (once of The Spectres), plus bassist Bobby Dall and guitarist Matt Smith, subsequently upped sticks to West Hollywood, L.A., where their manager had fixed up a residency at the Troubadour club; note that they were named Paris at this stage. When Smith returned to Pennsylvania to be a father, his berth had to filled. As legend has it, auditions left only three remaining candidates: New York-born C.C. DeVille, Steve Silva (of The JOE PERRY PROJECT) and a certain Englishman going by the name of SLASH. As history prevailed, the latter would later join GUNS N’ ROSES, thus it was the fiery DeVille that was chosen. Fast-forward a year or so, and they’d signed to independent imprint Enigma, who were in the process of being swallowed up by the corporate Capitol Records.
Like a bombastic bubblegum version of the less credible FASTER PUSSYCAT or HANOI ROCKS, this uber-glam-metal outfit exploded onto the party-hard rock scene in a sea of peroxide bleach; several OTT shows highlighted their visual extravaganza: i.e. smoke bombs et al. The group’s aptly-titled debut album, LOOK WHAT THE CAT DRAGGED IN (1986) {*6}, clawed its way into the Top 3, aided and abetted by their gutter-level sleaze anthem, `Talk Dirty To Me’. To many critics of the scene, the rest of the album was painfully amateurish at best, hilarious at worst. Looking back, the hook line and sing-a-long appeal of other hits, such as `I Want Action’, `I Won’t Forget You’ and `Cry Tough’ (a minor one in Britain), said more of the times than the outlandish behaviour of the group itself.
Still, the Americans lapped it up and made sure the follow-up, OPEN UP AND SAY… AHH! (1988) {*7} also latched into the Top 3; ironically it was kept off pole position by BON JOVI’s New Jersey, GUNS N’ ROSES’ Appetite For Destruction and DEF LEPPARD’s Hysteria – a good time to be a pop-metal fan. Not particularly a favourite at the offices of the Rolling Stone, where its reviewer gave it 1/5 stars, there was no denying that POISON had the marmite effect on public and critics alike. Following on from two monster MTV-friendly smashes, `Nothin’ But A Good Time’ and `Fallen Angel’, the obligatory “sensitive” ballad, in this case `Every Rose Has Its Thorn’, was a massive hit on both sides of the Atlantic (No.1 at home), a standalone strum-a-thon that the softer EXTREME would’ve been proud to call their own. The album spawned a further hit by way of a rendition of the old LOGGINS & MESSINA chestnut, `Your Mama Don’t Dance’; they’d covered JIM CROCE’s `You Don’t Mess Around With Jim’, a couple of years earlier.
Peaking at #2, FLESH & BLOOD (1990) {*7} was the band’s most successful album to date, also going Top 5 in Britain. With ground-zero grunge emerging from the shadows, a darker POISON made a conscious effort to distance themselves from their mascara’d days of old. Nevertheless, the band retained the ability to release annoyingly pointless pop-metal nonsense like `Unskinny Bop’, and the equally tantalising `Something To Believe In’, `Ride The Wind’ and `Life Goes On’.
As much a product of the state of Florida, where the set was recorded (Miama, Orlando and Tampa), the double SWALLOW THIS LIVE (1991) {*6} was basically a generic mulch of smash hits, bookended by four fresh cuts: `So Tell Me Why’ (a UK-only Top 30), `Souls On Fire’, `Only Time Will Tell’ and `No More Lookin’ Back (Poison Jazz)’. Incidentally, Bret co-wrote and produced girlfriend-at-the-time Susie Hatton’s debut album in 1990; the model/actress had featured on the band’s promo-video of `Fallen Angel’.
Forsaking glam-metal for funky blues, and enlisting Richie Kotzen to supersede the fired DeVille, 1993’s difficult fourth studio album, NATIVE TONGUE {*4}, was quickly dismissed as an attempt to find solace in another bandwagon. In effect, Michaels and Co were trying so painfully hard to create a credible image, they employed the TOWER OF POWER horn section. If they were under the illusion that this would give them instant soul power then POISON were clearly even more clueless than their music gave them credit. In group-penned tracks such as `Stand’, `Until You Suffer Some (Fire And Ice)’ and `Body Talk’, the ploy didn’t exactly work and the Top 20 album failed to sell as much as its predecessor; Bret more newsworthy for his short-lived affair with Baywatch beaut Pamela Anderson (and a video-tape), than his music. Meanwhile, Kotzen was surplus to requirements by late ‘93; his place taken by the younger Blues Saraceno (real name!), who’d performed alongside Messrs JACK BRUCE and GINGER BAKER. However, Capitol Records put POISON’s next set on tap, citing Michaels’ near-death experience in May ’94, when he drove his Ferrari off the road, as reason enough not to unveil it. By the time a “Greatest Hits” set floundered an the fag-end of ’96 (Bret, incidentally, landed the lead role in the movie, A Letter From Death Row), Saraceno was long gone. But what he left behind was a decent contribution to the belatedly-uploaded CRACK A SMILE… AND MORE! (2000) {*5}. The bulk of the set was composed of material from the aborted 1994 sessions, cobbled together with a few add-on outtakes and MTV “unplugged” material. The goddamn-awful cover probably told one all one needed to know, although the ageing glam rockers at least had the grace to poke fun at their increasingly archaic image on the likes of `Shut Up, Make Love’, `Tragically Unhip’, while a rendition of the DR. HOOK & THE MEDICINE SHOW nugget, `Cover Of The Rolling Stone’, was worth a laugh.
The POISON posse finally emerged into a radically altered rock landscape in the new millennium with a couple of half-baked albums which will undoubtedly be of interest to hardcore fans only. Released only a matter of months on from their Capitol swansong, the Cyanide-sanctioned POWER TO THE PEOPLE (2000) {*4}, meanwhile, featured a concoction of fresh studio tracks and live cuts from their 1999 “comeback” tour. The big news for fans was that lead guitar heart-throb C.C. DeVille was back in action; he even had a shot at lead vocals on the un-PC-titled `I Hate Every Bone In Your Body But Mine’.
2002’s HOLLYWEIRD {*5}, then, was yet another average album from the original line-up, a harder-rocking affair than the candyfloss glam of old with some brave attempts at tackling more complex lyrical fare and a wholly unnecessary cover of The WHO’s `Squeeze Box’. DeVille again contributed lead vocals, this time on `Emperor’s New Clothes’, `Livin’ In The Now’ and `Home (C.C.’s Story)’.
With BRET MICHAELS increasingly taking thespian leave from his band buddies (low-key solo sets, SONGS OF LIFE and FREEDOM OF SOUND were issued in the mid-00s), POISON drew breath once again with a Top 40 set of colossus cover songs: POISON’D (2007) {*5}. Regurgitating and overlapping their past re-vamps (namely from LOGGINS & MESSINA, JIM CROCE and The WHO, plus GRAND FUNK RAILROAD’s `We’re An American Band’ from a recent compilation) with fresh rawk-karaoke exercises, it was a matter of one step forward for a dozen or so back; tracks 1-9:- `Little Willy’ (SWEET), `Suffragette City’ (DAVID BOWIE), `I Never Cry’ (ALICE COOPER), `I Need To Know’ (TOM PETTY & THE HEARTBREAKERS), `Can’t You See’ (The MARSHALL TUCKER BAND), `What I Like About You’ (The ROMANTICS), `Dead Flowers’ (The ROLLING STONES), `Just What I Needed’ (The CARS) and `Rock And Roll All Nite’ (KISS).
Topped off by a career-spanning LIVE, RAW & UNCUT (2008) {*6}, and POISON were ready to don pipe and slippers and reflect on a former life in the fast lane – or not, when they were duly invited to enhance the tours of their aforementioned peers and rivals. BRET MICHAELS, meanwhile, became a reality TV show star, thus hitting ultimate solo poise with a Top 20 album, CUSTOM BUILT (2010) {*4}. If one wanted to hear his MILEY CYRUS collaboration, `Nothing To Lose’, a crafty cover of SUBLIME’s classic `What I Got’, or even his country version of `Every Rose Has Its Thorn’ (featuring Brad Arnold of 3 DOORS DOWN), then one could stop off here. On the back of re-appearing on Celebrity Apprentice All Stars (probably to give Donald Trump hairstyle tips), Bret surrounded himself with a plethora of country rockers for another round of songs, courtesy of JAMMIN’ WITH FRIENDS (2013) {*4}; y’all pop-metal fans were in-waiting to swig that ultimate cocktail of POISON… whenever Bret discards the Stetson.
© MC Strong 1994-2004/GRD // rev-up MCS Mar2014

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