Contra my last post, there is nothing inherently shameful about the nostalgic return to something remembered from youth. Everyone does this on occasion. I myself do it with a depressing frequency; alert readers may remember that I recently paid five dollars, which I will wish I had back when I get too old to work, on a DVD of Rocky III because I like watching Mr. T yell at people. I stand by this judgment; there are few pleasures in this world greater than watching Mr. T yell at people, and one of them is watching Mr. T pound on people, which Rocky III also contains in abundance. However, the combined total of Mr. T yelling/hitting minutes accounts for less than half of the movie's run time; the remainder of it, with the brief and and enjoyable exception of Hulk Hogan saying "meatball" a lot, consists of an intensely homoerotic Sly Stallone pouting and wearing things made of lamé. It is definitely not worth five dollars, even if you turn it off halfway through and pretend that Clubber Lang never lost the championship.
The sin lies in returning to those things and then pretending, against all available sensory input, that they are in fact wonderful things worthy of adulation instead of giant moist gushy piles of horse shit. One must learn one's lessons, however brutally, and move on.
Take a few years back, for example, when I briefly labored under the misapprehension that Styx's 1983 rock opera, Kilroy Was Here, was not only not an immensely terrible record, but it was in fact a good record. Now, I did not believe this based on any tangible evidence; all one has to do is listen to Kilroy Was Here just once to learn that it is a heap of crap. I believed it because I had not listened to the album in about 20 years, and I had somehow gotten it into my head that it was an underrated classic. So I went out and spent actual American money on a CD of Kilroy Was Here, and I gave it a spin. It was an unbelievably foul-tasting suck cocktail which went down even less smoothly when I realized how colossally wrong I had been. It was not an underrated gem by a critically unappreciated band at the peak of their powers; it was a justly reviled snot blob by a rightfully despised band well past their sell-by date.
One of the biggest problems with the album is that it is a rock opera. People often ask me at parties: Why do rock operas, as a rule, suck the big nozz so much? My answer to this is always the same: because rock stars are not very smart. That's why they're rock stars instead of novelists or physicists. Try this: think of the smartest rock star there is. He or she isn't really very smart at all, is he/she? You probably have half a dozen friends smarter than the smartest rock star you can think of. This rock star only seems smart in comparison to other rock stars, who are dumber than dry cleaning bags. They have no business attempting to construct a sustained narrative, especially one involving music. Dennis DeYoung, in particular, is not so much a classically trained composer as he is a mulletted, dungaree-wearing clod from Chicago's south side. I bear him no malice in this; I have actually sat with him at a Chicago White Sox game and found him to be a personable, kind, and open-hearted fellow. I am merely saying that he is a man who has no business using the word "modren".
The whole concept of this cookie-dough concept album is typically ridiculous '80s ROKK! stuff: a fundamentalist preacher named Dr. Everett Righteous comes to power and bans rock 'n' roll. A famous rock star named Robert Orin Charles Kilroy (GET IT? HO HO) is framed for murder and, teaming up with rock rebel Jonathan Chance, disguises himself as a as a 'Mr. Roboto' mechanical servant in order to infiltrate the ranks of the Majority for Musical Morality. Remember, folks, a 36-year-old man wrote this. The album was also a boffo success, but the subsequent tour -- which cost a fortune and included retroactively hilarious live re-enactments of the asinine 'plot' of the album -- was a massive financial disaster, justly punishing DeYoung and company for their crimes against humanity.
Let's go to the tracks.
TRACK 1: "Mr. Roboto". The boffo smash single from the album, and the only song on the whole record worth listening to. Why? Because it has robots. Otherwise, it's pretty limp, but any song that has Vocodered robots speaking Japanese can't be all bad. Five minutes and twenty-eight seconds of glorious cheese.
TRACK 2: "Cold War". Written by lead guitarist Tommy Shaw, so at least DeYoung can't shoulder the blame for this plodding snoozer. Shaw doesn't have the voice that DeYoung does, which is both a blessing and a curse, but here it just makes a boring song more boring. Sort of like those songs on The Wall by David Gilmour: you know you're not going to be embarrassed by any over-the-top symbolism, but you also know you'll struggle to stay awake to the next track.
TRACK 3: "Don't Let It End". This is DeYoung back in the saddle again, in full-blown 'working man's Steve Perry' mode. He obviously meant for this to be a big, romantic anthem, but it falls short by virtue of sucking. It's almost five minutes long and nearly as excruciating as "Lady", but even more so because it doesn't have a rockin' part at the end -- and we haven't seen the last of it.
TRACK 4: "High Time". Kilroy, or Chance, or someone, gets all naughty and rebellious and says it's time for us to bring back the rockin'. Unfortunately, that's exactly what the song itself utterly fails to do. Despite different authorships, I challenge any listener to tell the difference between this song and "Cold War".
TRACK 5: "Heavy Metal Poisoning". Part of the key to why I bought this record is that I misremembered this song as being kinda good. It's not good. It's bad. It's very, very bad. It's bad in almost every way a song can be bad. It's meant to be a Dr. Righteous solo number where the demagogue condemns heavy metal music while singing a heavy metal song, but this is not a heavy metal song, even by the weak-sauce standards of mid-'80s heavy metal. Recorded only two years after Venom's first album came out, "Heavy Metal Poisoning" is actually less metal than Vixen. It's less metal than Bon Jovi. It comes within a hair's breadth of being less metal than Journey. Worst of all, it's sung with histrionic vigor by rhythm guitarist James Young, who's an even worse singer than Tommy Shaw, and combines his rotten voice with a flatulent synth solo that makes the whole thing sound like Barry White in the midst of liquefaction.
TRACK 6: "Just Get Through This Night". Much as "High Time" was a Dennis DeYoung song that sounded like a Tommy Shaw song, "Just Get Through This Night" is a Tommy Shaw song that sounds like a Dennis DeYoung song: soaring vocals (or, given his limitations, high-jumping vocals), pseudo-anthemic power ballad form, and lyrics designed to appeal to 13-year-old girls and 15-year-old boys with no capacity for embarrassment. This song, along with the fact that the storytelling sucks, is why I can never tell Kilroy and Chance apart.
TRACK 7: "Double Life". Surprise, surprise: the Jerry Falwell character in this benighted black mark on the word 'opera' is a big fat hypocrite! This confessional song by Dr. Righteous serves to prove only two things: James Young should not be let anywhere near a ballad, and he is in fact capable of sucking even worse than he does on "Heavy Metal Poisoning".
TRACK 8: "Haven't We Been Here Before?". We sure have, and we're getting awfully sick of it. Those, like me, who had terrible trouble spotting the difference between the transcendent blandness of Dennis DeYoung and the existential boredom of Tommy Shaw will be delighted to learn that this amazingly gay song is a duet between the two of them, as Kilroy and Chance finally meet and the universe collapses screaming upon itself.
TRACK 9: "Don't Let It End (Reprise)". Any joy the listener feels at having finally arrived at the end of the album is immediately canceled by the realization that he or she has to sit through the relentless soul-suck of "Don't Let It End" for the second time. This is much like getting your walking papers after an incredibly dangerous tour of duty in WWII, and then getting sunk on a transport ship home on the last day of the war. Or, as Joe Queenan put it in a slightly but not altogether different context, it's like surviving the Black Plague only to discover that there is something called the Blacker Plague. "PLEASE let it end", you cry, hoping that the obvious joke will somehow alleviate your agony, but it won't end, not for one hundred and forty-two of the longest seconds of your life.
Someone pay me to write these, the end.