The Jakarta Post
Out now: Glam Metal band Skid Row's debut celebrates its 30th anniversary with a reissue. (Courtesy of Atlantic Records/-)
Skid Row's self-titled debut is one of those insanely successful records that has been pretty much forgotten by time.
Moving over 5 million copies in the United States alone, Skid Row was released in 1989 – pretty much the peak year for hair (aka glam) metal as a commercial force. Its grandiose pop-metal flourish encapsulated the era's sound as did the shallow-sexism of its lyrics.
The album is a record of its time, and the newly released 30th anniversary reissue edition will not change the notion of what it was and what it is.
It probably doesn't help that the set comes without much added value, having only one extra disc of live versions of the songs – no outtakes, demos, or rarities at all.
Remastered to a crunchy crisp, this anniversary edition makes clear why Skid Row has never reached either the mythical status of similar acts like the grimier Guns 'N' Roses, nor the commercial appeal of the more approachable Bon Jovi.
Though many other factors obviously have played a part in those bands' longevity, the key component that Skid Row lacks is crossover songs.
Though the debut's singles were massive at the time, chart-toppers like “18 and Life”, “Youth Gone Wild” and “I Remember You” are too adherent to the glam metal formula – focusing more on bombast than actual song-craft, both in composition and production.
They relied heavily on a radio-ready production and multi-layered refrains that tried a little too hard to sound anthemic. Tracks like “18 and Life” and “Youth Gone Wild” were sufficient enough for the late 80s glam metal audiences, undeniable chant-alongs that kick started our hearts during gigs but showed their cracks without the concert euphoria.
The compulsory power ballad of “I Remember You” comes closest to being something more than a relic of the 80s hair metal crass commercialism, but the cheesy melodiousness (which clearly made its way into Indonesian “rock” of the day, yikes) and melodramatic instrumental and vocal posturing freezes all of its appeal in that specific era.
So does the unabashed rocking of “Big Guns”, “Sweet Little Sister”, “Piece of Me”, “Rattlesnake Shake” – all dripping with crunchy blues-metal riffs and glam metal's characteristic sleazy delivery.
The choruses are as immediate as the verses, settling in immediately amid guitar-centered theatrics, and a solid rhythm section. There is no denying the able riff-creation of main songwriters bass player Rachel Bolan and guitarist Dave “Snake” Sabo.
With vocalist Sebastian Bach's vocal histrionics, which can easily go from almost-sultry playfulness to rock god shrieking, it's easy to see why the band was a surefire hit in the era.
Skid Row's songwriting progressed significantly by the release of its second album, 1991's Slave to the Grind, but by that time grunge was knocking on glam metal’s door. The band – so emblematic of the suddenly lame hair-metal genre – couldn't survive even with the harder sound of its third album (1995's Subhuman Race).
The live disc showcases why post-Bach – who was fired in 1996 – Skid Row never reached the level of musical prowess, either on record or live. Bach's voice was commanding and reached high notes without sounding shriek-y or losing tune. His voice fitted perfectly with Bolan and Sabo's songwriting.
For a band whose musicality was built on bombast, the absence of that element in its vocals left a giant hole that is too obvious too ignore (Skid Row's post-Bach releases are, forgettable, to be kind).
To be fair, a lot of things affected Skid Row's particular career trajectory, some of them commendable. For one, the band never broke up only to reform and fully cash-in on nostalgia status.
As the band's key songwriters, Bolan and Sabo have stuck to their guns and so far, haven't reunited with Bach. (Of course it could be said that even together, a Skid Row and Bach reunion would only attract a limited audience – and the current band still peppers most of its sets with tracks from the first two Bach-sung albums alongside the new vocalist).
Secondly, the band lacks the crossover drama that has kept bands like Guns 'N' Roses or Motley Crue in the public eye. The kind of insane, death-defying, relationship-murdering, reality-show-worthy, drama that those bands offered with their debauched drugs-booze-vixen-laden lives.
Motley Crue and Guns had that in spades, so much so that they wrote books about it (a movie based on Motley Crue's career is even being made). Skid Row had members that hated each other a lot but never elaborated as to why – pretty commendable, all things considered.
Metal fans with golden memories of the time are likely to be the only audience for this re-release, perhaps alongside curious young ears. But those younger fans would do better picking up Slave To The Grind, which is certainly one of the best fully metal albums by a glam metal act. (ste)
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