The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

April Fools Week: Taking Poison Still Beats Listening to It

Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief

ImageI’m the first to admit that I’m not the most discriminatory when it comes to music. I’ll listen to anything to determine whether I like it.  My iPod is an eclectic mix composed of every genre ranging from 1950s doo-wop, 70s “acid trip” tunes, 80s pop and 90s one-hit wonders (the decade I actually discovered music).  So when I took on my April Fools Week assignment and listened to Poison’s albums, Look What the Cat Dragged In and Open Up and Say Ah, I wasn’t completely out of the loop.  The band, in fact all bands of the “hair band” decade, have been mercilessly lampooned for years now, so I honestly expected a sound similar to what’s heard in Mark Wahlberg’s film Rock Star – a movie I freely admit to owning and watching on special occasions.  This, plus the fact that I’m a closest Bon Jovi and Journey fan, meant that I actually had a chance to like this music. A slim one, but a chance nonetheless.

I do know several Poison fans; hell my 18-year-old brother is a fan.  Most of this new-found fandom comes from front man Bret Michaels’ multiple turns finding “companionship” on VH1’s Rock of Love series.  I’ve wasted about ten minutes of my life watching Michaels and his bandana but let’s face it, that show isn’t about Rock…or Love.  And so we must turn to his music. As it turns out, the albums themselves have a few gems amongst the mediocre songs, but overall I can see why they’re a sad reminder of the hair band scene: all looks and no substance.

I listened to their second album, Open Up and Say Ah, first because I figured the band would have their “trademark” sound down in their sophomore effort.  I don’t know if this helped or hindered me in my listening later on…but I hated this album!  Sure there are a few tracks that others might like, but if anything from this album ever finds its way into my iPod, it will be a cruel prank perpetrated by my enemies. The first “jam” Nothing But a Good Time pretty much sets up the Poison cliché list, crafting a wondrous world of debauchery and rock n’ roll.  Michaels sings about how he “spent money on women and wine” yet the next song Every Rose Has It’s Thorn is a weepy ballad about a difficult relationship.  Well maybe you should have told your girl where you spent all that money and you wouldn’t have these problems Brett! 

 Speaking of Every Rose, this seems to be the song that defines them, and really I don’t understand why.  I have heard this song, it actually played at my senior prom a few years back, much to my horror (I did request Don’t Stop Believing though, so I couldn’t complain too harshly).  The song is weepy and sentimental, with some of the stupidest lyrics I’ve heard in songwriting. “Every dark has its dawn?” Really, tell me something more transcendent why don’t you?  I know I mentioned before that I was going to try to accept the music for what it was, but after hearing from other amazing bands and songs in my life this was just stupid to me.  The funny thing is this seems to be making a comeback as it’s being used as the new “retro” song for all the disaffected youth out there (as my brother will surely tell you). 

After these two tracks I found myself repeating the same things over in my notes, “too much…” “over….” and “sounds exactly like [insert other band.]”  Songs like Good Love and Tearing Down the Wall have a distinct hint of Aerosmith in them.  The riff in the former sounds exactly like  Walk This Way.  On the other hand, Love on the Rocks and Bad to Be Good seem over-produced and have way so many post-production effects that I didn’t notice the music.  The songs also have the exact same messages about chicks and “good times.”  Poison does try to be different with a harmonica intro on Good Love but the song sounds like Aerosmith so much you don’t notice.  Every song on Open Up and Say Ah seems like a perfect match for fans of Guitar Hero, but nothing that I would listen to in my free time, or even if my life depended on it.

The only song I mildly enjoyed on the album was Falling Angel, about a small-town girl trying to make it in Hollywood.  I don’t know if it’s because it reminded me of American Girl or Living on a Prayer (I noticed many Bon Jovi comparisons, making me wonder who stole from who) but there was something that made me say “this album isn’t total crap.”  There’s also a really wonderful guitar solo from C.C. Deville that I really enjoyed but other that, it’s not worth buying the album on iTunes.

Look What the Cat Dragged In is Poison’s debut album, and it is a far cry from their sophomore work in tone and sound.  The first track, Cry Tough, is incredibly different from Nothing But a Good Time.  Some purists may hate it because it’s far pop tinged with inspirational lyrics about dreams coming true.  I have to say though this band should kill their songwriter, because the lyrics again are awful. “Sometimes a rainbow…is better than a pot of gold?”  And this was a macho hair band?  This also happens again in I Won’t Forget You, which I liked a bit more but it seemed like Poison was trying to find a niche in remaking 1950s prom songs.  It’s a total “whip out your lighter” song but it just makes them lose all hard rock credibility. 

On the flipside the group also seems to love remaking songs, the former album remakes the song Your Mama Don’t Dance which gave me horrible memories of my dad belting that out, and this album has a remake of Don’t Mess With Jim which is better in the original format for me.  The ballads on this are too poppy and I don’t understand why they need to do these odd covers, it just gives the album a disjointed feel. 

There’s a huge set of “songs you’ll hear in a strip club” on this album.  Songs like Play Dirty, Look What the Cat Dragged In and Want Some Need Some are stereotypical and sound the same.  The best out of this group is I Want Action and all that it implies.  The guitar solo is a bit screechy than others in the group but this album seems to make a play for the “party” atmosphere with songs that make you want to bang your head and get drunk with your friends.  The big hit on this album is Talk Dirty to Me which falls into the stripper songs and does have the meathead lyrics, but there’s something about this particular song that I enjoyed.  Maybe because I’d heard my brother plays it on Guitar Hero or something but I did like it at least.

Do I feel like my time listening to the best of Poison was a waste I’ll never get back?  Not entirely.  It made me appreciate the 80s bands I love, and I can officially say they were a crappy band.  But I can’t completely cast them aside.  They started the hair band trend and do have some iconic tuneage, it’s just not anything that fans of something intelligent will want.  Give me Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet any day!