Badlands – Badlands [reissue]

January 01, 1970

(Rock
Candy Records)

 

www.rockcandyrecords.com

 

From the rather
largish ‘woulda, shoulda, coulda’ file comes one of the great lost bands of
rock ‘n’ roll, Badlands. Emerging from the 1980s nerf-metal scene, Badlands would
be overshadowed first by the enormous success of contemporaries Guns N’ Roses,
a/k/a the luckiest bunch of Hollyrockin’ droogs on the planet at the time, and then
totally eclipsed by the grunge leviathan that steamrolled its way outta Seattle
in 1991.

 

Badlands’
lack of success remains a mystery almost two decades after the band’s
acrimonious break-up. The individual band members had the gutter-dwelling street
rat look affected by Sunset Strip rockers like Motley Crue or the GN’R gang,
lean and wiry with long hair and heroin chic. Badlands had an undeniable musical
pedigree as well, guitarist Jake E. Lee making his bones as part of Ozzy Osbourne’s
post-Randy Rhodes band, vocalist Ray Gillen fresh off an ill-fated short stint
with Black Sabbath. Future Kiss beat-blaster Eric Singer was another Sabbath alumnus,
while Badlands bassist Greg Chaisson had clocked in with Ron Keel in Steeler.

 

Whether it
was due to their lack of flamboyance when compared to even such notable second-and-third-tier
glam-metal hellraisers as Love/Hate or Faster Pussycat, or because their
blues-tinged hard rock sound drew more from Led Zeppelin than Hanoi Rocks, the
guys in Badlands received little love from the City of Angels and, thus, were
forever unable to break out of the L.A. rock ghetto. Tis a shame, too, ’cause Badlands
had found a strong creative team in Lee and Gillen, who had developed an uneasy
songwriting relationship akin to Jagger and Richards, while the band’s talents
and electric chemistry allowed them to light up a stage wherever they toured. Badlands would manage to release just two great rock ‘n’
roll albums before burning out and breaking apart – their 1989 self-titled
debut, and 1991’s equally excellent Voodoo Highway.
 

 

Out-of-print
almost from the date of its release, Badlands the album has long been ignored by U.S. archival labels trying to mine
gold from the major label archives, resulting in a seller’s market charging
collectors $50 or more for a first-gen CD copy. Originally released by Atlantic
Records’ Titanium imprint, Badlands has finally been reissued on CD by England’s Rock Candy Records, the new
release featuring remastered audio, a pretty cool bonus track on top of the ten
original barn-burners, and a sixteen-page CD booklet with lengthy liner notes
and a bunch of rare, unpublished band photos…undeniably a deluxe package that
will have the band’s international fan base foaming at the mouth.

 

As for the
music? If you’re unfamiliar with Badlands, don’t cue up the CD expecting
something along the lines of the Crue or Poison, or even Ozzy’s bat-munching,
1980s-era Goth-metal Sturm und Drang. Nosirree, Badlands were unabashed Led
Zeppelin acolytes, with maybe a dash of the Jeff Beck Group on the side of
their plate, but definitely a boozy, blues-rock based gang o’ houserockers.
“High Wire” jumpstarts the album with a blast of white light/white
heat, Gillen’s voice teetering on the edge of the abyss as Lee’s guitar
slices-and-dices like some mutant six-string vegomatic. The rhythm section of
Chaisson and Singer crashes with the best of ’em, delivering a blustery
backbeat for the soaring vocals and guitar pyrotechnics. Call it Zeppelin mark
II if you will, ’cause this is where the boys from Britain may have gone musically
if not for Bonzo’s unfortunate demise.

 

Badlands continues to singe your
synapses with an unrelenting mix of mid-and-rapid-tempo firestarters that
refuse to fall into flaccid power-ballad tropes. The label-dictated single
“Dreams In The Dark” survived executive manhandling to become the
band’s calling card, garnering valuable MTV exposure (yeah, back when they used
to play actual music videos) and
inching into the Billboard Top 40.
The song itself is a pleasant enough lil’ rocker with Gillen’s voice sounding
like Johnny Van Zandt on a wistful tale of romance and lust that could pass for
a Southern rock number from a decade earlier if not for Lee’s metallic riffing
and the explosive rhythms behind Gillen’s vocals. The instrumental “Jade’s
Song” displays some of Lee’s underrated fretwork, with dexterous
acoustic-guitar strum serving as an extended intro to the deceptively benign
“Winter’s Call.” The closest thing the album has to a ballad,
“Winter’s Call” starts out all gentle and sensitive and such before imploding
like a deteriorating black star into another Zeppelin-esque pleasure wail of
screaming vocals and guitars and TNT drumbeats.

 

The
foreboding “Streets Cry Freedom” is drenched in dark malevolence,
Lee’s mesmerizing guitar lines matched by Gillen’s muted vocals until the whole
thing blows up in your face with a sonic howl colder and more powerful than any
arctic wind. Gillen reaches Plant-like heights with a tortured and nuanced
vocal performance delivered above sheer instrumental chaos. The band reaches
for its inner Blackfoot with the bluesy, blustery “Rumblin’ Train,”
which sports a fine set of Cajun-fried lyrics, a stomping rhythm, and Lee’s
best swamp-blues guitarwork. “Devil’s Stomp” offers up another
understated intro that is randomly punctuated with sledgehammer blows of bass
drum or wide slashes of wiry guitar. Lee’s fretwork here is simply
unbelievable, a pissed-off serpent that blindly strikes at anything within
range while Gillen’s black cat moan rides high above the fracas. A bonus track tacked
on to the back end of this Badlands reissue, “Ball & Chain,” is a rollicking blues-rock fever dream
with a maddening recurring riff and enough cacophonic, cascading rhythms to
make the most jaded of us wet our diapers in glee.

 

Reading through the liner notes
in the deluxe sixteen-page booklet that accompanies this Rock Candy reissue of Badlands, it’s
amazing that the album was ever made in the first place. Label executives
imagined a far different band than that which they signed, and kept trying to
force them into the mold of washed-up hair-metal hacks rather than the young
soul rebels they obviously were. The producer caused a split between the band’s
leads (Gillen and Lee) and the rhythm section, and at one point some damn fool
suit wanted to toss Lee from the band that he started up in the first place.

 

Through
all the madness and the tension, a classic album was created, however, and Badlands stands today as a pinnacle of
the hard rock heights that were first explored by the Yardbirds, mapped by Eric
Clapton and Cream, and explored by Zeppelin, Mountain, and other fellow
travelers during the 1970s. Tossing aside the mindless hedonism and cretin
worldview of other Hollywood
street rats, and refusing to be bound by trends
and expectations, Badlands aspired to more,
and for a brief shining moment at the end of the 1980s, they achieved rock ‘n’
roll nirvana.

 

DOWNLOAD: “High Wire,” “Dreams In The
Dark,” “Devil’s Stomp” REV. KEITH A. GORDON

 

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