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The hair may be thinning, but the metal remains the same.
The Spandex Nation returns
By Lorraine All
GET READY FOR Predator, American Hardcore, Belly to belly and Generation Swine.
No, they're not monster truck races or the newest, bloodiest Kombat video games. These apocalyptic names belong to new albums by former hair-metal heroes Accept, L.A. Guns, Warrant and Motley Crue, respectively. If you thought these onetime MTV gods and rulers of the Aqua Net kingdom went the way of the aerosol spray can, think again. Hair metal is back with a vengeance - the Crue's Generation Swine, in fact, entered Billboard's Top 200 at No.4.
And there's more . . Great White, Queensryche, Night Ranger and Enuff Z'Nuff have all put out new albums in the past year; former screamers Jon Bon Jovi and Kip Winger have released adult-oriented solo albums; WASP and Ratt are on tour this summer; and rumors are circulating that Poison are planning to reunite and that even AxI Rose is working on a new album, with or without his fellow Guns n' Roses band mates.
"Bands are trying to rekindle the old fire," says Chip Z'Nuff, bassist and founder of Enuff Z'Nuff, whose band hit big in 1989 with the song "Fly High Michelle" and is one of the few hair-metal bands that has continued to tour and put out albums throughout the '90's.
"There is an audience out there, so why not play? Everybody wants to go back to where they were before. Also, labels are saying there is still an audience out there for this group. You get a chance to trip your trigger for the second time."
Whether the bands continued to put out albums in the days after Nirvana's Nevermind sounded the death knell for pretty-boy glam in 1992, or have only just decided that it's safe to get back in the water again, they all face the daunting task of re-entering a music scene that exiled them with the same disgust that France ousted Napoleon. Some bands that found fame in that era are even rejecting it - Motley Crue refused to be interviewed for this article for fear of being remembered as simply an '80´s metal band, according to their publicist.
"The No. I reason that bands are taking a second shot at things is because it's become a little less fashionable to hate us," says Jani Lane, singer of Warrant, a band that rivaled Three's Company in the sexual-innuendo department with pop-rock hits like "Cherry Pie." "You can only bash an entire decade of music for so long before it gets old."
Aside from the Crue's presence, the current Billboard charts are not exactly busting with wielders of the Flying V guitar, but there has been a definite reigniting of the hair- metal flame. MTV's It Came From the '80´s II, an intensive documentary focusing on the past and present lives of bands like Poison and Motley Crue, was one of the network's most popular shows last year.
In Louisville, Ky.,radio station WTFX produced its Hair Band Weekend as a one-off promotional gimmick for a Warrant show, in 1996, and now it's a station staple. "We were flooded with calls," says WTFX operations manager Michael Lee, whose station reaches more than a quarter-million listeners. "The phones just rang off the wall. Now it's a regular weekend show and the most popular feature show we do. People love this stuff."
Hair metal is still shunned by hipsters on the East and West coasts, but the movement is taking hold in Middle America and spreading outward. "Fans are coming out of the closet," says Kip Winger, singer and bassist of the late-'80´s blockbusters Winger. "They're not afraid to admit that they like this kind of music."
There are many reasons for the resurgence. Biggest of all, perhaps, is the nostalgic "I kinda miss spandex" factor Like New Wave, big- hair metal is resurfacing as a new form of classic rock, inspiring bands to relive the good old days. "Kiss kicked a lot of this stuff off," says WTFX's Lee. "Though Kiss are not a hair band, I think people saw there were major bucks to be made. Everybody'll now be looking for their former lead singers, throwing the band together with a Soundgarden-style haircut and hoping they all haven't gained 30 pounds."
"It's funny, here we are; the alternative to alternative"
The weirdest phenomenon of all in the return of hair metal is the indie-rock angle. Ten years ago, metal was the mainstay of major labels and commercial radio while alternative rock was primarily put out on indie labels for college-radio listeners. Today the roles have reversed. "Since it's still uncool to be a radio director and say, 'I Like Warrant!' we're getting played tons on college radio," says Lane.
'It's funny, says Warrant's frontman Jani Lane: "Here we are; the alternative to alternative" " I would say at college radio stations has quipled.
Most big-hair metal bands were dumped from major labels in the early '90´s. To continue recording they were forced to start over at a grassroots level. "At a small label you can actually call up and talk to the president," says Lane who like most other ex-tongue waggers harbors a deep distrust of major labels these days. "[An indie label] signed the band 'cause it liked the band and it gives you creative freedom to just go away and do your thing. There was no such thing when '80´s metal started."New York independent label Mayhem is one leading force on the metal scene, with a roster that includes Enuff Z'Nuff, Dio and Accept.
Another indie label CMC boasts Warrant, L.A. Guns and Slaughter and has become so successful that it sold half of the company to powerhouse BMG, in 1996. Tom Lipsky founded CMC five years ago on the premise that fans were ready for the return of their favorite mainstream rock acts. Now it's one of fastest growing indie labels in America. "One frequent question people put to me is: 'Why do you think you can be successful?' " says Lipsky whose North Carolina- based label also features veteran rockers Pat Benatar and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
"People ask, 'How many [hair metal] bands are in the Tap 200 right now?' But all you need is one single to break, and they're on top again. That's all you need."
Adds Tom Keifer, guitarist for Cinderella, who sold more than 10 million albums between 1985 and 1991, and is considering a possible reunion: "I don't think that all of a sudden, millions of people stopped liking hard rock. I think they just stopped being served it. I know trends come and go, and things change, but that was so abrupt. You're told no one wants to hear your music anymore. It was like, 'Sorry, you're not cool anymore. Bye.'."
Warrant's Lane remembers the moment when he realized his status as a rock god had crumbled. "I'd make a trip to New York every year to see Donny Inner, president of Columbia," he says, "and the first time, there was a poster of [the Warrant album] Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich over his secretary's desk, then, the next year, Cherry Pie. But I remember walking into his office in '92, and there was an Alice in Chains poster, and I was like, 'Uh-oh, wasn't that the band who just opened for us?'"
"I don't think that all of a sudden, millions of people stopped liking hard rock. I think they just stopped being served it."
Though rock fans are historically disloyal - Elvis Presley was dethroned for the Beatles, and, later, Donna Summer for the Sex Pistols - the shift from hair metal to grunge may have been the most abrupt mutiny in pop history. "MTV pumped the world full of the kind of music we were making, and it became even more fluffy and ludicrous because the scene got so damn saturated," says Ronnie James Dio, leader of the band Dio, ex-singer of Black Sabbath and Rainbow, and proud father of a new Dio album out last year. "It's like, finally, people just had enough of it cause something fresh had come in: the punk scene."
The ridiculous image of Sunset Strip Spandroid culture still haunts the pop psyche in the same way a supermodel is haunted by her gawky junior high class photo. There were so many bad videos, bad outfits, bad hairdos and, oh, yeah, so much bad music, that pop-rock bands like Enuff ´Znuff whose music didn't even necessarily fit into the scene - still have to overcome an image that they only momentarily and begrudgingly adopted. "At that time, MTV was only playing big-haired bands, and we just wanted to get accepted in the scene," says Chip Z'Nuff. "People were listening with their eyes instead of their ears. In hindsight, if we didn't dress like that, we might never have been known at all... or we might be U2 right now. I just don't know."
Many farmer hair boys are trying to overcome fashion travesties of the past by concentrating onthe music this time. But the bands are taking no shared approach to assimilate in the late '90´s, and there's not a sense that they want to be part of some sort of united resurrection. Motley Crue and L.A. Guns have adopted a rawer, grungier sound Kip Winger is reinventing himself as an acoustic artist. And Warrant are basically playing the same way but with somewhat smarter lyrics granted, there was nowhere to go but up. Some artists see their peers' incorporation of new styles as a cop-out. "Bands have an obligation to play the music their fans bought in the past," says Chip Z'Nuff. "It's silly to hide from your past. I mean, you can't totally forget what happened. If you do, you're questioning your fans' integrity."
"It's like, 'We're gonna dress up again, 'cause we´re sick of you flannel guys."
And fans do have integrity. They are turning away from the overcrowded world of alternative rock and have not yet responded in a major way to the hype surrounding electronic. There is a void in rock that needs to be filled. "It sounds so cliche' to say that hard rock is about rebellion, but it is," says Lane. "It's like, 'Screw you; we're gonna see what's big now and go the complete opposite way!' It's like, 'Now we're gonna dress up again, 'cause we're sick of you flannel guys.'"
Though there's not a preponderance of baby bands playing hair metal, there is metallike showmanship in the music of bands like Marilyn Manson and Psychotica, and that may be an indicator of where guitar rock is headed. "[Motley Crue are] not gonna be the new thing," says Winger. "People will be going to Motley Crue shows for nostalgic reasons. But to me, it's futile, because they were best when they did Doctor Feelgood. That time was really fun, and you can't bring that back".
"I think, today, we're still an a front edge of a turn, though the business is not totally lucrative yet," says CMC's Lipsky. "I think the smart labels are building blocks now, thinking that six to 18 months from now, straight-ahead mainstream rock & roll is going to again drive the business like it does every five to seven years. Cycle in, cycle out - it always returns to straight ahead
rock & roll".
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