The Cassette Chronicles – Contraband’s self-titled debut

BY JAY ROBERTS (SPECIAL TO LIMELIGHT MAGAZINE)

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s that I have acquired through Purchase Street Records in New Bedford, MA.

The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from the 1980’s through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums.

These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

CONTRABAND – CONTRABAND (1991)

We’ve all heard that cliche of how when you assume, you just make an ass of you and me, right? Well, that kind of happened when I decided to write about this album.

The musical pedigree for this so-called supergroup or side project is rather noteworthy for the variety of well received rock groups of the 70’s and 80’s. You’ve got Michael Schenker (UFO, Scorpions, solo) and Tracii Guns (L.A. Guns) on guitar, Shark Island’s singer Richard Black on vocals, Bobby Blotzer from Ratt on drums and Share Pedersen from Vixen on bass. Honestly, the reason I paid any attention to the band initially was because of Pedersen, who I had a major thing for at the time.

The release of this album came with a big single and video for the opening track, the Ian Hunter written “All The Way From Memphis”. This version of the song is ultimately outstanding and likely the best remembered track from the album.

But that act of assumption by me led me to thinking that this album had been a pretty successful one when it was initially released. My perception was corrected when I read that not only were the sales of the album disappointing but the reviews weren’t all that great either. So I was left to wrack my brain as to why what I thought was so far from the truth. The reason turned out to be pretty simple. I never bought the damn album in the first place. My total exposure to the band was in fact the “All The Way To Memphis” song. I could’ve sworn I owned this one back in the day.

It might’ve been a bit of a good thing I failed to grab this one up when it was released. The material on the album leaves you with just enough of a tease to leave you rather unsatisfied. In fact, the band pretty much bookends both sides of the album with good songs while the 3 songs in the middle are at best mediocre or abysmal at their worst.

“Loud Guitars, Fast Cars & Wild, Wild Livin'” is a burst of pure adrenaline racing from one high point to the next at breakneck speed to close out the first side. The song ended up being used on the soundtrack of the movie If Looks Could Kill as well.

A cover of blues singer Roy Brown’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight” is given a more hard rock or metallic going over, but remains a superb cut and the band joined an impressive lineup of artists to record their own version of Brown’s hit including Bruce Springsteen, Montrose, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and James Brown.

David Bowie’s “Hang On To Yourself” closed out side two and that was the fourth really great sounding track on the release.

Sadly, that’s where the good news ends. The remaining six songs came off as trying a little too hard and failing to hit whatever the target was. I just wanted those songs to be over with each time I listened so I could get to the worthwhile tracks.

If I could just hear the four songs I liked, I’d be fine. However, since you have to take the album as a whole, I found my admittedly inaccurate perception of the album shattered and was left profoundly disappointed in the end.

Notes of Interest – The songwriting credits on Contraband were a treat to read about. While Richard Black got co-writing credits on three songs (only one that I liked), the rest of the band had nothing to do with any of the creative side of things. This might explain why the album comes off a bit more like a hired gun project trying to cash in at the twilight of the metal glory days than a full fledged band.

Besides the covers I already mentioned, there were a number of other songwriters utilized for the album. Two of them in particular have had a host of collaborations with big name musical acts. Michael Thompson co-wrote “Kiss By Kiss” with Mark Spiro. Thompson has worked with Babyface, David Foster, Celine Dion and Eric Clapton amongst a host of others. Meanwhile, Spiro has worked on music that is reportedly responsible for 100 million albums sold by artists such as John Waite, Bad English, Laura Branigan, Heart, Cheap Trick and many more.

Dann Huff co-wrote the song “Intimate Outrage”. He was a part of the band Giant, whose album “Last of the Runaways” was a featured album in an earlier installment of this Cassette Chronicles series.

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