By JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period 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.
BAD ENGLISH – BACKLASH (1991)
You’d think when an assembled supergroup releases a smash hit (and platinum selling) debut album that when they released a second album, there’d be some expected fanfare for the follow up release.
The self-titled debut album from Bad English was a big hit spawning two big hit singles and making the lineup of singer John Waite, guitarist Neal Schon, keyboardist Jonathan Cain, bassist Ricky Phillips and drummer Deen Castronovo into a pretty famous act of their own accord. Yes, the members (except Castronovo) all had pretty big careers in their own right prior to Bad English with stints in The Babys and Journey. All that has been well covered. But these supergroup projects rarely make much of an impact. Whether you like AOR (or melodic rock as it is now known as) or not, Bad English was damn impressive when they first hit the scene.
And that’s what makes it weird that their second and final album Backlash was a total failure. I couldn’t remember why I had no memory of the album before now. I know I never bought it but was stumped as to the reasons why. I did a little searching on the Net and as it turns out, I think I just didn’t bother because there was no point in continuing with the band. Apparently, they broke up before Backlash was even MIXED. I mean if the band isn’t going to stand behind the album, why should I? At least, that’s what I think I must’ve been thinking back then.
For all the back room stuff going on that led to the band’s derailment, when I pulled the album out of The Big Box of Cassettes, I was really intrigued to give it a listen and see if I’d missed out on anything big.
It turns out that I did. There’s a pretty good selection of material on the album and it definitely represents the musical genre well.
The opening cut on Backlash is “So This Is Eden”. It’s a pretty fast paced rocking kind of song that gets you amped up pretty quickly. The song is good but I did make note of how the guitar featured in the song seemed a bit edgier than I remember from their first album.
“Straight To Your Heart” was the only song to be released as a single (It’s didn’t make the Top 40) but it’s another good honest slice of AOR rock and roll.
The album’s biggest failing for me was the inclusion of back to back ballad tracks on Side One. Now, I should say that “Time Stood Still” has a pretty interesting guitar line throughout the song. Unlike “The Time Alone With You”, which was far too sugary in its sentimental nature, “Time Stood Still” isn’t a BAD song. But neither song really does much to rise above the expected conventions of a power ballad from the 1980’s – early 1990’s. And since that’s the case, I found both songs otherwise kind of run of the mill.
But don’t despair music fans! The first side of the album closes out with a killer rocking song in “Dancing Off The Edge”. There’s a great hook and John Waite really sells the lyrics with his vocal performance. It is probably my favorite song of the entire album.
Speaking of John Waite’s singing, the opening track on Side Two, “Rebel Say A Prayer”, really gives him a spotlight. Musically, this rocker is pretty spectacular. When you combine that with another epic vocal delivery from Waite as he sings about a guy going on the run from a crime he committed and his woman standing by and going with him, the song just takes off. While the storyline of the lyrics isn’t quite the same, this song reminded me quite nicely of the Bad Company song “Boys Cry Tough” from their Holy Water album.
“Savage Blue” may sound like the title of a police thriller novel but the song has a compelling guitar solo to mix with the song’s mid to uptempo groove. Neal Schon’s guitar work really got the most interesting to me on “Pray For Rain”. The lines and solo he plays are outstanding and further serve to fuel the song when combined with the slightly darker tone or dramatic phrasing of the vocals by John Waite.
As you might expect by the title, the song “Make Love Last” starts out as another typical ballad. However, the song quickly sheds the softer side of itself for a more intense in your face approach and suddenly you find yourself in the midst of a strongly constructed rock number.
It’s a little odd to hear a song with a sarcastic take on the nature of fame when you are a famous/successful rock band but the Backlash closing song “Life At The Top” somehow manages to work around what would seem to be an insurmountable impediment. Plus the way it rocks out to the end gives the listener once last whipsaw rush of adrenaline at the end of things.
The searching I did led me to mentions that Schon and Phillips didn’t like the commercial nature of the music the band was doing and that John Waite wasn’t all that happy with the “corporate” rock image Bad English had.
But for me, since the band wrote or co-wrote the material on the album so I don’t quite understand what their problem with the songs were. It wasn’t like the songs were foisted off on them or something.
I’m not going to say that I think Backlash is a better album than Bad English. I’m just a huge fan of the latter album. But now that I’ve finally given the band’s second album a fair chance by actually listening to it instead of outright dismissing it (like the band and general public seemed to do back in 1991), I found myself confronted with a pretty entertaining slice of melodic rock that deserves far better than being consigned to the bargain bin of music’s memory.
NOTES OF INTEREST: Despite the band having released just two albums, there was a greatest hits compilation released in 1995.
Their self-titled debut album was given a remastered release by Rock Candy Records in 2017. It contained remixes of the songs “Price of Love” and “Forget Me Not” as bonus tracks.
John Waite still enjoys a solo career while Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain remain mainstays in Journey (despite recent well publicized acrimony between the two of them), Ricky Phillips has been with Styx since 2003 and Deen Castronovo spent 17 years in Journey before being fired and is currently part of the lineup of The Dead Daisies.