The Cassette Chronicles – Badlands self-titled debut

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.

Original advertisement for Badlands self-titled debut, released 30 years ago.

BADLANDS – BADLANDS (1989)

Ahh memories…oh do I have some when it comes to Badlands. Of course, any discussion of Badlands and Jake E. Lee has to start off with his time with Ozzy Osbourne. The Ultimate Sin album was the first Ozzy album I bought and it remains my personal favorite. Since Lee was the guitarist on that album, I obviously have a soft spot for him.

So when I first saw/heard the video on MTV (most likely on Headbanger’s Ball specifically) for the track “Dreams In The Dark”, I was quickly captivated. But instead of the high flying metal guitar of Ozzy, this was a far more gritty and bluesy guitar driven rock and roll record.

Of course, I was immediately in need of owning the album. Once I had it in my hands, I played it quite frequently. I have to say that I found it amazing from start to finish. I know that might be a bit of spoiler for the rest of the article but this was a case of a band starting out at the peak of their musical abilities.

Impressive as Lee was, it was the voice of Ray Gillen that really cinched my fandom. His relatively brief time with Black Sabbath couldn’t have really foretold the performance he would turn in on this album.

As I said, I loved the album. Each song is just full of blazing rock and roll. Side One (or the East Side as it is billed on the album itself) blazes right from the get-go with “High Wire”. You can hear each individual member’s performance blend into a singular whole. Drummer Eric Singer and bassist Greg Chaisson are just as key here as Lee and Gillen.

“Dancing on the Edge” and “Streets Cry Freedom” are also top notch rockers. Of course, there was a slightly softer side of the band which was displayed with the Lee instrumental “Jade’s Song” and the intriguingly intense and atmospheric “Winter’s Call”. Neither really rises to the accepted norm of what a ballad was in the 80’s but damn if I didn’t love both of the songs.

The album’s West Side continued the band’s intense and hook laden blues rock with the opening track “Hard Driver”, a song whose title sums up the viciously rocking nature of the track. The song “Rumblin’ Train” sounds like a swampy blues drawl that you’d hear in a kind of backwater bar if it wasn’t for the far more powerful sound behind it. “Devil’s Stomp” might start out a little slow but soon earns its name as it rocks and stomps it way through your ears. “Seasons” becomes the “ballad” of the 2nd side of the album but still, I found nothing wrong with this song at all. The closing “Ball & Chain” brings down the house with another fiery guitar driven rocker.

I got to see the band twice in concert. The first show was a headlining club date at the Living Room in Providence, RI. The show was packed (the club routinely oversold their capacity) and by the time Badlands hit the stage, I had moved off the main floor and watched most of the show through the side of the stage area. The opening act was D.A.D. and I spent part of the Badlands set standing next to their drummer. I took some photos at that show but this was long before digital cameras and when I got my pictures back, most of them had been destroyed by the developer. However, the one shot that I didn’t throw away was this amazing shot of Ray Gillen in mid-performance. It actually was a mistaken photo that came out better than anything I could’ve shot on purpose. The band’s performance during the show was great even if I didn’t get to see it straight on.

The second show saw them as the opening band for Tesla and Great White at Great Woods in Mansfield, MA. That show was solid but it was obviously far shorter given their status as the opener.

While the band’s commercial fortunes didn’t match the quality of their material, I have no qualms saying that the Badlands album is without a doubt one of the best debut albums released during “The Metal Years”. It’s an album that found the band with all their combined experience already at the top of their game. If they’d been able to fend off all the problems that came their way (feuds, splits, death and withdrawal from the spotlight), I think they would’ve ended up as a far more important band than most would see them as these days. I think they really had that kind of potential. Don’t believe me? Check out this album and I believe you’ll change your mind.

NOTES OF INTEREST: After years out of the music spotlight, Jake E. Lee is back with his band Red Dragon Cartel. They’ve released two albums thus far. Eric Singer left Badlands after this first album. He was replaced by ex-Racer X drummer Jeff Martin. Singer went on to join Kiss where’s he’s been for years. Greg Chaisson had a solo album released in 1994 and made appearances on a few albums since the split but there’s no credits to his name that I can find since 1998. Ray Gillen died from AIDS-related complications in 1993.

In 1998, third album from the band was released in Japan. It is called Dusk. I have it and it is actually quite a good album.

The album was produced by Paul O’Neill, who among his many credits, was responsible for Trans-Siberian Orchestra (and a number of albums from Savatage before TSO came into being). The keyboard programming on Badlands was done by Bob Kinkel who was also a driving force in TSO.

And on a personal note, if anyone knows where I can get an inexpensive CD copy of this album it would be most appreciated as my cassette is pretty close to giving up the ghost.

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