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.
VIXEN – VIXEN (1988)
I had a different album in mind for this week’s article, but as sometimes happens when dealing with cassettes of a certain vintage, the player ate the tape. I struggled for a few days to pick a new album to feature and finally thought of some of the new CDs I had reviewed so far this year. I ended up thinking of the Janet Gardner solo CD and remembered that I had a copy of this self-titled debut album from the band she fronted both then and now. It was a pretty easy decision from that point forward.
Now I know the band isn’t exactly seen as being up there in the hall of great 80’s bands, but I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t enjoy them at the time and place they occupied back then. Hell, after their second album I even joined their official fan club. Remember those? Send away to join and get a packet of stuff in the mail. I choose to believe the band was in the midst of breaking up already but it was a bit odd that I received my packet about a week or so before the news broke they’d broken up back in 1991. I swear it wasn’t my fault! At least my membership fee got refunded though.
While the album suffers from an over produced sound that was at least partly a sign of the times, there are some gems here that I’d forgotten about alongside their two best known songs.
As was the case for a lot of bands, the album’s big single led off the track list. And I don’t care what anyone says, I really love “Edge Of A Broken Heart”. While it was written by pop singer Richard Marx and Fee Waybill from The Tubes, the band does sell it as if they were the originators of the track.
The first side of the album is where the strength of the album lies. While the song title for “I Want You To Rock Me” is pretty much a cliche that sums up a lot of the songs from the 80’s metal movement, it is fueled by a strong drum backing that gives it a heavy sound than you might expect.
The band’s second single was “Cryin'” and it manages to straddle the line between ballad type lyrics and a faster musical pace throughout. I’m not sure if that technically falls under the heading of power ballad or not but however you define it, I enjoy the song. The same can be said for Vixen’s performance of the Jon Butcher song “American Dream”. I don’t know what Butcher’s fans might have to say about it but I don’t rightly care all that much either. I liked the track as is, though I do plan to seek out and hear the original Butcher recording for comparison’s sake.
The closing song on Side 1 is “Desperate” and it sums up the feeling I got about the song as it completely falls flat.
As for the second half of the album, it gets off to a very rocky start with “One Night Alone” and “Hell Raisers”. The songs may drop the hammer as far as pacing goes but they also drop the ball in regards to having songs that stand the test of time. For the latter of the two songs, I need someone to explain how it took seven credited songwriters to come up with a song that was just so pedestrian and run of the mill.
In fact, the songwriting credits might be a big factor in the band being seen as a little bit of a packaged product. Of the 11 songs on the album, the band is credited with four co-writes (including as a band on “Hell Raisers”) and the song “Waiting” is credited as a collaboration between singer Gardner and guitarist Jan Kuehnemund. Everything else is written by outside writers. I don’t know if it meant anything then but looking back I wonder if the fact that all the outside writers were men was a factor at all.
The song “Love Made Me” is the best of the six tracks on Side 2 even though found the chorus to be a bit too high pitched for my own personal tastes. Oh, and I should mention that I liked “Cruisin'” as well.
Overall, Vixen isn’t a half bad album. It might not set your heart aflutter throughout but it is nice to pull out of the collection and give it a listen once in a while and remind yourself of that late 80’s sound you loved back then.
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Notes of Interest: Guitarist Jan Kuehnemund died of cancer in October 2013. The remaining three members (Gardner, drummer Roxy Petrucci and bassist Share Pedersen) continue the band to this day with current guitarist Britt Lightning.
Spencer Proffer co-wrote and produced the song “Hell Raisers”. He also produced the songs “One Night Alone” and “American Dream”. For those that don’t remember, he was the producer of Quiet Riot’s smash hit album Metal Health, the first heavy metal album to hit the #1 spot on the charts.
Current Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell is thanked in the liner notes for the album for the guitar duet on “Desperate”. Billy Sheehan (Mr. Big), Jeff Pilson (Dokken), Carmine Appice and Kevin Dubrow (Quiet Riot) also get name dropped in the thanks section.