Album review: NEAL SMITH – Pop 85/95

NEAL SMITH - Pop 85/95

Kachina Records [Release date 01.06.20]

OK, hands up – greatest ‘garage’ band of all time?  Easy – the ‘original’ Alice Cooper band.  Under the tutelage of Bob Ezrin, they produced one of the finest rock albums of the 1970′s in Killer (1971).  Unfortunately fame and fortune didn’t last long.  Alice spotted a wave and continues to ride it.  And without their talisman, the band were left high and dry.

And while they have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the absence of anything else meaningful on their collective CV’s says a lot.  But the fact is, it’s often simply been a case of ‘wrong place, wrong time’ – from the abortive Billion Dollar Babies project, to Deadringer (more of which, below).

But drummer Neal Smith’s been clearing out his garage, and dusted down some demo recordings from a bygone era – as exemplified by the album title and politically incorrect busty beach babe cover art.

Recorded between ’85 and ’95 with guitarist Jay Jesse Johnson, who’s since re-invented himself as a blues guitarist, Smith has brought the recordings back to life with the help of Peter Catucci (Smith’s Killsmith bass guitarist) and guitarist/engineer Rick Tedesco.

Although somewhat ironically, eight of the tracks were recorded without Smith picking up a stick – instead, focusing on drum synth programming, as was the vogue at the time, vocals, synths and keyboards.

The opening three tracks, in their original format recorded (with ‘real’ drums) between ’87 and ’88, were used as demos by Deadringer, a band put together by Smith and Johnson along with Alice Cooper band bassist Dennis Dunaway, Joe Bouchard (keys, Blue Oyster Cult) and vocalist Charlie Huhn (Ted Nugent).

They released one excellent melodic rock album – Electrocution Of The Heart – in 1989, but the rise of grunge and collapse of the label sank the project before it got legs.  But it’s well worth checking out on YouTube – definitely ‘one that got away’.

Of those three numbers, only the Journey like ‘Secret Eyes’ made it onto the Deadringer album, the others offering little beyond moderately pleasant pop ‘tunes’ influenced more by the Big ‘O’ than rock, and some fairly rudimentary synth programming.

The other eight numbers, all with programmed drums, were recorded between ’93 and ’94 following Smith’s divorce and influenced by Phil Collins’ pop solo career.  As Smith says, they’re just ‘glorified demos – a raw and honest time capsule from an easier musical time’ so let’s not be too critical.

Actually, there’s the makings of some half decent tunes here, with quite a bit of Alice Cooper band DNA in evidence beneath the hood.  It’s equally refreshing to hear something not polished to within an inch of its life, but let’s get real – Pop 85/95 isn’t a long lost treasure trove, although it will be of curio value appeal to Alice Cooper band completists.  **1/2

Review by Pete Whalley

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