Album review: THE BULLETBOYS – The Warner Albums 1988-93 (3 CDs)

Cherry Red Records [release date 18.06.21]

No doubt about it, The Bulletboys started out as contenders. This package of CD remasters, comprising the band’s first 3 albums, The Bullet Boys, Freakshow and Za-Za, covers the most important chapters of the Bulletboys’ Sunset Strip story.

Clearly influenced by Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, Rush and a few others, The band’s eponymous debut, released in 1988, was a colourful explosion of hard edged, aggressively infectious melodic rock. In vocalist Marc Torien and guitarist Mick Sweda, they had the makings of that rare dynamic enjoyed by mega successful rock bands like G’n'R, Aerosmith, The Cult, and others.
‘Hard As A Rock’ and ‘Smooth Up In Ya’ wouldn’t have won any Pulitzers. But they knew that. Accordingly, Torien’s tailored lyrics were the perfect invocation of the genre that continued to find airtime on MTV and FM Radio. Both charted, along with their down at heel version of the O’Jays’ ‘For the Love Of Money’, and all enjoyed movie exposure in the ensuing years.

Freak Show (1991), their second album, was released an inexplicable three years later. The band was no longer in the public eye. It was like starting all over again. And the music lacked the freshness of the debut. There was some attempt to develop their sound, but too often they remained faithful to the once fashionable sex and innuendo lyrics, and that began to put off many seen-it-all, done-it-all record buyers.
Still, ‘Good Girl’, and a cover of legendary bluesman JB Lenoir’s ‘Talk To Your Daughter’ showed they still had something. Plus, single releases, ‘St Christopher’ (a Tom Waits’ cover) and ‘THC’ made some ground in the Billboard charts and the album easily broke the Top 100. Writing was beginning to appear on the wall, but it wasn’t over yet.

Za-Za reflected a fundamental shift in rock mores… it was now 1993. Many tracks here are created by confident brush strucks, lots of energy and dramatic arrangements. The old template had been jettisoned. Judging by first handful of tracks, their new blueprint was taking shape.
‘When Pigs Fly’, ‘Slow and Easy’ and ‘The Rising’ are loud, jagged rock songs, discordant at times, and linked by an undercurrent of tension. They’re not quite post industrial but heading in that direction. Ted Templeman’s sharp, punchy production sounds good. A great start to the set.

Elsewhere, the smoky, soulful, could’ve stepped out of Motown ballad, ‘Mine’, and the caustic, bluesy, ‘Face Of The Damned’ are entertaining pieces, one verging on the familiar, the other emanating a steady as a rock visceral power. On their own, strong songs. But neither were likely to create many new converts.

After Za-Za failed to emulate even the modests sales or chart successes of Freakshow, members started bailing and the band didn’t record again until 1995. But they maintained a core audience, going on to record a further 6 albums, the last being in 2018.

Review by Brian McGowan

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David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 26 September 2021 and includes the Top 10 albums at for that week.

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Featured Albums w/c 18 October 2021 (Mon-Fri)

09:00-12:00 TAO Prophecy (Tarot Label Media)
12:00-13:00 LEVERAGE Above The Beyond (Frontiers)
14:00-16:00 JOE TILSTON Tightrope (Our Records)

Power Plays w/c 18 October 2021 (Mon-Fri)

ABOVE SNAKES Nothing To Lose (indie)
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LEADFINGER The Fall Of Rome (Golden Robot)
FEMEGADES Stealing Numbers (Regent Street Records)
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INDYA Love Like Champagne (indie)
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