Poison: ‘Native Tongue’

POISON
NATIVE TONGUE
Released on January 8, 1993 (Capitol Records)

Review:
Thinking back to January 1993, it occurred to me that although grunge had taken over the mainstream, there were still record labels that were hanging on to their assets — at least for a brief period of time of course. It was a very strange time in music. Of course, bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains were ripping up the charts, but you still had those real rock bands that were releasing albums to critical acclaim. Bands such as Brother Cane, Cry Of Love and The Screamin Cheetah Wheelies were creating a ’70s sounding style of rock that really appealed to those listeners that didn’t really buy into the self-loathing, basic, staring at your shoes on stage style of music. In 1992, many changes to the bands we had come to know and love in the ’80s were coming to the forefront. It was if with the changes in music came a frustration that went along with the times. Vince Neil had quit or been fired depending on who you ask from Mötley CrüeJani Lane had left Warrant only to return a few short months later. Ted Poley had been let go from Danger Danger to be replaced by Paul Laine to which the album Cockroach was rerecorded with all new vocals. With that happening a pending lawsuit from Mr. Poley ensued causing Sony Music to pull the plug on the band.

Of course, another band at the time went through a line-up change. Which brings us to our topic of the day. Poison guitarist C.C. Deville had left the band after a lackluster performance at the MTV Awards where Deville, sporting pink hair, decided to play the opening riff of “Talk Dirty To Me” instead of playing “Unskinny Bop” like the band had chosen to perform on the night. It goes without saying that Deville was totally out of his mind. The rigors of touring, partying and the ever so dangerous cocaine had altered Deville’s brain to the point of no return. As Deville left the band, young guitar virtuoso Richie Kotzen was hired to be the savior of the band, who’s style of glammed out hard rock music was taking a backseat to the ever so popular, yet lackluster sound of grunge music. My understanding was that the choice of guitarist had come down to two hotshot guitarists. Bret Michaels liked Richie KotzenBobby Dall and Rikki Rockett preferred Blues Saraceno. At the end of the day, Michaels won the battle and Kotzen was chosen as Poison’s new guitar player. Within a year of the release of the one and only album that Kotzen would do with the band, he would be fired and Blues Saraceno would be hired. Of course the story was that Kotzen had been having an affair with drummer Rikki Rockett’s fiance. Upon the band finding out of this horrible decision made by a man who was very young, Kotzen was let go on the spot with his stuff thrown off the bus, over a fence. As far as I’m concerned, it’s water under the bridge. This decision did not hurt Kotzen’s career in anyway. Poison moved forward with Blues Saraceno. Kotzen went on to be a successful solo artist that has released many diverse, great albums, as well as playing with Mr. Big and most recently The Winery Dogs.

When it comes to Poison’s Native Tongue, I have mixed feelings in regards to its contents. The reason being that to me, it’s some of Poison’s best work. On the other hand, it was very different from the party, anthem themed music, we had come to know and love. To me, with the ever so serious grunge being so popular, our once beloved ’80s bands had to reinvent themselves. Maybe make more serious music. It really made these bands into better musicians. It showed their versatility. With Kotzen in the fold, Poison became a bluesier version of themselves. The songs were more diverse with great changes and depth. As we dive into the songs, hopefully by the end, you will understand my reasoning, but if not, hey that’s cool too. Each to their own.

Before I even start getting into the songs, I want to make note of the brilliant cover. Capitol Records spared no expense when it came to this album. The photography in the inner contents of the album are fantastic. It is obvious that the vision of the album was a native/tribal approach which really bodes well when trying to take a new approach in terms of Poison as a band. Oh but wait, this is 2018. Who cares about album art and liner notes right? Well this guy does. I am pretty sure that a lot of our readers who grew up in the same era as me do to. That’s one of the great things I cherish growing up when I did. I feel for the kids today, they have no idea what they truly missed out on. Also gone on this one is the classic green Poison logo we have all come to know and love. The logo design is still intact, but the color scheme really fits with the theme of the cover.

As you are listening to the intro to “Native Tongue” the cover really creates the mood of the song and vice versa. As the band goes into “The Scream” it’s obvious right from the start of the album that this is truly a different band. Producer Richie Zito has done a great job of capturing a great drum sound. To me on this album Rikki Rockett really started to shine. In the past he was more of a show drummer, but on Native Tongue he really shows his ability.

The album’s first single “Stand” was really a disappointment for me when I first heard it. Although catchy, it really doesn’t capture the true depth within the album. It’s great to hear a full choir in the background, but I just find this song to be a bad attempt at displaying Poison as a serious rock band. Had another song been released as the first single, I think this album would have done much better. Had maybe “Ride Child Ride” with its early AC/DC like sounding beginning or “7 Days Over You” with its earthy harmonized intro going into a full balls out attack, this album would have possibly sold more units, topping the charts well into 1994. If I had my choice, I would have disregarded the first two tracks, starting the album with “Stay Alive.” This great rocker has such a cool vibe, driven by Kotzen’s cool guitar riff. The laid back feel of the song allows Michaels‘ vocals, mixed with Kotzen‘s great harmony vocal parts to be heard perfectly. The vocal in the mid section have a great Aerosmith type feel.

“Until You Suffer Some (Fire & Ice)” is a great slow bluesy rock ballad of sorts. What I love about this song is Kotzen’s harmonies that are heard throughout. It’s at this point I understand Michaels wanting Kotzen over Saraceno. The mixture of the two vocals really adds to the song. The chemistry of the two is undeniable. It’s really unfortunate that the two could not have made more music together, but honestly where would it have gone? My honest take is that this was just a stepping stone for Kotzen to get noticed on a mainstream stage. I think musically, Kotzen would have been held back. The proof is in the live DVD that was released from the tour. Kotzen did the Native Tongue material great, but on the older stuff, it really didn’t bode well. His guitar tone was all wrong and he didn’t do C.C. Deville‘s solos the justice they so deserved. Note to Richie Kotzen, and I mean no disrespect, regardless of how you feel about the songs, or the guitar playing, the fans have an expectation of what they want it to sound like. Case in point, John Corabi singing Vince Neil songs. It just never felt right. The same can be said about Sammy Hagar singing David Lee Roth songs.

“Body Talk” keeps this train moving. Kotzen starts with a cool riff that Dall plays off of on the bass, which leads into Michaels smooth vocal approach. It’s funny because I think Michaels really evolved on this album. There were moments on Flesh & Blood where you could hear Michaels getting slightly bluesier. On this one, he changes his style to fit the song. Comparing Michaels on Look What The Cat Dragged In to that of Native Tongue is like that apples and oranges scenario. Both a fruit, but totally different. Kotzen has come out and admitted that this album was primarily written by him with Michaels writing all the lyrics. It really shows, but with all the turmoil that may have surrounded this time in Poison’s career, I think it really made Michaels better. “Bring It Home” is one of my favorite tracks on this album. I absolutely love the vocal approach in the verse with Micheals owning the part with the band stopping and starting. Where this song really shines is Kotzen singing the chorus and Michaels singing “Bring It Home” back to him. A dynamic of Poison that has never been seen again. Sure C.C. Deville sings the odd song, but nothing to this extent where the two are singing off of each other. Sort of a Deep Purple MKIII approach. For such a young man at the time, it was obvious of Kotzen’s pure talent.

“7 Days Over You” as I stated before, really could have been a single. The chorus is infectious. Kotzen’s vocals are once again heard throughout. This song is a true classic. Had Capitol Records A & R people actually picked up on this, quite possibly we’d be talking differently about this album. Maybe at the time, Capitol felt that radio wasn’t ready for a track like this. Sure seems funny now considering all the crap on the radio today. To be honest, this album probably has six or seven radio friendly tracks. My goodness, how I despise the ’90s at times — especially in terms of mainstream music. “Richie’s Acoustic Thang” is, yes you guessed it, “Richie’s Acoustic Thang.” A slight interlude that leads into another great track. “Ain’t That The Truth” is just a cool, grooving rocker. “The joint was small, we was havin’ a ball at a place called the Blue Duck Inn. Well I couldn’t help but notice her, my future wife walked in!” I love those lyrics for some reason. They’re really nothing that exceptional, but the swagger that Michaels presents them with really gives the song a great flavor. Of course, with Kotzen harmonizing with Michaels on the pre chorus, it helps build the song up nicely.

“Theatre of my Soul” is a track that really exemplifies how Michaels feels about the breakup with former guitarist C.C. Deville. It’s obvious that at the time, the friendship had become one of estrangement. The recollection of days gone by, the self-doubt and the hurt on Michaels part really show what kind of a sensitive human being he actually is. Or at least, it seems that way in the song. Emotionally Michaels, like he has in the past on songs like “I Won’t Forget You”, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” and “Something To Believe” bares his soul for all to see. Now it’s funny because I once heard someone close to one of the hair bands say, “Back in the day these guys were singing these heart felt, I love you songs, meanwhile they’re sleeping with everything on two legs.” Hey, it was the times. You get caught up in all the hype. You’re young and living it. Rikki Rockett had the right idea in the early days of Poison. He remained single.

“Strike Up The Band” is another fantastic bluesy rocker. This is Poison in 1993. It’s still an anthem, but in a different manner. More of a ’70s influence. Kind of that “We’re An American Band” type of song. This song of course, Poison would cover later on in the early 2000s. “Ride Child Ride” is another one of those straight ahead catchy rock songs where Michaels narrates a story of days gone by. Like they always say, a great story makes the perfect rock song. Who remembers Tommy and Gina? That’s the infamous story of the pair who were “Livin On A Prayer” way back in 1986. The two have actually been referenced in three Bon Jovi songs. Can you name them all? Regardless, just trying to prove a point of how a story in a song always makes for great listening. “Blind Faith” is the last of the great tracks that were included on Native Tongue. Not the last song, but as far as I’m concerned the last of the great songs included within. A killer song that is driven by Bobby Dall’s, cool bass line. Of course, Kotzen’s guitar solo is melodic, with a flare that has become his signature style. The album closes out with “Bastard Son Of A Thousand Blues.” Bottom line — filler. If the band had not included the first two compositions and the last, this album would have flowed so much better. This would have also shortened the album down to 11 songs, 12 if you include the intro “Native Tongue.” Not that this is a horrible song, it has a moving groove to it, but just nowhere close to a favorite.

So the time has come to say goodbye. I really don’t have any closing thoughts. Everything I needed to say was brought forth within. It was nice to take a trip down memory lane though. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing it! Cheers my friends.

Track List:
01. Native Tongue
02. The Scream
03. Stand
04. Stay Alive
05. Until You Suffer Some (Fire & Ice)
06. Body Talk
07. Bring It Home
08. 7 Days Over You
09. Richie’s Acoustic Thang
10. Ain’t That The Truth
11. Theatre Of My Soul
12. Strike Up The Band
13. Ride Child Ride
14. Blind Faith
15. Bastard Son Of A Thousand Blues

Band Members:
Bret Michaels – vocals, guitar, harmonica
Ritchie Kotzen – guitar, vocals, piano, mandolin, dobro
Bobby Dall – bass
Rikki Rockett – drums

Additional Musicians:
Jai Winding – piano (3, 11)
Billy Powell– piano (8, 15)
Mike Finnegan – organ (5)
‘Tower of Power’ Horn Section (8)
Timothy B. Schmidt – backing vocals
Tommy Funderbirk – backing vocals
First AME Church Choir (3)
Shelia E. – percussion (1, 2)

Production:
Produced by Richie Zito

Band Website:
Official Website
Facebook

Reviewed by Tyson Briden for Sleaze Roxx, February 2018

Poison‘s “Until You Suffer Some (Fire & Ice)” video:

Poison – Until You Suffer Some (Fire & Ice)

Music video by Poison performing Until You Suffer Some (Fire And Ice) (2001 Digital Remaster).

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