Thursday, November 30, 2006

Hair Apparent: Vain

(Editor's note: This is the latest installment in a series about albums that don't quite qualify in the Lost Classics category, yet still warrant a closer look.)

Vain, No Respect (Island, 1989)

The Big Idea: Glam rock gets mean, down and dirty

Choice Cuts: "Secrets," "Beat the Bullet," "No Respect" and "Without You"

Sonic Brethren: Spread Eagle, Skid Row and Guns N' Roses

Fun Fact: Davy Vain is the cousin of metal songstress Lana Lane

Like many bands from the era, San Francisco's Vain should have been more popular than they were. Charismatic frontman Davy Vain got his start as a producer on Death Angel's first album. But his eponymous outfit had nothing to do stylistically with the Bay area thrash sound. Instead, Vain offered a tough yet accessible mainstream sound that focused on hooks, while visually going for a dark glam image.

No Respect rips out of the gates like a winner with the first cut, "Secrets." As a brutal and jagged rhythm guitar riff erupts out of the right speaker, Vain himself starts cooing before abruptly erupting into a scream ("Nah-nah-nah-no secrets") as the rest of the band's syncopated slamming begins. This is raw, energetic rock from a band that sounds like it's been in the gutter for ages.

How do you follow-up an opening salvo like that? With "Beat the Bullet," the disc's first single. "Bullet" opens with a rumble of bass and slashes of wah-wah guitar, the interplay of guitarists Danny West and James Scott recalling that of Guns N' Roses axemen Slash and Izzy Stradlin.

By the time you get to the seventh cut -- the title track -- Vain are really hitting their stride and stretching out to encompass more sonic textures. "No Respect" opens with an element of mystery as chiming harmonics and somber acoustic fretwork obscures cryptic whispering. But the unplugged intro is just subterfuge; the song locks into a blasting guitar-and-drums groove soon enough and Vain's vocal delivery goes from hushed to dark and urgent. This is one vocalist who has a great command of dynamics.

Another nuanced vocal (and band) performance comes in "Without You." The only bona fide ballad on the album, "Without You" is also the longest cut on No Respect. Vain milks his voice for emotion, while the band adds a touch of orchestration for dramatic effect. But what it takes nearly six minutes for the act to say a better group could probably pull off in little more than half the time. The lyrics (see below) might be a little forced too, but they're very right for the time period.
"Like a candle in the wind / I'm easy to put out / Like the picture through your window / You see right through my heart"
Any momentum that might be lost on "Without You" is regained on the disc's final track, "Ready." At two minutes, 59 seconds, "Ready" is a punk-fueled romp through the "Johnny B. Goode" riff. It's a crucial cut that extols the virtues of partying and rock & roll at 140 beats per minute. This track would have made a great set closer in concert, with guitarists West and Scott trading off wild, reckless licks as the rhythm section kicks the tune into double time for a breathless finish. A perfect end to an almost perfect album.


T-_Bone said...

I really like this record, though Who's Watching You is my favorite track

Metal Mark said...

I have never heard it because it goes for a fairly high price. I have heard mainly good things about it.

David Amulet said...

I found this one in a discount bin several years ago and was actually pretty impressed. "Secrets" is a dman good hair metal track.

-- david