Graded on a Curve:
Poison,
Open Up and Say… Ahh!

With a band as great as hair metal heroes Poison, where does one even begin? With the cover of their 1986 debut Look What the Cat Dragged In, on which the boys look cuter than any of the groupies they sleazed into the sack with? Or with 1988’s follow-up Open Up and Say… Ahh!, about which muz-crit Robert Christgau wrote, “A residue of metal principle spoiled the top 40 on their debut, but here they sell out like they know this stuff is only good when it’s really shitty.”

I believe that’s what’s called a backhanded compliment. But I get where he’s coming from even if I disagree. Call Poison pop metal if you want, and no one is ever likely to call their music cerebral. But the songs on Open Up and Say… Ahh! are anything but shitty. Simplistic, sure. But Poison rocks harder than the likes of Def Leppard ever would.

These Aqua Net émigrés from Mechanicsburg, PA took both Hollywood and MTV by storm, and were so in touch with their feminine side they began their career playing pink guitars. Their sophomore LP has been called “a master-class in Eighties metal power balladry,” but that’s patently absurd. Sure, Open Up and Say… Ahh! will most likely be best remembered for the immortal ballad “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” but the song is an anomaly; from opening track “Love on the Rocks” to closer “Bad to Be Good,” Poison eschews the maudlin in favor of rocking balls.

Like many effete and impudent snobs, I spent hair metal’s golden age sneering at Poison and everything they represented. Found them ridiculous. Never gave them a fair listen. I should have heeded the words of Oscar Wilde, to wit, “Ridicule is the tribute paid to genius by mediocrities.” In my own defense, I was far from alone. Rolling Stone only gave them one star, which is one more star than I’d probably have given them at the time.

But it’s never too late to repent, and repent I do. From the hard-charging Van Halen-esque guitar work of C.C. DeVille on “Look But You Can’t Touch” and “Fallen Angel” to Bret Michaels’ cocky laughter at the opening of “Nothin’ but a Good Time,” these guys know what they’re doing. They also have an uncanny way with a chorus. From “Nothin’ but a Good Time” to “Back to the Rocking Horse” to “Tearin’ Down the Walls” to “Look But You Can’t Touch” to—but I think you know where I’m going with this. Poison may not be Mensa material, but they sure know how to dirty up a good melody.

Why, aside from Poison’s doomed attempt to toughen up Loggins and Messina’s “Your Mama Don’t Dance,” which may well be the lamest slice of retch’n’roll ever written, Open Up and Say… Ahh! doesn’t include a single song I don’t like. I’ve never been a fan of the power ballad, but like the fellow above wrote, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” is a master’s class in how it should be done. I hereby suggest that Bon Jovi study this baby the way a rabbi does the Torah. Other great tunes include the lacerating “Love on the Rocks,” the Van Halen rip “Fallen Angel,” the de rigueur ode to the weekend “Nothin’ but a Good Time,” the honking good old-school rocker “Good Love,” and the cowbell-happy “Back to the Rocking Horse.”

It’s easy to make fun of hair metal. In 1988, Scottish scientists declared the genre’s out-of-control use of hair spray posed an even greater threat to the environment than the disaster at Chernobyl. And not every hair metal band was created equal. With some, the ridicule was hard-earned. But at their best, and Open Up and Say… Ahh! is Poison at their best, the band produced an album as catchy, melodic, and hard rocking as any of its metal contemporaries. So praise the Lord and pass the Aqua Net, then turn this mofo up.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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