Graded on a Curve:
Damn Yankees,
Damn Yankees

Once a decade or so a major label release comes along that is so utterly devoid of redeeming qualities you just know it’s going to go double platinum.

Take, as object lesson, Damn Yankees, the 1990 debut album by the supposed supergroup of the same name, who took their name from a 1955 baseball film about a Washington Senators fan who sells his soul to the devil for a chance to beat the hated Yankees, and is promptly transformed into the hitting sensation Shoeless Joe Hardy.

Combining the gonzo hard rock stylings of Styx’s Tommy Shaw, the tender romantic sensibilities of Ted “I Kill Mammals” Nugent, and the nebulous contributions of Night Ranger’s Jack Blades, Damn Yankees were hardly nobody’s idea of a rock and roll dream team. But on Damn Yankees they demonstrate a commitment to the cliché that is positively awe-inspiring, and over 10 cuts ingeniously manage to say (or play) not a single original thing.

The end result? Two million units sold and counting. Talk about your deals with the devil. Let this be an object lesson to you, young bands!

Damn Yankees is purely a cookie-cutter affair; it’s as if the boys in the band went down a list of bad rock tropes and dutifully checked off the boxes. Mega-successful suck-ass power ballad? Check. Song about a little girl lost in the big bad city entitled “Runaway”? Check. Song with the generic words “rock city” (i.e., “Rock City”) in the title? Check. Song with delicate acoustic guitars and soulful vocals kinda along the lines of “Dust in the Wind” only shittier? Check.

As if that’s not bad enough, they shamelessly ape their betters. Both the title track and “Piledriver” are howlingly obvious attempts to reproduce the endearing cheek and guitar pyrotechnics of Van Halen. And what does it say about this stuporgroup that said cuts are the only things on the album worth listening to? They’d have been better off cutting 10 VH rips and calling themselves Van Failin’.

Seriously, the originality level on this odiferous Yeti’s dick of an album is nil. The reprehensible “Rock City” mates the melody of Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” (you even get Billy’s patented yowl!) to a truly atrocious set of lyrics: my favorite stanza goes “Down on the boulevard/They’re screamin’ like a child/”If I can’t play that mean guitar/It’s gonna drive me wild, wild!”” “Runaway” may be listenable enough; unfortunately, the band you’re listening to is Journey. As for “High Enough,” it’s a paint-by-the-numbers power ballad and literally could have been written by anybody. I’ll bet you it got played at a lot of proms. It probably still gets played a lot at proms.

“Tell Me How You Want It” is refried Foreigner, and it’s heartening to know that here at least is one thing Donald Trump’s xenophobic base can’t blame on foreigners. The generic readymade “Coming of Age” is a Survivor-school hard rock pastiche, and boasts lyrics on the order of “If looks could kill I’d be dead on the floor/You got me all tied up, honey, beggin’ for more/Somebody call a doctor, I think I’m goin’ crazy.” Whenever a singer calls for a physician, you can be sure it’s a song doctor he needs, not a D.O.

And so it goes for the rest of the album. The Nuge makes one helluva noise on “Bad Reputation,” but any comparisons to Joan Jett’s song of the same name are invidious. This “Bad Reputation” fuses a cheesy Deep Purple organ riff to what amounts to a cheap mash-up of “Stranglehold” and Bon Jovi. But hey. Boy does that Tommy Shaw have a set of golden tonsils on him!

Damn Yankees is a damned shame, at least in one respect. Ted Nugent is without a doubt the biggest asshole to ever produce sounds with an electric guitar, but there’s no denying he’s an American original; like it or not, nobody else could have produced “Wang Dang Sweet Poontang.”

Yet here he checks his oversized persona at the door. One can only surmise that after all that time in the wilds, Ted simply didn’t know how to comport himself in the company of sentient beings he can’t legally kill with a bow and arrow. Or perhaps he simply needed the money to buy more machine guns. Those pesky squirrels are out of control!

Then again, he may simply have lost his inspiration in the soul-sucking presence of careerist hack Tommy Shaw, whose sum contribution to rock and roll begins and ends with “Fooling Yourself (The Angry Young Man).” In any event, Damn Yankees is bush league stuff, all strikeouts and foul balls, with nary a single a dugout-clearing brawl to liven things up. Where’s Shoeless Joe Hardy when you need him?

GRADED ON A CURVE:
D-

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