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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

CD Review: Twisted Sister - Club Daze Vol. 1: The Studio Sessions Reissue

Twisted Sister - Club Daze Vol. 1: The Studio Sessions Reissue
2011 Armoury Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

If there's one taint upon the legacy of Twisted Sister aside from their sad breakup in the late eighties, it's the general public's lack of knowledge of just how long this band's been around.

You don't hear it directly on "I Wanna Rock" nor do you on "Burn In Hell," "Captain Howdy/Street Justice," "Under the Blade" or "Come Out and Play," but Twisted Sister was initially direct descendents and co-inhabitors of the New York Dolls, MC5, Slade, Sweet, Alice Cooper, Brownsville Station, The Dictators and The Beatles. The aforementioned songs are pure heavy metal cuts, lineage of the Big Eighties boom in which they were produced. Left unattended, Twisted Sister was on the hair's edge of becoming as heavy as Armored Saint before Stay Hungry elevated Twisted into the commercial ranks.

Doubtful most fans got it when "We're Not Gonna Take It" ushered the ungodly sight of muscular madams into their living rooms that Twisted Sister were heirs of the seventies glam rock boom that fizzled once Kiss turned their kabuki trick and made get-up rock 'n roll a commodity.

By now, the Twisted Sister faithful know the score and it's a sheer delight to see Armoury Records come to the rescue of the band's catalog with a bevvy of reissues coming your way in 2011. Along with You Can't Stop Rock 'n Roll, Come Out and Play and Love is for Suckers, the crown jewel of the Armoury reissues is Club Daze Vol. 1: The Studio Sessions.

Missed by virtually everyone who didn't follow Dee Snider to his post-Twisted entity Widowmaker, Club Daze Vol. 1: The Studio Sessions is a critical slab of lost tunes no serious rocker should be without. Originally released in 1999, it's not just an essential Twisted Sister time capsule; it's an engaging examination of a grease-lickin' rock 'n roll band comprised of roughneck dandies evolving into a world-capturing shock rock unit.

Humble beginnings, as the adage goes, yet the early years of Twisted Sister, as revealed by Club Daze Vol. 1, are as potent (if not more so at times) as the output extolled on their massive big label haunts. The Long Island days of Twisted Sister's ascension were obviously something to behold if you sample the teeth-cutting three-chord punk influence on "Can't Stand Still," "High Steppin'" and "Follow Me" from 1978. Could've just as easily filled CBGB's on punk Sundays.

From the '78 sessions, which included Kenneth Harrison Neill on bass until Mark "The Animal" Mendoza claimed his rightful spot in 1979, Twisted Sister had a lot going on sound-wise, and almost none of it hints at what they would become, at least until the early versions of "Under the Blade" and "Shoot 'Em Down" manifest at the end of Club Daze Vol. 1.

Well, let's amend that last statement, since "I'll Never Grow Up Now!" appears on this album and for all intents and purposes, it should've gone on to become one of Twisted Sister's legacy tunes. With more eat me snarl behind it, "I'll Never Grow Up Now!" is far more rebellious than "We're Not Gonna Take It" and "I Wanna Rock" combined. Perhaps it's best "I'll Never Grow Up Now!" never made it past a hidden track released by TSR Records, because the version here on Club Daze Vol. 1 is gloriously trashy, muddy and sloppy, yet so harmonious. Anthemic to perfection, you won't leave this album without that chorus echoing in your head hours after the album stops.

Beforehand, you get to hear some never-made-it songs Twisted Sister had recorded with Steve Bramberg and the group should give him a big hand for letting them flow to their hearts' content in the late seventies. "Come Back" is a biting charge out the gate, its chugging rhythm an instant endearment. The only fault to "Come Back" (and likely why it never surfaced beforehand) is due to its six-minute-plus length. A song with this powerful a riff should always be mandated to the three-minute mark in order to retain its potency. Still, hard not to get energized with "Come Back" ripping away in your ears.

"Pay the Price" (not to be confused with Twisted Sister's iconic ballad "The Price") is one of Dee Snider's first tunes ever written and its shuck and jive yells street fight but in a precursory manner. Twisted gets NWOBHM Saxon-style on their snarky anti-disco tirade "Rock 'n Roll Saviors." In 2011, this song produces a huge chuckle despite its well-serious chord stamping, particularly since we've now emerged into a disco revival in the pop scene. Looks like Dee and the boys might have to dust this one off for the honor in future sets.

One of Club Daze Vol. 1's savory nuggets is the hilarious "T.V. Wife" which merges Skynard, the Dictators and '50s rock 'n roll. Written in an age where housewives were considered posh, "T.V. Wife" is an isolated bit of pretend-chauvenism based upon soap addicts when UHF and VHF t.v. was all there was in the world. Even more of a riot performed by men wearing more stage makeup than Madge's Palmolive gophers. Dee Snider delivers this one with such vaudevillian huckstery (emulated later by Anthony Keidis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers) you hardly know it's him.

Even funnier is "Big Guns," which rips on stage performers stuffing their spandex with socks, all as dickless overcompensation. Jay Jay and Eddie Ojeda really shred on this one, while Kenneth Harrison Neill lays down some wicked licks behind them.

While Twisted Sister would later be ridiculed for their cover of The Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack" on their Come Out and Play album, those who had been long following the group can attest Twisted were already performing this song years prior. A less-slick and more Hoboken-ralphed take on "Leader of the Pack" arrives on this album and it's the superior version.

Unfortunately, the scrubbed and polished version of "Leader of the Pack" was the harbinger of Twisted Sister's doom in the ears of the metal public, which brings their story almost full-circle once you've played Club Daze Vol. 1: The Studio Sessions through. Let the rest of the story lie like the proverbial sleeping dog.

Twisted's affiliation with reknowned producer Eddie Kramer would be instrumental towards their inevitable success, even if they first had trouble winning over American labels before vaulting across the pond for their fateful alliance with Secret label and the penultimate Under the Blade. It's a total blast hearing the crushing din of Under the Blade and all that preceded it on Club Daze Vol. 1.

Perhaps their makeup schemes and afros were even more hideous than their eighties freak flag facades, but Club Daze Vol. 1: The Studio Sessions is a reminder that Twisted Sister had tons to give their fans musically, earlier than most remember.

Rating: ****1/2


Crescent Shield said...

Great review! Didn't know about this coming out. Gotta check it out. Thanks Ray

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Thanks, CS! With all enthusiasm intended, I say enjoy, man...

Metal Mark said...

This album is hit and miss. There are some cool rough songs and there are tracks where they sound like what they were at the time - an unpolished club band who needed more work. "I'll never grow up now" was stuck on Atlantic's 1985 re-mastered version of "Under the blade" as a bonus track. I'm with you on your opinion of it. It's a great anthem. I played my cassette version of it over and over back in the 80's. A shame someone didn't hear it's potential in 1979 and the band had to wait several more years before getting signed.
The original version of Leader of the pack is merely less annoying, but I wouldn't say it was good. Twisted Sister played a lot of cover songs live in the early days and most of them were better choices for them than this song. Just not a good fit.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

In projects like, I tend to gauge them on a different scale as far hit and miss go. For me, I judge whether or not the material is listenable and whether it shows future promise of the band. There are plenty of cash cow (I know you love it when I use that phrase Mark, ha) archive, demo and lost track albums that really serve no purpose unless you're a production wiz or a devout fan. This album actually enterains while showing the evolution of Twisted from glam to metal and all the dabblings they did in-between.

Glad we agree on "Grow Up." I have that version of Under the Blade too, but it's nice to have it on this album as well, just to demonstrate how clever, hooky and sadly overlooked it is.

Metal Mark said...

Ray-I only dislike the use of cash cow when I don't think it's being used properly. Even though I think Club Daze is just alright I do agree that it's release was geunine and not just a release to get extra cash. So points to them for that part of the release.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

HAHAHA, if you say so, but I guess it becomes a matter how view what is a cash cow item and what's not. With me, it just comes out of my business training and when I see it, I often call it.

But yeah, even when this was first released, I always felt it was in the interest of the fans more than anything. If otherwise, they wouldn't have put "Rock 'n Roll Saviors" on it. I like that song, but it does exposes some silliness that many bands are willing to put out there.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

whew, the typos on that last one, sorry, but I meant AREN'T willing to put out there, blah blah

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