Steve Stevens Atomic Playboys - 'Steve Stevens Atomic Playboys' Collector's Edition Reissue (Rock Candy Records) Print E-mail
CD Reviews
Written by Gaz E   
Wednesday, 14 August 2013 03:00

atomicplayboyscoverSo high was the stock of Steve Stevens ("the guitar power behind Billy Idol") in the mid- to late-eighties that the debut solo album from the six stringer with hair as impressive as his playing was littered with names familiar with (then) hit rock records.


Co-produced by the legendary Beau Hill, executively produced by Ted Templeman, released by Warner Brothers, cover art by the iconic H.R. Giger, drums played by (Idol bandmate) Thommy Price and (secret KISS member) Anton Fig, guest vocals from Fiona - there was simply no way that this album was going to sink without trace.....was there?


Quite simply, it very nearly did.


Although littered with songs that contained everything required to be hits in the late '80s the album didn't even trouble the Billboard Top 100 and, with Rock Candy's excellent reissue providing the perfect opportunity for re-examining, it doesn't take long to point a sticky finger at exactly where the record strangled itself; the first two songs to be exact.


'Atomic Playboys', the album's opener, was, yes, the call to arms expected from a full force hard rock release in 1989; warning sirens mixed with Sputnik-style sci-fi hi-fi introducing a polished rocker with an instant hook...and an eighties Whitesnake rip-off mid-section to boot. Fused with a suitably shredding (yet unusually restrained given the decade) solo from the guitar god Stevens, the song, almost a quarter of a century later, holds up well, and is certainly worthy of rubbing shoulders with its bigger selling contemporaries. Then song two kicks in...


...or should that be saunters in? 'Power Of Suggestion' is a fine song that almost smells of the 1980s...but it sounds like something that Huey Lewis and the News were taking to the top of the charts a half dozen years earlier. Full of horns, female backing vocals and funk guitar the song dazzles, even if it didn't exactly shine brightly for the rock record buying populace.


Stevens himself says in the new interview with Howard Johnson (whose own band Dawn After Dark are surely deserving of some of this reissuing lark) that makes up the bulk of the impressive booklet accompanying this reissue that he felt that the diverse styles held within the record's grooves confused people - you don't say?!


Full-on cock rockers swap spit with a famous cover version, that aforementioned funk, and the obligatory instrumental and make for an album so against the grain of the formulaic hair metal crowd that it was marketed to that the make-up may as well have been applied with splinters of hardwood.


That's not to say that the record didn't/doesn't contain some inspired songs that you really have to pinch yourself to believe weren't staples of late-eighties music television.


'Action', for example, the cover of the seminal Sweet song, checked every box required of a 1989 hit single, and how could the ludicrously titled 'Pet The Hot Kitty' not be held in the same regard, albeit of a 'guilty pleasure' nature, as something like 'Smooth Up In Ya'?


'Desperate Heart', the song featuring famed '80s songstress Fiona (garnering her a songwriting credit too), is a melancholic power ballad that would have settled nicely into a Heart album from the same decade, while 'Crackdown', with its 'Kids In America' synth intro, has a massive hook crying out for a crutch and licence plate to be waved in its direction in an overblown music video smeared in live footage. But slapped right after them is 'Evening Eye', another funk-fuelled pop song that slowburns its way right out of the attention span of the average rock fan sitting with one eyebrow raised in his bedroom, air guitar cocked, loaded...and feeling unwanted. Actually, the song rocks out come solo time but, I fear, many needles would have already been evicted from the particular song's grooves before that hit a harder home run.


Steve Stevens' guitar playing is as exquisite throughout as you would hope/imagine, his vocals too - on the very decent 'Woman Of 1,000 Years' - raw and ready enough to shine like a diamond in the rough.


Ah yes, the vocals...


Contemplating using (former Black Sabbath/Badlands frontman) Ray Gillen, and wanting someone like Ian Astbury, Stevens settled on Perry McCarty who some of you may remember 'Fighting For The Earth' as the post-apocalyptic shoulder pad-wearing singer of Warrior. It was a curious choice for sure, Warrior being way more heavy metal than Stevens dare contemplate, McCarty's pipes impressive even if shackled by the leather and chains of generic mid-eighties metal.


On '...Atomic Playboys' McCarty pushed plenty of buttons, songs like album closer 'Slipping Into Fiction' reminiscent of prime Tony Harnell-fronted TNT: it all seems a little too clinical to be honest and, even though that was hardly rare in a decade so over-produced and polished that it could see its own reflection in its arse, it appears that Steve Stevens agreed, bemoaning McCarty's anal approach to perfection in the interview, going so far as to suggest that the singer's uncomfortable stage presence when the outfit eventually toured, even if admirably attributed to the guitarist's noise levels, was a major part in the album and, ultimately, project/band's lack of success.


It was a factor, of course, but harsh on the vocalist all the same. The story of how Stevens came to acquire a two album deal with Warners tells of the aforementioned Templeman suggesting the guitarist work with a post-'Crazy From The Heat' David Lee Roth - strangely, the track 'Soul On Ice' featured here reminded me of Vai-inspired DLR before I even checked out the info in the sleeve notes - before settling on a solo project that would take two years to get off the ground and result in Steve Stevens Atomic Playboys, still annoyingly minus an apostrophe some 24 years later.


With Stevens apparently given free rein on the record, insisting on Giger-painted cover art for example, co-producing with the lauded knob twiddler Hill, as well as playing guitar, bass and laying down a lead vocal, the lack of quality control, or even someone to point things in a singular direction, shouldn't be surprising.


If you've ever held a torch for this record, however, then Rock Candy's reissue is a must-have. With fully remastered 24 BIT audio the album sounds great, and is expanded with a couple of bonus tracks; 'Warm Female', previously only available with the Japanese version of the album, and a "promo remix" of 'Action'. With Johnson's fact-loaded interview illustrated by some previously unseen photographs, the 16 page booklet is a nice collectable in its own right.


Rock Candy continually digs up these musical time capsules and, if nothing else, takes us back to another age where everything seemed so much...simpler. It's through rose-tinted spectacles that we look back, of course, but long may it continue. How else would we, in 2013, get to pet the hot kitty?


To pick up your copy of 'Atomic Playboys' - CLICK HERE