Under The Radar: Poison, Native Tongue (1993)
With three multi-platinum albums, numerous hit singles and a constant rotation of their videos all over the globe, there was no doubt that Poison was one the biggest rock acts in the 80’s. But with most bands with that kind of success, tension usually seeps into the mix; and Poison was no exception. With lead singer Bret Michaels wanting the band to head in a more mature and bluesy direction and guitarist C.C. Deville, who was losing a battle with substance abuse, wanting to continue on with their party rock style a la “Talk Dirty To Me” and “Unskinny Bop”.
By 1991, musical differences and substance abuse issues were at an all time “high”, and C.C. Deville was given his pink slip from the band and Poison was lucky enough to convince guitar prodigy Richie Kotzen to join the band. Kotzen was from Pennsylvania, like Poison and had released three critically acclaimed solo records (Richie Kotzen, Electric Joy & Fever Dream). Richie was an exceptional guitar player who possessed a soulful voice and was truly a fan of the blues, so it seemed that Kotzen and Michaels were an ideal match heading into the studio for Poisons’ fourth studio album Native Tongue.
Native Tongue was released in 1993 but Poison was facing an uphill battle. First: The band had to prepare for the possible backlash from fans for firing lead guitarist/ founding member C.C. Deville. Second: Poison had considerably altered its sound, trading in their glam rock party songs for a more mature blues kind of record, showcasing their, ahem, musicianship. Third: by 1993 grunge music had a strangle hold over radio and video stations, so getting their brand of rock n roll heard and seen in this musical climate was going to be a challenge. Fourth: Native Tongue was a long album, clocking in at almost an hour. It was a lot for a music fan to absorb.
Well, when I picked up Native Tongue, I really had no expectations. I was just curious to see what Poison would come up with. I really enjoyed when the band dabbled in blues with their previous releases, but I was in no way prepared for how deep into the blues, Poison would shoot for on Native Tongue. The album really opened my eyes, and for the first time I saw Poison as more than just a glam rock band. In fact, they may have been one of the best rock bands of 1993!
Native Tongue was a pleasant surprise, breaking the pre-conceived notions that I had about the band. The album had numerous highlights and depending on the mood you were in, you were rewarded by discovering or rediscovering a different song upon each and every listen. If I went with my initial reaction to Native Tongue, the highlights would be as follows: The album starts off with the out of this world tribal beat intro of the title track that merges into the aggressive, driving rocker The Scream. Then there’s Stand, which was the fantastic soulful\gospel like lead single. Up next, were some of the most heartfelt ballades from the band, Theatre Of My Soul and Until You Suffer Some (Fire and Ice). Of course it wouldn’t be a Poison album without an old time singalong song, and Seven Days Over You ranks as one of their best.
The only stinker on Native Tongue is the album closer, Bastard Son of a Thousand Blues. To me was a pale imitation of their Poor Boy Blues song, taken from their previous release: Flesh and Blood.
Native Tongue may lack some the catchy choruses from the bands previous releases, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying a rewarding album that showcased a band taking some real chances and not relying on mimicking their past glories in order to simply please a fan base.
So if you like blues rock and enjoy when a band or artist tries to push themselves in new and exciting directions, then I urge you to give Poisons’ Native Tongue a chance.