BulletBoys – The Warner Albums 1988-1993 (Cherry Red Records)
It’s 35 years since King Kobra offshoot BulletBoys took their shot at hair metal glory.
Often touted as über producer Ted Templeman’s Sunset Strip plaything, the striking quartet boasted the good looks and the infectious hooks.
And the band shifted more than a million albums before their three-record deal with Warners was up.
Not bad at a time when the saturated LA scene was recycling Mötley Crüe wannabes like ripped spandex.
According to founding guitarist Mick Sweda, BulletBoys always stuck to their guns.
And they had a blast doing it.
“Forget what was happening with grunge,” he tells Malcolm Dome in the new interview supporting this thrill-a-minute three-disc set.
“That didn’t interest us.
“We essentially stuck to our core sound: bluesy hard rock.”
But let’s be honest. BulletBoys are no Bad Company.
In fact, the band’s self-titles debut remains one of the finest examples of late 80s excess this side of Appetite For Destruction.
BulletBoys did stick to their core sound throughout the Templeman years.
But it was the sound of MTV, make-up, big hair and little regard for bluesy hard rock.
BulletBoys to men on dazzling debut
BulletBoys’ self-title debut had it all.
The standout single in Smooth Up In Ya.
The classic logo (inexplicably ditched on 1993’s Za-Za).
And the striking 60s artwork: .30 Bullet Piercing An Apple.
It also featured four driven musos desperate for their piece of the hair metal pie.
When Warners snapped up Marq Torien and co. they signed a band hungry for success.
And pairing BulletBoys with Templeman (Van Halen) was a masterstroke.
The in-demand producer had just helmed David Lee Roth’s Eat ‘Em And Smile.
And if Sweda had his doubts, then Jimmy D’Anda is glowing in his praise of the man responsible for BulletBoys’ 1989 debut.
“He knew exactly what to do with a band like this,” says the band’s drummer.
“He was amazing with me.”
D’Anda’s signature drum sound catapulted Smooth Up In Ya into the MTV stratosphere.
And Templeman turned BulletBoys’ cover of the O’Jays’ For The Love Of Money into another mainstream rock hit.
Add in opener Hard As A Rock (which the band could be) and the often overlooked Badlands and this bullish debut had it all.
Welcome to the FreakShow
After shifting half a million copies of their debut Stateside, the heat was on for BulletBoys ahead of follow-up FreakShow.
As Sweda points out, the band was in no mood to go all ‘grunge’.
But the band’s second album does represent a subtle shift towards a funkier, almost bluesier sound.
Hang On St. Christopher is juxtaposed with Talk To Your Daughter.
And both covers showcase BulletBoys’ determination to evolve.
D’Anda says: “This was the album where we found our sound.”
And Sweda adds: “I finally played the way I wanted.”
The title track screams vintage Van Halen with Torien in full DLR mode.
But there’s more than a hint of Extreme on a record that imagines Templeman’s vision for the ultimate party starters.
Goodgirl and Thrill That Kills represent the sleazy underbelly of BulletBoys.
And the addition of Montrose cover Rock Candy (recorded for Wayne’s World) as a bonus track underlines the band’s ability to reinvent the wheel.
FreakShow might have summed up the final throes of the hair metal circus.
But it’s a riotous record that provided the perfect blueprint for post-sleaze flag bearers Buckcherry eight years down the line.
Za-Za (1993) saw BulletBoys and Templeman take one last throw of the rock and roll dice.
But according to Sweda, the band’s producer was more than happy to take a back seat for the final instalment of the three-album Warners deal.
“Ted was a lot more hands off,” recalls the BulletBoys axeman.
“There was a little bit of a pull back from him.”
Featuring all original songs and a sense of new-found creative freedom, Za-Za is so-so.
Singles Mine and Laughing With The Dead stand toe to toe with the quartet’s best tunes.
But a hit-and-miss 11-song set lacks the quality control of BulletBoys first two records.
Sing A Song and The Show are pale imitations of the band’s very best work.
And it was no surprise when Sweda and D’Anda broke ranks and went their separate ways after Za-Za failed to chart.
In 2021 the original BulletBoys line-up is back and targeting one last shot at the big time.
But when the dust settles on a colourful career those first two records will always provide a critical footnote to hair metal’s golden age.
And if the band were never the big guns Templeman imagined, few could match BulletBoys firing on all cylinders.