BLUE ÖYSTER CULT: CLUB NINJA (1986)
1) White Flags; 2) Dancing In The Ruins; 3) Make Rock Not War; 4) Perfect Water; 5) Spy In The House Of The Night; 6) Beat 'Em Up; 7) When The War Comes; 8) Shadow Warrior; 9) Madness To The Method.
Hello, I'm Leonard Pinth-Garnell, and welcome to «Bad Rock Music». As I throw a sideways glance at the calendar, I happen to notice that we are, indeed, right in the middle of 1986, and as every true connaisseur of rock music is liable to knowing, 1986 is a year well famous for producing — indeed, festering, as some might say — some of the absolutely worst rock music ever known to man, woman, kitten, or door-to-door salesman. As we have only just found out, the year was no exception for once popular and creative, ever so slightly post-modern rock act «Blue Öyster Cult», who have confirmed the rule with their newest LP, one that sports no less than one of the absolutely worst LP titles in the business — Club Ninja — and contains some very, very, very bad songs that seem almost custom made for our show.
To begin with, it must be noted that, while this band had previously been known to write the majority of their material themselves, and harvest some verbal help from the likes of acclaimed celebrities and pop-culture-intellectuals such as Richard Meltzer, Sandy Pearlman, Patti Smith, and Michael Moorcock, Club Ninja is their first record to have a mind-blowing four songs provided by completely outside songwriters — corporate songwriters, one might add. With contributions by Larry Gottlieb (who had also written songs for Marie Osmond and Kenny Rogers that very year), Bob Halligan Jr. (a hard rock singer who'd written a couple of tunes for Judas Priest), and another song taken over from the Leggat Bros., there is little reason to doubt that Columbia Records played the usual trick on the poor fellows — saddled them with «commercial» material in order to have a hit on their hands. Unfortunately, what worked for Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, and even Eric Clapton (in terms of popularity, not artistry) backfired for Blue Öyster Cult, who simply lost their reputation without any financial gains to compensate for the shame.
In the midst of this utter travesty, it remains almost unnoticed that the band also lacks their keyboardist, Allen Lanier, now, temporarily replaced by Tommy Zvonchek. This might even be for the better, because the keyboards are not so much at the center of the sound now as they were on the previous albums — but what is at that center? Rotten, faceless pop metal guitar, for the most part, acting primarily as a monotonous background for the band's pop metal gang choruses. If you thought "B-O-C! You can be whatever you want to be!" was bad enough, wait until you hear "ROCK NOT WAR! Make ROCK NOT WAR!" or "BEAT 'EM UP! BEAT 'EM UP!" (the latter song, courtesy of Bob Halligan Jr., also features probably the worst verse in BOC history, which simply must be quoted: "You take a lickin', keep on kickin' / This fight we both can win / We'll stop sockin' when you stop rockin' / You don't give up, you just give in" — the idea, of course, is that you are supposed to deliver these words while keeping a straight face, which was probably only possible circa 1986).
The biggest disappointment is Roeser, who finds himself very much a part of this travesty — for instance, handling the lead vocals on ʽDancing In The Ruinsʼ, the Larry Gottlieb song that was supposed to become a hit for the band but did not, perhaps because the song never manages to properly let us know if it is «romantic» (Roeser sings it that way) or «apocalyptic». In any case, the great American nation much preferred to be ʽDancing In The Darkʼ at the time, so Buck Dharma's effort to make this boring piece of schlock come to life was doomed artistically and wasted commercially. The problem is, his own contributions are not much better: ʽSpy In The House Of The Nightʼ does not even reach the catchiness of ʽBurnin' For Youʼ, and I really hate the way he drawls out the word "rendez-vous", as if he were a Vegasy crooner for a second.
Arguably the only song on the entire record to merit somebody's attention is ʽMadness To The Methodʼ, a seven-minute final epic where the band suddenly remembers that their «bad boys of rock and roll image» is supposed to be an ironic front, after all. Had the album been a commercial success instead of a flop, the P.M.R.C. would probably have had a thing or two to say about such totally gross lines as "it's the time in the season for a maniac at night" or "there's a lot to be said for a blow to the head", but, of course, the song really just pokes bitter fun at the «violence mentality» of rock music, or, at least, it definitely reads that way when it is not «drunk caveman» Eric Bloom taking lead vocals, but «quiet melancholic» Donald Roeser. Even so, the song never truly grips the senses — musically, it is a rather generic, monotonous New Wave-style rocker that sounds tired rather than inspired. Ironically, it is Mr. Zvonchek, the band's new keyboardist, who provides the best bit with a beautiful piano solo at the end — probably wanted to make a real good impression for his first time.
After all this, minor questionable trivia (such as the infamous Howard Stern reciting the spoken-word introduction to ʽWhen The War Comesʼ) are of no importance, and all that remains is to issue the predictable thumbs down and deposit the unfortunate LP in the specially designed trash bin. The worst thing about this, though, is that we cannot even say «This is no longer Blue Öyster Cult», because it is — the band's fascination with all things BÖC-ish is still very much in place, you know, darkness, vampirism, sci-fi, heaviness, «rock warriors in po-mo garb», whatever. It has simply mutated into a totally gross, grotesque, faceless form. And, ironically, it is also their first record in a while for which Sandy Pearlman has returned as a producer. Boy, did he ever produce a mess. Bad, bad rock music.