"Mass Slaughter: The Best of Slaughter" Album Review
"Mass Slaughter: The Best of Slaughter" (Chrysalis, 1995)
Have you ever bought a CD that you suspected you were probably going to hate, but you bought it anyway? That's what happened to me when I came across this "best-of" compilation recently at a church rummage sale. I was never much of a fan of this early '90s hair metal quartet, but it had been years since I'd last heard them and the CD was priced at an irresistible twenty-five cents (in mint condition!) so I was willing to give Slaughter another chance.
The only Slaughter album I owned back in the day was their Stick It To Ya debut (on cassette...remember those?), thanks to a record-store employee friend who snagged me a promotional copy. (The store manager was one of those college-radio snots who would dump any hard rock or metal promos on my pal, saying, "I refuse to play this sh*t in my store."). Back then I felt that the band was talented enough in a generic sort of way, but their weak link was their namesake vocalist, Mark Slaughter - whose nasal, somewhat girlish whine seemed to only have two settings: "Vaguely Irritating" and "Causes Physical Pain." Seriously folks, when this guy goes for a high note, cats head for the hills and dogs cover their ears and howl. I saw them open for KISS in late 1990 and unbelievably, Mark's piercing screeches were even more annoying live than on record.
Slaughter happened to be a good lookin' bunch of dudes, though, and let's be honest, in 1990 that was all you really needed to make it big in hard rock music. (True story: the girl who attended that KISS show with me leaned over to me about halfway through Slaughter's set and said, "They're hot...but they can't play.") Thanks to a series of slick music videos for the catchy singles like "Up All Night" and "Fly To the Angels," Slaughter sold a lot of records and the world was their oyster... for about a year.
"Up All Night" (1990)
The Rise...and Fall
Stick It To Ya was followed by a totally unnecessary cash-in live EP, Stick It Live, in late 1990. When their second full length, 1991's The Wild Life, crashed head-on into the brick wall known as "grunge" and sold less than half as many copies as its predecessor, Slaughter was unceremoniously dumped by Chrysalis Records. The band then hooked up with the retro-rock specialty label CMC International and made themselves at home there for the remainder of the 90s, cutting three more studio albums and a live release, Eternal Live - which sadly turned out to be an epitaph for guitarist Tim Kelly, who was killed in a 1998 auto accident. Slaughter hasn't released a new studio album since 1999's Back To Reality, but they continue to make appearances on the '80s metal retro concert tour circuit to this day, with replacement players filling in for the late guitarist Kelly and on-again, off-again drummer Blas Elias.
"Real Love" (1992)
"The Best of Slaughter"
Released in 1995, Mass Slaughter: The Best of Slaughter was nothing more than a quick record label cash-in to squeeze the last bit of juice out of the band, who'd already been dropped from the label's roster when this CD hit store racks. I suppose if you're a new fan who owns no other Slaughter material, this 18-tracker (!!) would be a good place to start... but if you already own the band's other releases you can safely skip Mass Slaughter, because there's nothing new or exclusive on it. Nine of the tracks are pulled from Stick It To Ya, seven from The Wild Life, and two are from Stick It Live... and that's it. No exclusive live tracks, demos, B-sides, or movie-soundtrack songs to rope in the diehards and completists? C'mon, Chrysalis. You're not even trying.
Predictably, the CD kicks off with Slaughter's two best known tracks - "Up All Night" and "Fly to the Angels" -- and also closes with live versions of those same songs, from Stick It Live. One wonders why Chrysalis didn't simply release a CD single with those two songs on it, call that "The Best of Slaughter," and call it a day. I've always liked the thundering groove of "Up All Night," and felt that it was one of the few times that Mark Slaughter's vocal histrionics meshed well with the musical mayhem going on behind him. In between the double-dose of those two very overplayed songs, Mass Slaughter basically sums up the entire hair-metal era in a nutshell - you get a fair share of slickly produced, hard-edged (yet still radio friendly) rock tracks like "Eye To Eye," "Mad About You" and "Shake This Place" mixed with watery power-ballads like "Hold On," "You Are the One" (sickening!!) and "Days Gone By" - which, depending on your tolerance for such things, will have you either hoisting your lighter aloft in a salute or reaching for your 'skip' button. I almost hate to admit it, but I kinda dig the sickly-sweet "Real Love" ... which may not be a particularly great song but my then-teenage crush Shannen Doherty of "Beverly Hills 90210" fame appeared in the music video for it back in the day, so it gets a pass from me. (Yes, I realize I'm shallow, so you don't need to bother pointing it out.)
In fact, I found myself enjoying the bulk of Mass Slaughter more than I'd anticipated. Yeah, there are still quite a few moments where I wished that someone would stuff a rag in Mark Slaughter's mouth and shut him up (particularly during the screechy "Mad About You" and "She Wants More") so I could listen to the musicians without him caterwauling over the top of everything, so not much has changed in that regard. Musically, however, they were a better band than I gave them credit for.
At Least They Weren't V.V.I.
At least Slaughter were less annoying than the band they were spawned from: Vinnie Vincent Invasion, the ill-fated vanity project put together by the self proclaimed guitar wizard who briefly replaced Ace Frehley in KISS. The Invasion was an utterly over-the-top, poodle haired, glam-to-the-max band centered around Vincent's high speed guitar wankery and endless soloing, topped off by high-pitched, screaming Chipmunks-on-helium vocals. Chrysalis Records quickly scooped up the Invasion hoping to cash in on Vincent's KISS notoriety, but legend has it that after two under-performing studio albums (and rumors of financial misdeeds and overall douche-baggery on Vincent's part), the label abruptly cut Vinnie loose and offered the remainder of the Invasion's contract to Slaughter and bassist Dana Strum if they could assemble a new band. The pair quickly recruited Kelly and Elias, cut Stick It To Ya, and struck platinum - which must've been a pretty major karmic middle finger to their former band leader. (Landing a slot opening for Vincent's former KISS bandmates probably turned that screw even further.) The song "Burning Bridges" on Stick It To Ya was obviously inspired by Slaughter & Strum's experience with the Invasion. ("Oh, so you wanna do another solo? Well, not HERE, pal!" "You want to go to dinner? What? Charge it to the record company? You left your wallet at home?")
Summin' it up...
I still think that Mark Slaughter possessed one of the most irritating "singing" voices of his generation, but I enjoyed enough of this CD to make it worth the twenty-five cent expenditure. Maybe it was lowered expectations, or maybe I'm getting nostalgic about music like this in my old age. I doubt I'll be buying any more Slaughter CDs in the future, but for now at least, I'm going to hang onto this one.
© 2013 Keith Abt