The top of the charts in June 1990 were owned by the likes of New Kids On The Block, Elton John, Roxette, Wilson Phillips, and Luciano Pavarotti. It was certainly not the most fertile breeding ground for a Glam band like Poison to come along, offer a Flesh & Blood sacrifice, and hold the world in their thrall. But on Thursday, June 21, 1990, Poison did just that: (unskinny) bopping their way into our hearts.
A fabulously coiffed quartet out of Pennsylvania, Poison was no stranger to touring and recording. Formed in 1983, the band—Vocalist Bret Michaels, Guitarist C.C. Deville, Bassist Bobby Dall, and Drummer Rikki Rockett—had already released two previous discs, 1986’s Look What the Cat Dragged In and 1988’s Open Up and Say… Ahh!, which had put their name firmly onto the musical map and won them a die-hard fan base. Singles and music videos such as “I Want Action,” “I Won’t Forget You,” “Talk Dirty to Me,” “Fallen Angel,” “Nothin’ but a Good Time,” and the chart-busting “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” cemented the fact that, though the band knew how to have (nothin’ but) a good time, they could also write a killer Rock-n-Roll tune.
With this already established, they set out to deliver their boldest album to date. Working alongside producers Bruce Fairbairn (Aerosmith, Bon Jovi) and Mike Fraser (AC/DC, Metallica), the Glam Rock foursome created a collection of 14 tracks that managed to bottle their infectious live energy while showing more of their sonic diversity, and yet it kept the party going strong. A pivotal addition to the band’s oeuvre of material, Flesh & Blood was the first, true taste of the soulful and bluesy sound that Michaels would go on to embrace in his solo career.
Their third consecutive multi-platinum selling disc, Flesh & Blood would deliver the singles “Flesh & Blood (Sacrifice),” “Unskinny Bop,” “Life Goes On,” “Ride the Wind,” and “Something to Believe In.” But they kicked it all off with the instrumental “Strange Days of Uncle Jack,” then segued into the proper first track, “Valley of Lost Souls.” As DeVille wailed on guitar, Michaels rallied Dall and Rockett into a straightforward rocker that set the tone for everything that was to come.
Sing-alongs were on the menu when the semi-titular “Flesh & Blood (Sacrifice)” delivered massive infectiousness and sultry, slithering hips. With Michaels reaching down into the lower range of his vocal register as his bandmates got gritty, they presented a sexy arena rocker that was destined to melt the tight clothing right off their fans’ bodies. But lest you pigeonhole them as sex only, “Swampjuice (Soul-O)” dished up some creole soul in the form of a guitar-only instrumental. And then it was back to the co-ed naked partying for “Unskinny Bop,” a blatant lick across the aural senses with a groove that refused to quit.
Alas, the crotch-waggling and grabbing had to take a break. Instead, the boys dove headfirst into the upbeat “Let It Play,” a tribute to the music that allowed DeVille to wail. Then, the emotional “Life Goes On” allowed the quartet to slow it down and get sentimental; displaying the softer side of these balladeers. Amping it right back up, “Come Hell or High Water” exploded across the senses and promised that nobody was holding Poison back! Fists triumphantly raised in defiance, they continued into the insanely catchy “Ride the Wind.”
The groover “Don’t Give Up An Inch” takes a long ride, meandering its way into the disillusioned social commentary of “Something To Believe In.” Here, the Poison staple of the epic, undeniably heartfelt ballad continues, providing an anthem for those that are searching for hope in an often hopeless world. Still a poignant offering after three decades, “Something To Believe In” is the heart and soul of Flesh & Blood.
But it is not the album’s grand finale. As they begin to approach the album’s conclusion, DeVille slings a Southern guitar intro on rocker “Ball And Chain.” Meanwhile, bluesy “Life Loves A Tragedy” slows the pace and allows the foursome to show off more of their skills before it kicks into high gear with Rockett’s steady percussion leading the charge. Ultimately, that filthy, swampy grit and harmonica-laden stomp reaches new heights as it infects “Poor Boy Blues,” and provides a perfect foreshadowing of the honky-tonk, Blues Rock future. (That is, at least, for Michaels.)
As fans well know, in 2006, Capitol Records chose to celebrate the band’s twentieth anniversary with a remastered rerelease of Look What the Cat Dragged In, Open Up and Say… Ahh!, as well as Flesh & Blood. The latter featured two bonus tracks: an acoustic version of “Something To Believe In” with altered lyrics, as well as an instrumental cover of the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen.” It was a subtle tribute to an album that peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Albums chart, sold in excess of 7 million copies worldwide, birthed three gold singles (“Unskinny Bop,” “Ride the Wind,” and “Something to Believe In”), garnered the band two American Music Award nominations, and allowed them to clean house at the 1990 Metal Edge Reader’s Choice Awards.
But Flesh & Blood was merely the tipping point for the band who, three decades later, are still very much rocking the nation. Releasing four more albums over the next 17 years, Poison have also found time to pursue other musical projects and, for Michaels, search for love on reality TV. Oh yeah, and he got hired, not fired, on Celebrity Apprentice. There have been Tony Awards performances, summer tours galore, and a VH-1 ranking of the No. 1 Hair Band of the ‘80s. Not too shabby for a band from Cumberland County, Pennsylvania.
Does all of this blathering do the album justice? No, of course not. The beauty of albums such as Flesh & Blood are the soundtrack that they offer to our individual lives, standing as a nostalgic reminder of who we were when we first swung our hair to each track. And much like the growth that each of us has experienced with time, Poison too has evolved in leaps and bounds. Still the quintessential Glam band who bring killer Rock-n-Roll parties to town each summer, their musical talents, heartfelt storytelling, and charismatic approach continue to endure the test of time. So let the music play!