Spare a thought for the straight man*, people. The competent foil in the best comedy acts who gets none of the laughs, but tees up each and every one of them for his, or her, funnier partner instead. It’s his job to be smart, presentable and on the money with his delivery and take the odd custard pie when the other fella just has to turn up make funny faces, hit a favourite catchphrase and fall over to get all the laughs. Pity the straight man, just as Lee Majors sang in ‘The Fall Guy’,
I might fall from a tall building so Burt Reynolds don’t get hurt
I might leap a mighty canyon so he can kiss and flirt.
While that smooth talker’s kissin’ my girl
I’m just kissin’ dirt
Such was the professional career of Steve Stevens, raven-haired guitar slinger for Billy Idol. Everyone I ever knew loved ‘White Wedding’ and ‘Rebel Yell’, but not because of the strangely-irradiated looking twitch-lipped clown doing the singing, nope we rockers loved them for the guitar and the tunes (mostly). So, as is always the case the talented one stepped out from the shadows to make a go of it himself.
The result was Steve Stevens Atomic Playboys (I have a niggling doubt that the title of which is grammatically incorrect, but maybe that’s just me). It starts brilliantly too and by that I mean in the cover department, I mean a full-on H.R Giger cover? good moves Steve. For once I’m not being dismissive when I say it is the best thing about the record, its shrouded techno-medusa guitarist figure is just brilliant. If you look at the other bands Giger has been involved with you get a list including the weird and/or heavy likes of carcass, Celtic Frost, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Danzig & Atrocity; along with the fabulously-titled Penis Landscape poster inside Dead Kennedys Frankenchrist LP. Which gives you an indication of everything this LP
..isn’t about. With a couple of minor deviations this is a slice of pretty mainstream US rock 1989 style. Which is fine, but not quite what the front cover promised: check out singer Perry McCarty on the back cover, the poor dude has been shoe-horned into the tightest satin and suit jacket combo so quickly he forgot to put his shirt on, maybe that’s why he is face is as eerily expressionless as a shop mannequin.
The first and title track hits the track running at 100mph and within 30 seconds of the music starting you can recognise Stevens’ handiwork, those trade mark runs and, umm, squonky noises (N.B – check technical terms for that and for all the widdi-wii-Chhhwrr noises). A great big surface rock monster – aided by Ted Templeman’s trademark slightly too-trebley all-surface production. There is a vaguely (radiation = bad, SDI = also bad) political message here too, which is undercut by the fact that you and they know that they just thought the phrase atomic playboys was cool; it is. Next track ‘Power of Suggestion’ is a soul-tinged number which really wouldn’t sound out-of-place on a Robert Cray LP.
Third track is a cover of ‘Action’ by Sweet, years before Def Leppard thought of doing the same. They do a damned good job too, for years I thought it was an original track of theirs, their best one too. The playing on this track is both tight and loose enough to work. Unfortunately we have the BIG BALLAD up next and whilst Mr Stevens’ solo is predictably good, it’s just cookie-cutter generic filler. You know I’d never stoop so low as to quote lyrics out of context for a cheap giggle, don’t you?
Light a candle
Hold a flame down by the floor
Count the tears
Tell me who you’re crying for my love
Sorry Mr Stevens but you and your Atomic Playboys are clearly in breach of several important health and safety rules here – holding a flame near the floor? that’s just asking for secondary item ignition! Tears on the floor? a clear slipping hazard! it’s a wonder any of us rockers made it through to the 90’s.
Unfortunately we then get becalmed in the end of A side, start of B side waters – even the reference to the hot chick in ‘Pet the hot Kitty’ being ‘a trouser arouser’, fails to save it from being more generic mulch. However the LP is pulled up by its bootstraps by the very smooth, soulful ‘Evening Eye’ which I confess I had no recollection of ever listening to back in the day, it works a treat though. ‘Woman of 1,000 Years’, a more uptempo ‘all women are bad’ song carries on the revival.
Best of all by far and the track I remember liking the most** is the brilliant instrumental track ‘Run Across Desert Sands’ an acoustic track with a Spanish and African flavour it’s completely unexpected in the context of Steve Stevens Atomic Playboys. I’ve seen interviews with Steve Stevens where he surprised me by saying he started out on acoustic guitar when he was 7 and didn’t get an electric until he was 13 and he was/is really into folk, his favourite players being the likes of Joan Baez. I also know he collaborated with Juno Reactor on one of their tracks too and this is what I find a little frustrating here. There is a clear sense that Steve Stevens plumped for a big commercial-sounding LP when he really should have let his creativity flourish a bit more. My problem with this is not that it is a big commercial rock LP, it’s just that it’s an inconsistent one.
He should have allowed himself to run across those desert sands a bit further, allowed himself to weird up a bit more and his LP would have been a bit more worthy of its’ cover.
*can’t think of any straight women off the top of my head, but they must be out there – however for the sake of simplicity I’ll stick with the ‘man’ bit.
**it involved ‘parking’ with my gf who played this LP over and over and I’m far too gentlemanly to say any more.