Justify Your Shitty Taste: Twisted Sister’s “Love Is for Suckers”

Almost every band has that album: you know, the critically and/or commercially reviled dud in an otherwise passable-to-radical back catalogue. Occasionally, a Decibel staffer or special guest will take to the Decibel site to bitch and moan at length as to why everybody’s full of shit and said dud is, in fact, The Shit. This time around, Greg Pratt defends Twisted Sister‘s Love Is for Suckers.

You should see me right now. Well, no, you shouldn’t: I’m two beers in, I’m laying in bed next to a sleeping child and listening to Twisted Sister’s Love Is for Suckers album on headphones, cackling to myself at how great is is, slight air of terror around me because, shit, this story is due in like a day and I’m just starting the thing now. Why am I just starting it now? Because life is off the charts, which is—work with me—why this album rules so much and why I’m justifying the hell out of it today. I’m 44 years old and have no regrets about anything I’m about to say.

So, many of us know the drill: Twisted Sister put out some legit rocker albums, then got batshit huge off one also legit rocker album, then followed that up with the album with the stupid cover song on it and it was the beginning of the end, then they put out this one with the dumb cover art and it sucked so bad it killed the band. Right? No way, man. That version of history is for suckers, about as interesting as “Nirvana killed metal” in the grand scheme of metal revisionist history, and I’m not buying it.

So, a quick bit of backstory you may already know: fighting burnout after becoming one of the biggest goddamn bands in the entire world, TS wanted some time off, but the record label said LOL and this record, originally imagined as a solo project from vocalist Dee Snider, had the TS logo slapped on it, and there we are, 1987’s Love Is for Suckers. Also, notably, A.J. Pero was no longer behind the kit and the end result of that was a very cold and programmed/sampled drum performance by Joe Franco.

So, this is a product of forced commerce and total exhaustion. Didn’t exactly have all the planets lining up for it. Yet, it’s great.

This album starts off with the massive “Wake Up (The Sleeping Giant)” and I’m not sure if “Wake Up” or “Wake Up the Sleeping Giant” would have been a better title but damned if I haven’t been mulling it over for like 35 years, and it really doesn’t matter because this song crushes it, maybe the only song here really considered a TS classic. Everything that makes TS great is on this song: it’s a mountain-moving anthem, and it’s a great opener.

“Hot Love” follows it up with, I guess, what everyone considered the sellout stuff, extremely of-the-era riffing and guitar moves, but, man, do they ever hit the spot now. This song makes me feel good—like, it’s not just the beers talking, I swear—and that’s sort of what rock and metal is all about at the end of the day, isn’t it? This song was probably made for no other reason than in the hopes of getting a huge hit, but here a million years later, it has a whole other meaning, a whole other purpose: it’s making me happy.

The title track is awesome, man. There was a time where I didn’t listen to this record for like 20, 25 years or so, give or take, and in my head it was just bubblegum tripe, but it’s actually heavier than that, and it packs a punch. And remember earlier I said this album rules so much because life is so off the charts these days? Here’s what I mean: this opening trio of tunes when played loud at the end of a day as you’re recharging the ol’ batteries is absolutely perfect for getting motivation going again, forging the fire, Snider leading the charge as always, hot lixx riffs lifting spirits after another long day. It’s perfect. That’s what I meant.

Now, “I’m So Hot For You” has the IQ level of, say, an Asylum B-side, and it kinda sounds like that, too, and, well, my love of ’80s KISS is pretty well documented, so, I’m sold. Plus, the song blends right into “Tonight,” which isn’t something you hear too often, so points for that.

Points, however, taken off for “Tonight”’s horrible feel-good-rock-and-roll chord changes, but, man, points then added back for the verses’ classic TS melodies. It’s just that pre-chorus that can fuck right off, because the chorus rules too.

“Me and the Boys” kicks off side B with a bit of a fey attempt at an anthem, but damned if it doesn’t make me raise my beer high every time, although it’s pushing it a bit. “One Bad Habit” continues to push it with those chord changes and riffs; I mean, re-imagine this as Snider solo and it makes sense. But two albums after the album that gave us “Burn In Hell” and “S.M.F.”? Nope, this ain’t really TS, is it? So, we’re starting to see a pretty front-loaded album here. Still.

“I Want This Night (To Last Forever)” showcases Snider’s always-on vocals with, again, some ’80s KISS stylings but a chorus that’s even poppier, the song a charming piece of cavity-inducing ’80s hard rock/metal, yeah, maybe with a bit less bite than we’d hope for from the TS of old. But it’s a fun song and some of those chord changes make the listener feel like kicking life’s ass, so that counts for something, doesn’t it? Plus, hey, there’s double bass, and they sure as hell want you to hear it. (Even if, again, it kinda sounds more machine than man.)

“You Are All That I Need,” man, the Crüe beat out TS to that song title by a few months, and also made it a bit less formal sounding, but you know what? This is a really good ballad (okay, Crüe’s was way better, but, to be fair, Crüe’s was really, really good). I mean, Snider’s voice is really well suited for this sort of nostalgic whisper of a song, sort of like first-album Poison meets second-album Frehley’s Comet meets something I would be quite comfortable hearing as I slip away from this mortal coil, hopefully with a beer in hand, again cackling to myself at the absurdity of it all, this song just kinda the best thing ever, the worst thing ever, the most forgettable and inconsequential thing ever, except to those who it probably means a whole lot to. I justified Def Leppard’s Hysteria here a while ago (and, oddly, wasn’t fired) and that sort of sentiment stuck with me when I was living with that album for a while during the writing of that piece: sometimes these records mean a whole lot to people, which doesn’t inherently make them good records, but it does make you think about how certain chords strung together can just stick with a person throughout their life. I have no doubt this song has that significance to a person or two out there, and in listening to it here in 2021, with headphones on and a couple beers in you, you can tap right into that.

“Yeah Right!” is one of the faster and more metallic songs here, but it just doesn’t connect quite as much as the more bubblegum-y stuff, which probably says a lot. Still, the chorus sticks with you and it’s an admirable enough closer, not my favorite song here but definitely nothing to be embarassed about.

Look, I’m not easy: I’m not going to sit here and justify the band’s Christmas album or anything like that. It’s not like I can wax nostalgic over any ’80s hard rock/metal album, although it’s not exactly a difficult assignment for me, to be fair. But this record, there’s something here. It may have been kinda shit when it came out, but, man, expectations were high in 1987 when you were Twisted fucking Sister, exhaustion was overwhelming, and those record labels were ruthless. Now that it’s had some time to sit and some of that context can be removed, Love Is for Suckers can be seen as the great record it is, a document of a time and place, rock songs evoking tons of feeling, Snider’s vocals moving as always, half these songs legit killers, half fun, a couple throwaways, but even those you gotta tip the hat to because you get the feeling that the feel-good-rock-and-roll crap comes from the artist, not the label.

There’s nothing not to love here unless you don’t like ’80s hard rock, and if you don’t like ’80s hard rock, I don’t know what to say except this: a wise and opinionated music-industry friend of mine recently told me I need to learn to turn my brain off when listening to music, put aside all the backroom dealings and insider stories that make up any album and just enjoy the song. I, of course, was too stubborn to fully agree, but now here I am telling you to do that exact same thing. Sure, Twisted Sister’s Love Is for Suckers may kinda suck as a concept, as a moment of history, as a thing that happened, as a record in context. But here in 2021, if you remove context, have a couple beers, put on the headphones, slap on “Hot Love” and close your eyes and let it wash over you, it’s going to absolutely rule, and I can absolutely guarantee that. (I guarantee that to the point where, should we ever meet and you honestly tried this and it honestly was not a great experience, I’ll seriously buy you a beer) (which I will then seriously try to see if Decibel can reimburse me for).

So, yeah, turn your brain off and turn this one up, because this album isn’t for suckers, it’s for every one of us who knows the power of melodic hard rock, the power of letting it take you away from your all-too-human concerns and worries for a brief period, and, sure, the power of stoopid metal, which sometimes is the best metal of all.