Fight Fire With Fire is an ongoing series on our site where we pit two classic genre albums against each other to definitively figure out which one is better. “But they’re both great!” you’ll say. Yes, these albums are the best of the best. But one is always better. Plus, we love these sorts of exercises, and also love watching you battle each other to the death in the comments, so how could this possibly end poorly?
We don’t talk about hair metal much here, but at least a couple of us around Decibel love the stuff. I spend no shortage of time thinking about the genre’s peak years, and a thesis I’ve come up with is that most of these bands hit their stride on their second album after a solid enough debut and before a slightly patchier third album. I mean, “Fallen Angel” couldn’t have been on Look What the Cat Dragged In, if you know what I’m saying. And if you know what I’m saying, welcome, friend.
In 1988, L.A. Guns dropped their self-titled debut. The album is a legit ripper, taking the best of Hollywood street sleaze glam and adding just enough stadium spit-shine to make it work. But 1989’s Cocked and Loaded works even better.
Then there’s Faster Pussycat. In 1987, the band released their self-titled debut, a fantastic piece of underrated Guns N’ Roses-esque trash rock; two years later, the band released their second album, the fantastic Wake Me When It’s Over.
Both albums find the bands noticeably more confident and relaxed, both albums spawned some of their most classic songs, both albums are hair-metal classics.
But which is the true king of the strip, the album that will truly rock forever, the one that stands hair above hair above hair over the other? We took it upon ourselves to dive back in to these records and we’ve got the answer. But, first, let’s party.
L.A. Guns – Cocked and Loaded
This record almost plays out like a concept album about the best and worst of Hollywood life. I mean, it’s long in the tooth at 54 minutes, but this is like Operation: Mindcrime for dummies or something. Well, not really, but it’s what I like to imagine is happening as intro “Letting Go” kicks things off with a one-minute… well, it’s a real song but it’s somehow only a minute long, which is awesome, and it leads right into “Slap in the Face,” a lean and mean riff-rocker that lays four on the floor and brings the sleaze of the strip into your living room through some classic melodies and vocal lines. I love this stuff, man, and few do it better than this lineup/era of L.A. Guns.
But the album really gets going with “Rip and Tear,” a classic rocker with a perfect chorus and a hilariously fun faster-faster-faster! speed-up ending. This song is just economic, perfect hair metal, ready for the arenas, ready to be the soundtrack for one of the best nights of your life.
“Sleazy Come Easy Go,” hmm, here’s one we always forget about, but it’s got a good slinky beat to it (that the band would revisit with much greater success on their next album, with the killer “Kiss My Love Goodbye”) and a memorable chorus.
“Never Enough” is another classic, a chorus to die for, riffs straddling that perfect line between radio-melodic and street-wise, dangerous verses, everything here is a winner.
I never liked “Malaria” for some reason, the structure of the song and the chorus kinda grating to me, but I can appreciate the mid-tempo slinkiness of it now, and it does give some good melodic atmosphere at this point in the record. I’m still not huge on that chorus, though.
“The Ballad of Jayne” rules; I’ll admit I’m a sucker for a well-done hair ballad, and this is about as well-done as they get. It’s up there with the best of the best, although it never quite got the traction of your “Home Sweet Home”s or your “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”s.
“Magdalaine” is a bit of a strange one, the band taking six minutes to get where they’re going here with this fast-paced song, and it kinda ends up nowhere, the Guns signalling that we’re entering the midway point of the album, steam is running low, and this record should be 15 minutes shorter.
“Give a Little,” here’s another one we all forget, but I like it, the band sorta sleepwalking through this hungover rocker but with enough swagger and style, and great, stylish riffing, to keep it interesting. Not a classic but a damn good song.
“I’m Addicted” is a two-minute guitar solo/Willie Dixon cover, which is puzzling but what the hell, and “17 Crash” has a weird title and is a grooving mid-tempo slinker that turns into a brisk safe-punk tune come chorus time, and I’m on board. You know how when some of the old-dog metal bands talk about some of their songs being “punk” you just cringe? LA Guns actually had a legit punk vibe sometimes, it’s catchy as hell and it shines through on songs like this.
“Showdown (Riot on Sunset),” Jesus Christ this record never ends, and now there are horns on this massive song, which could have been the album opener, really, a stormin’ and strong cut buried deep, forgotten to time, but very cool.
“Wheels of Fire,” in one ear and out the other, for five minutes, but closer “I Wanna Be Your Man” is strong, great anthemic chorus, cool riffs, everything just fists in the air, feeling good, feeling dirty, feeling mean. Love it.
The production is a bit stiff on this record, particularly with the drums, but that was the era. The album shines because of the excellent vocal performance from Phil Lewis and guitar work of Tracii Guns and Mick Cripps. The record definitely loses some steam and lags at points, but, like I hinted at in the beginning here, it’s more about ambition and confidence than it is limitations or failures. Still, it’s a failure on someone’s part to not tell the band to chop two or three songs from this record back in the day.
Cocked and Loaded is a fantastic document of hair-metal in its prime, the sound of a band knowing damn well how on fire they were. But was Faster Pussycat burning even hotter with Wake Me When It’s Over?
Faster Pussycat – Wake Me When It’s Over
Opener “Where There’s a Whip There’s a Way” rules, although I never realized until this very moment that it’s 6:45, which is a super bold move for a hair band, opening an album with a song that long. Thing is, it doesn’t drag at all, the song itself rocking out hard, then the ending part stomping and fading away perfectly. Awesome.
“Little Dove” features a slinky groove that L.A. Guns or Guns N’ Roses would both die for, and that tricky labyrinth riff at the end absolutely rules. What a great one-two opening punch these songs are, the band sounding incredibly confident and on the ball here. Then there’s “Poison Ivy” and that’s three for three, the band totally on a roll here, this song a huge, raucous rockin’ party of a shoulda-been anthem.
After that almost perfect opening trio of rockers, we go into “House of Pain,” and, like “The Ballad of Jayne,” I’m a sucker for it, this one hitting all the feels, almost melodramatic but instead just awesome. Love it, total classic for a reason.
“Gonna Walk” is undoubtedly a rager, the verses absolutely killing it, the chorus killing it too, then just killing it harder and harder, worming its way into your head, where it will stay for literally years, like it or not. Again, this is the kind of song that the biggies of the era would have killed for, and Faster Pussycat had it, easy, smooth, no troubles.
“Pulling Weeds” is another huge, awesome song, although it would be one of the songs that coulda been used as a totally killer B-side if it was taken off here in an attempt to make this 60-minute long record a bit more reasonable with the runtime.
“Slip of the Tongue,” what a song, and what a way to get the energy levels up again at this point in the album. I always forget it’s buried kinda deep in the record because it’s incredible, energy all over the place, a very well-executed swear word in the chorus, shoulda been the second song on the album, although “Little Dove” does just fine thank you very much.
“Cryin’ Shame,” again with the choruses for miles, and the bluesy boogie shuffle that few can pull off, but it just sounds irresistible with Taime Downe’s wildly underrated vocals over it. However, as great as that chorus is, the song as a whole is a bit expendable on a record that needs some fat trimmed from it, although I absolutely love how it ends.
“Tattoo” is a killer bluesy rocker, the band coming alive with those licks, nodding back to the first album more than most songs here, and, man, this one makes you feel good, that opening riff pure Izzy Stradlin fire. Bold burying this one so deep because it coulda been a bit more of a calling card for the band if it was more of a focus song. Still, it’s there for us, waiting and reliable, and I love it (also love how Downe says “Boise, Idaho” in this one).
“Ain’t No Way Around It” stats with a fake-out sludgey intro, then into the speedy, slinky, sleazy rock, although it’s a bit of a throwaway, but it does have a good verse, good chorus, catchy enough, I mean… everything’s here, it’s just not a cut above like everything else on this album, and by the time we get to it, well, a bit of fatigue is setting in. Still, a fantastic song.
“Arizona Indian Doll,” all these years go past and I still can’t decide if this song is stupid or actually pretty awesome. I have no idea. It’s got a good rhythm and movement to it, but it’s goofy, and it’s clearly in poor taste (I can’t bear to look up the lyrics, and that outro, man, let’s move on).
“Please Dear” ends off the album with a totally forgotten kinda-ballad, but more like a Black Crowes smoky-bar, piano-led look back at life, haze of nostalgia only overwhelmed by the stench of booze and cigarette smoke. This song is actually really great, and a smart way to close off the record. Classy move, showing the band reaching for something beyond just hair metal. (Too bad it’s not on all the formats this was released on due to length, as “Arizona Indian Doll” is most assuredly not a solid closer like this is.)
Like Cocked and Loaded, this record goes on forever and could easily lose two or three tracks and have a couple more edited down a bit. But Faster Pussycat, like their competitors today, were on fire at this point, so who can blame anyone not wanting to get in their way? Like I said before, I love Downe’s vocals—he’s actually one of my favorite vocalists of the era—and the sleaze-rock riffs here are to die for. The songs are excellently written and a ton of fun to listen to, and the production isn’t quite as stiff as Cocked‘s.
We have a winner, and I’m happy to announce it because I think this band never got as much credit and attention as they deserved. I love L.A. Guns’ classic records as much as you should, but today Faster Pussycat are the clear champs, Wake Me When It’s Over proving itself as a powerhouse of rock swagger, of youthful confidence, of a band absolutely at the height of their sleazy powers, reaching high for a future they never got, but one that forever remains hanging as a satisfying what-if as we spin this album again and again, lost in the glory of what is, when all is said and done, a wildly great rock and roll record.