Faster Pussycat – Babylon: The Elektra Years (1987-1992)

Babylon The Elektra Years 1987-1992 Album Cover Art

Faster Pussycat – Babylon: The Elektra Years (1987-1992)
Cherry Red Records
Release Date: 28/01/22
Running Time: 03:44:12
Review by Simon Black
Faster Pussycat 8/10
Wake Me When It’s Over 9/10

Live And Rare 5/10
Whipped! 6/10
Overall – 7/10

Listening to this set of disks is like a time bomb from another life. The scary thing is that it’s my own…

When I first started listening to heavier music circa 1987 bands like this were my gateway. At the time teenage me missed a seminal show at my home town of Nottingham’s Rock City with Faster Pussycat opening and an at that point completely unknown fellow act from the L.A. Sunset Strip scene headlining (Guns and something or other). Attendees who weren’t too spotty to get past the biker bouncers related that Faster Pussycat were, to say the least, something of an eye opener that night – not least for the rather key fact that Pussycat (as the support act) blew the somewhat out of it Guns ’N’ Roses off  the stage (although to be fair that’s probably because of the somewhat earlier opening times bands had to work with due to UK’s very backward licencing laws in 1987, they simply had not time to get as fucked up as the headliners by the time they needed to perform. The eponymous debut album that opens this set really has encapsulated the time capsule feel of that era, perhaps helped by the fact that unlike G’n’R, I haven’t listened to it or any of its successors for several decades.

Time has not been kind to Sleaze of this era, which is where these guys firmly sit on their debut. Ignoring for the moment the scene’s contribution to the hole in the ozone layer, there is the fact that although down and dirty lyrics might have appealed to my teenage schoolboy self at the time, they really have not stood the test of time well. Sexism and the objectification of women of the kind that so many acts of this time were guilty of is quite frankly up there with the casual racism on TV in the 80’s as something best forgotten, as thankfully we have moved on. Faster Pussycat dipped their toes in this dirty and shallow end of the pool, but to be fair are far less worse than the crudity of some of their peers, but at least kept some semblance of subtlety through their use of double entendre. Either way, it’s the part that jars now, although to be fair only a couple of songs suffer from it and fortunately the delivery in its wrapper of punchy Rock’n’Roll and low slung guitars still feels fresh and raw as it did back then. The choice of title for this box set comes from the 80’s floor-filler ‘Babylon’ from that first album – a brash statement about the craziness of the Sunset Strip, wrapped up in a less than subtle poke at some of the other musical genres of the time (not that anyone remembers The Beastie Boys), but it encapsulates my memories of the band and this debut record. It’s not only their best known song, it’s a statement, but with the wink and a nudge that underlies everything they did in their early years.

A couple of years later, with the scene still riding high ‘Wake Me When It’s Over’ landed. It’s still Faster Pussycat, but it’s a musically much stronger record with much more going on in the arrangements, playing honed from many graveyard opening slots around the globe and a wealth of story material to feed the lyrics. The songs are all way longer than the ten times three and a half minutes of “Wham! Bang! Thank you, Ma’am” of the debut and although it’s still Rock ’N’ Roll, there’s more overt Blues overtones, some great guitar weaving interplay jams and the addition of a honky-tonk pianos, harmonicas and saxophone breaks into the mix making this feel a much more well-crafted and structured beast than its brash predecessor and singer Taime Downe (yes, really) sounds a million times better having learned to use his voice and phrasing to good effect with experience. 

Stylistically as well there’s more on offer here, with the most memorable song from this period being the soulful ballad ‘House of Pain’ which really has aged far better than anything on their first record. That said, even the songs that hark back a couple of years, like ‘Slip Of The Tongue’ are far better crafted than anything from the starting point. The subject matter is still sleazy as hell, but it’s not as immature and reflects a lifestyle of a band used to the edgy craziness of the road rather than the schoolboy smut of before. I remember seeing the band this time round, this time graduated to headline status and more than capable of holding an audience. This album sold better than anything else they wrote to boot (mainly off of the back of ‘House of Pain’), but also from the invaluable experience spent grinding the arena and stadia aisles on support slots with Kiss and Mötley Crüe. This is probably as good as it got for these chaps, with the band at the peak of both their popularity and in terms of the quality of their output, which it tightly delivered and aged way better than where they started from. 

The third disk is a filler EP and a relic of the days when re-issuing the same material with coloured vinyl or different covers, different mixes and edits was a crucial part of a business focussed on selling physical pieces of plastic to people, ideally more than once (for the benefit of millennials, this was the dark ages before we had the internet when ‘instant messaging’ involved two tin cans and a piece of string). With only a couple of remixes and live tracks from this period on here (and although hearing Downe’s frankly insane delivery of the live version of ‘Babylon’ was a bit of an eye opener), it’s not adding much to the story so I will move on to what turned out to be the dénouement for this incarnation of the band.

Whipped! however sounds like it’s been made by a completely different band. The line-up was still more or less the same apart from a change on the drum stool necessitated by Mark Michals’ being caught by the fuzz for signing for a parcel delivery of heroin whilst on tour in the mid-West, but the sound is moving away from the Sleaze (as indeed had the whole world at this point) and started to bring some Industrial elements to the mix at a couple of points. If you add in the lyrical obsession with S&M, this feels like its warming up the market for Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson rather than continuing the cheekiness of the first two albums. The album really lacks an identity of its own and effectively stifle the richness of songwriting that we had in their last studio album, which felt like a controlled Rock ’n’ Roll jam and although it’s an interesting foretaste of evolutions in the scene to come, it fails for simply not being either a Faster Pussycat album or enough of a jump into new genres. The market was ready for starker change and their fan base hated it, so not long after and after a bit more line-up churn the party fizzled out and they called it a day in 1993. 

There was the inevitable reboot a few decades later of course, but with only Downe remaining and no one else to rein in his Industrial obsession it didn’t really register. In addition (thanks to the American judicial system’s flawed view that its acceptable for two different versions of an act to compete in the same diminishing marketplace until one survives in a bizarre game of musical Highlander) you also now have founding guitarist Brent Muscat (along with others from the original line-up) competing in parallel with a version of the act that’s more retrospective to their heyday. Having listened to the whole set ‘Wake Me When It’s Over’ feels most likely the album that is worthy of further consideration and stands the test of time better than the rest, but it’s clear that they are never going to come back from the past as anything other than their own tribute act, regardless of whether one version wins out or pride is swallowed. As a time capsule this is fascinating though, particularly as these recordings have clearly been shown a lot of love in the repackaging and remixing process, sounding way more consistent in sound quality and mix calibre than any of the originals could. They were good old days, but they have definitely gone…

TRACKLISTING:
Disc One: Faster Pussycat
01. Don’t Change That Song
02. Bathroom Wall
03. No Room For Emotion
04. Cathouse
05. Babylon
06. Smash Alley
07. Shooting You Down
08. City Has No Heart
09. Ship Rolls In
10. Bottle In Front Of Me

Disc Two: Wake Me When It’s Over
01. Where There’s A Whip, There’s A Way
02. Little Dove
03. Poison Ivy
04. House Of Pain
05. Gonna Walk
06. Pulling Weeds
07. Slip Of The Tongue
08. Cryin’ Shame
09. Tattoo
10. Ain’t No Way Around It
11. Arizona Indian Doll
12. Please Dear

Disc Three: Live And Rare
01. Bathroom Wall
02. Poison Ivy
03. Pulling Weeds
04. Slip Of The Tongue
05. Babylon
06. House Of Pain

Disc Four: Whipped!
01. Nonstop To Nowhere
02. The Body Thief
03. Jack The Bastard
04. Big Dictionary
05. Madam Ruby’s Love Boutique
06. Only Way Out
07. Maid In Wonderland
08. Friends
09. Cat Bash
10. Loose Booty
11. Mr. Lovedog
12. Out With A Bang

Bonus Tracks
13. Nonstop To Nowhere (CHR Version)
14. Too Tight
15. Charge Me Up
16. You’re So Vain

LINE-UP:
Taime Downe – Lead Vocals
Greg Steele – Guitar, Backing Vocals
Brent Muscat – Guitar, Backing Vocals
Eric Stacy – Bass Guitar, Backing Vocals
Mark Michals – Drums, Backing Vocals (disks 1-3)
Brett Bradshaw – Drums, Percussion, Backing Vocals (Disk 4)

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.