“I’m the life of the party, the head of the cool, I’m the high priest of good times and fun”
I know I’ve mentioned Zodiac Mindwarp in the past three entries, and I’m gonna stop, really. Right after this. Imagine, if you will, that Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction were not British art school savages but ordinary, pinball-playing, long-haired Midwest American goons, and instead of dressing like cosmic sex-Nazi bikers from hell, they dressed like a threadbare local theatre production of Pirates of Penzance, with maybe a high-school football twist. Well, that actually happened, man. It was called Slave Raider. And it was a choppy ride.
Even after all these wasted years, the title of this record still bugs me. What Do You Know About Rock N’ Roll? Plenty. You’re the one in the puffy shirt, motherfucker. What do_ you_ know about it? Anyway, Slave Raider were from the Minneapolis/St Paul area, not exactly the epicenter of flash metal in the mid 80’s. There was no way these guys were gonna make a dent playing glam in the land of The Replacements, Husker Du and Soul Asylum without taking things completely over the top, so that’s exactly what they did. Like a lot of bands back then (Rogue Male, Armed Forces, Mad Max) they adopted a Road Warrior-inspired, neon-lit, post-apocalyptic image, but then threw in some swashbuckling pirate gimmicks (the aforementioned puffy shirts, eye patches) and some NFL-esque war paint. Too much, you say? Well, it’s not over. They also employed that ever-effective Plasmatics/WASP/Jackyl gag, the onstage chainsaw hijinks. One memorable bit involved dismembering a cardboard Rick Astley cut-out. That shit slayed the crowds in ‘87, believe it. Slave Raider self-released their debut, Take The World By Storm, in 1986, and were soon scooped up by RCA affiliate Jive Records (home of Samantha Fox and Flock of Seagulls, which really should’ve been a red flag), who eventually re-released Storm in ‘88 as a lead-in to this one a few a months later. Unfortunately for everybody, saturating the planet with Slave Raider was not the smartest move. Both records tanked at once, sinking under the waves like a cannon-balled pirate ship. Slave Raider managed to swim to the surface and doggy-paddle for a couple more years, but if they were ever going to make their mark, it would’ve been on this record. And it just didn’t happen. So, what went wrong?
Well, first of all, we’ve got Chainsaw Caine’s vocals. He’s the one with the eyepatch. He’s a screecher. An upper-register, crack-your-crystal screecher. So there’s that. Then there’s the songs. It’s fitting that the first track, Is There Rock n’ Roll in Heaven?, ponders whether you gotta “take the elevator up or down” to hear rock n’ roll after you croak, because if by ‘rock n’ roll’ they mean Slave Raider, then the answer is surely down, brother. Stairway to Hell, indeed. You know, I almost feel bad about slamming this record, because I just know these wayward freebooters really were trying to make the biggest, loudest, bestest-ever rock record you’ve ever heard. But hey, they were the ones that botched the operation, not me. And as the record rolls ever on, my pity starts rolling over into outright contempt. Like when they put on a full-blown skit halfway through side B, with Caine doing his best Cotton Mather-meets-professional wrestler, condemning, umm…himself, I guess, for playing rock and roll.
“Standing before us we have the high priest of good times. Ha! Good times you’ll not have in my court, young man. Accused of playing rock and roll, are you? Well, I intend on prosecuting you to the fullest extent of the law.”
Now, if he was getting accused of playing bad rock and roll, I’d be all for it. That’s not all, though. Tying this whole disaster together with a sacrilegious, pyrotechnic cover of Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak really might be a crime. There’s also a goofy jam about chasing underage chicks to endure (Youngblood), and the lyrics on this record, yikes. There’s a line in “High Priest of Good Times” that goes “I’m gonna blow your mind and tell you what to do/ I’m gonna get you so rowdy, you’ll never be blue”. Christ. Nobody’s a bigger fan of sleaze than I am, but bands like Slave Raider almost make me glad that Kurt Cobain killed glam metal dead. But, you know, that’s just my opinion. What do I know about rock n’ roll, right?
Jive stuck with Slave Raider for another year, releasing an EP, Bigger, Badder, and Bolder in 1990, but eventually dropped them later that year. The band reunited, briefly, in 1991 but they slunk back to whatever ex-Slave Raiders do until 1998, when they got together again to record a single, Purple Pride, commemorating the Minnesota’s Vikings superbowl win, or whatever they did that year. They still get together on occasion for one-off gigs. Also, Slave Raider’s pirate-rock aesthetic lives on in two very different but equally entertaining bands. German power-metallers Running Wild originally started as proto-black metal devil-worshippers in the mid 80’s, but panicked during a séance (that’s conjecture but probably true) and switched their whole focus to singing about pirate ships, which they’ve done for the past thirty years. Seriously. There’s also a very hip retro-rock act from New York called Lord Classic, and they dress like pirates, even though they swore on a recent episode of my podcast that they actually dress like18th century dandies or something. So Slave Raider should sleep soundly tonight knowing that they weren’t the only ones who thought this was a great idea. They were just kinda terrible at it.
Next week: Nitro