Bruce's Blackjack Albums (8/96)
Let's see... I found Bruce's first Blackjack self-titled album (Polydor, 1979) at a garage-sale in 1986. The second album, Worlds Apart (Polydor, 1980), proved to be much more difficult to find - eventually I found a Promo copy in a second hand record store in 1989. On hearing these albums for the first time you'll be completely shocked to find that KISS' longest serving fret-master is playing countrified AOR rock! For both of these albums Bruce was teamed up with Michael Bolotin (Vocals, later Bolton), Sandy Gennaro (Drums), and Jimmy Haslip (Bass). Initially, I didn't much care for these offerings, but then I was a teenager and KISS and Aerosmith got the adrenaline pumping. Now older, hopefully wiser, and with more eclectic tastes, I find them more enjoyable.
Blackjack starts out with "Love Me Tonight", a slowish ballad-y type thing which is OK, but nothing special. "Heart Of Stone" is a mid-tempo rocker, with Bruces guitar and Michael's gravelly voice used to good effect, in fact I really like this one! Then back into the love songs, remember this is Michael Bolton! "The Night has Me Calling For You" is very, dare I say it, "Night Ranger-ish". It's pleasant enough, but not really remarkable, though it does have cool guitar. Another love song comes next, "Southern Ballad (If This Means Losing You)". It's OK, but I prefer Michael's later power-ballads to this one which just trundles along. "Fallin'" is a good-time mild-rocker, another one of the tracks which stand out. Again, listening to KISS we've used to getting a mix of power ballads and pure rockers (or at least we were until Gene went into his Unholy mood swing!), it may be just me, but the style of music revolves more around the vocal than the song and music as a full unit.
Then we get something more akin to a guitar song! "Without Your Love", though again featuring the word 'love' in its title, is very similar, in style, to the music by Free. Another good tune. Unfortunately, we're now into the dumb song title part of the album! "Countin' On You" (Arrggh, cliche) and "I Aware Of Your Love", I'm aware.... bloody hell, that's definately one for the top tem dumbest song titles ever! "Countin' On You" is mellow, and not as naff as its title suggests, another love song. "I'm Aware Of Your Love" is a pretty fast face affair heavily reliant on the bass (or is that trout!), but it never really goes anywhere. It's not bad just rather meaningless. Back to the love songs, "For You" is the one song I usually fast forward through! Soppy. The album closes with "Heart Of Mine", another guitar song with a good beat, like it or not, I always find my self tapping my feet to this one! Overall, the album is geared towards love songs, but it is Michael Bolton! The music generally is excellent, though more mellow than KISS fans are used too. I rate this album 6/10.
Worlds Apart was the second and final Blackjack. Michael went on to concentrate on his solo career (Bruce played on a couple of his albums) and Bruce eventually ended up in what was, at the time, called the most temporary job in town! Luckily Worlds Apart starts out with a rocker cover, "My World Is Empty With Out You". I class this song as my favourite Blackjack tune, it's great, or maybe I just like Bolton sounding angst-ridden and love-hurt! Luckily the album started out with a song I could get into or I probably would never have bothered listening to the whole thing. Then back to songs with music in the title! "Love Is Hard To Find" is a heavy duty Hammond Organ affair - and pretty cool at that, almost a Blackjack power ballad. "Stay", to me, typifies Michael Bolton ballads with mellow vocals and slow backing music. On thing immediately noticable with this album is the progress which the band made as musicians and song-writers (mainly Bolton & Kulick), and hearing songs which Bruce was involved in writing is not something we got a lot of when he was in KISS.
"Airwaves" is techno-junk, but then again it was 1980! Bruce's guitar in this song is cool, but the lyrics suck. And the chorus is annoying, "it's allright, it's allright, you'll remember....", AAARRGGGh! Then at least we get back to cool stuff - "Maybe It's The Power Of Love" is excellent, again using the band and Michael's vocals perfectly, very R&B;, great chorus. Then unfortunately Blackjack ruin it all with the extremely naff and annoying introduction to "Welcome To The World". I hardly want to hear a new-born screaching (Yeah, kids are cool and birth is beautiful,but...) at the beginning of a song, and I know that we Americans can say some pretty stupid things, but "It's a little boy, welcome to the world" (duh, no shit, it's just been born - mommy wouldn't be too pleased if she'd just birthed an elephant!) is just plain annoying! The song, itself, is a fast paced mild-rocker and is actually very good - I'll just have to edit the introduction out. Great Bruce solo too. "Breakaway" returns to the someone-like-those-synthisizers vein of Airwaves. I can't really say much about this song, it's good, but it doesn't impress and doesn't seem to be very memorable. "Really Wanna Know" is another fast tempo AOR style rocker. Again it's not especially memorable. The penultimate track, "Sooner Or Later", is another Hammond affair which will leave you tapping your feet. It has a prety good feel about it. Worlds Apart closes with "She Wants You Back", is another mellow love song, with a bit more pace than any other, it too is pretty good. All in all Worlds Apart is a much more polished album than the self-titled debut. It is better rounded and has much better scope in the mix of style and material included. I rate it 8/10 and suggest to all Bruce fans to give it a listen.
I asked Bruce what he thought about these albums 17 years on, he simply said that there was still "some interesting material" on them. I have to agree. While the style is very different from what he was involved with in KISS, there is quality, diversity, and just good music!