Glam Phase: CINDERELLA (1986-1994)

Most bands who found fame and fortune as part of the glam metal movement would eventually turn away from the standard sound of this commercially-glutted trend and try to find a variation that reflected their own interests. Of all the hit bands, no one did this quicker than Cinderella: after the first album established them in the genre, they immediately pulled in a rootsier direction that revealed they were more a classic rock band at heart. As fate would have it, their time as a major label act would be short – but they made the most of that time, crafting a quartet of albums that got better and more individualized as they moved along.

Members: Tom Keifer (lead vocals, guitar), Jeff LaBar (guitar, vocals), Eric Brittingham (bass, vocals), Fred Coury (drums, vocals)

NIGHT SONGS (1986): The debut is the most conventionally “glam” of the bunch, featuring the compressed production values of the era (production by glam stalwart Andy Johns) and focusing on short, tight songs that hit the appropriate commercial hard rock marks. The band also wears its influences on their sleeves, namely AC/DC (the title track, which emulates “Hells Bells” down to its tolling bells intro ) and Aerosmith (“In From The Outside”). Some dismiss it for these qualities but there is an equal amount of glam partisans who appreciate its no-nonsense approach to the genre. Even as first-timers, there’s a real sense of craft in the songwriting: “Shake Me” is a fist-pumping tune that adds some cool call-and-response frills to its shout-along chorus and “Somebody Save Me” is tough-riffed cruiser worthy of Dokken. That said, the towering highlight is “Nobody’s Fool,” a power ballad given musical and emotional depth by its ability to convey an almost goth-style sense of existential heartbreak.

LONG COLD WINTER (1988): this is a transitional effort that operates in a space halfway between the pure-blooded glam of the debut and the bluesy, roots-focused classic rock approach of Heartbreak Station. Interestingly the big hit came from the experimental material via power ballad “Don’t Know What You Got (‘Til It’s Gone),” which craftily inflects its melody and arrangement with blues elements to keep things from getting sappy. Elsewhere, the roots-derived material occasionally lapses into imitation (the overt Zep-isms of the title track) but mostly finds a fresh sound for the group’s tried-and-true rock moves, particularly on the opening medley “Fallin’ Apart At The Seams/Bad Seamstress Blues” and the southern rock revival of “Gypsy Road.” The glammier stuff is pretty solid, too: “Second Wind” and “If You Don’t Like It” ride high on their chugging riffery and anthemic, densely-harmonized choruses.

HEARTBREAK STATION (1990): the boys from Philly go ‘full roots’ here, serving up a spread that suggests they spent a lot of time poring over the discographies of the Faces, Humble Pie and the Stones’ Beggar’s Banquet to Exile On Main Street era. Some critics and even a few fans wrote off this stylistic about-face but the truth is this is as credible a roots album as the Black Crowes’ debut from the same year: the title track is a plush, orchestrated ballad that sounds like it was beamed in from 1974 and “Shelter Me” is a fun, gospel-tinged exercise that builds from acoustic beginnings into a full-blown downhome rocker with backup singers and a brass section. Everything here benefits from handcrafted songwriting and arrangements that utilize different bits of instrumental sweetening to broaden the group’s sound: the wah-wah that colors “Love’s Got Me Doin’ Time,” the cowbell-plus-piano syncopation of “Sick For The Cure” and the pedal steel and mandolin that enrobe the album’s best song,  “One For Rock & Roll,” a nostalgic tribute to the genre’s life-enriching power. It’s strong from start to finish and something of meisterwerk for Keifer, who co-produces and plays nine different instruments on it.

STILL CLIMBING (1994): Keifer was sidelined by severe vocal cord issues for a few years beginning in 1991, meaning that Cinderella ultimately reemerged into a post-glam world where grunge and alt-rock ruled the major label roost. They put in a valiant effort with what would be their final studio album, keeping the classic rock mindset of the previous outing but going for a slicker, more modern take on those elements. The focus remains on strong songs with colorful arrangements: “Bad Attitude Shuffle” starts like vintage blues but transforms into arena-rock boogie, the title track is an ambitious man’s lament laid out with equal parts atmosphere and swagger and “Freewheelin'” sounds like a heavy metal speedster rearranged for a rootsier band. There’s also an interesting chameleonic effect in spots here: “Hard To Find The Words” is what a Geffen-era Aerosmith ballad might sound like without the outside writers and “Blood From A Stone” is a dead ringer for Use Your Illusion-era Guns ‘N Roses.

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