If there is one music scene from the 1980s that is often uttered with a sneery disparaging tone then it is “hair metal.” It was something of an umbrella terms that would include the pop and commercial end of metal, anything from Def Leppard and Whitesnake to Winger and Skid Row and would stretch into the more glam and sleaze end of the spectrum. With its centre point of Los Angeles, California, glam metal was all androgynous looks, make up and enough hairspray to blow a hole through the now-never-mentioned ozone layer. Taking inspiration from 1970s glam rock, there was a punk aesthetic as trailblazed by Finnish legends Hanoi Rocks and with bands such as Motley Crue and Ratt receiving ever increasing MTV and radio air-play, glam metal became a dominating musical force throughout the 1980s – although where there is popularity there is replication and saturation and it has to be said that there were a fair few dud acts on the circuit. One band that arrived with the hype but managed to live up to it was Faster Pussycat. Named after sexploitation film director’s 1965 film Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, the quintet formed in Los Angeles in 1985 by vocalist Taime Downe, guitarists Brent Muscat and Greg Steele, drummer Mark Michaels and bassist Kelly Nichols – although the latter suffered a motorcycle accident before the debut album was recorded and was replaced by Eric Stacy. There was no self-releases or independent labels, no climbing up the ladder, Faster Pussycat immediately signed with Elektra Records to release their debut in 1987 creating momentum on the back of music videos for Don’t Change That Song (directed by Russ Meyer) and Bathroom Wall. The band and performances of Cathouse and Babylon also featured in the influential documentary The Decline Of The Western Civilisation Part II – The Metal Years directed by Penelope Spheeris.
Sometimes the glance into the rear-view mirror is an uncomfortable one. Obviously, music evolves and so do people and attitudes and the hedonism and excesses of the 1980s was not exactly positive. On the other hand, it was a time lived in the moment and while Faster Pussycat’s 1987 debut album does hark back to a bygone age, there is still plenty of pull on a considerable number of tracks on the record that raise a smile as well as the occasional face palm. Visually, the quintet had all of their pussycats in a row; the self titling of the album, the band adorned cover – pouty stares, hats, bandanas, sunglasses and a smoke dangling from the corner of a mouth, the album knew what it wanted to be and was going to land – and hard. In retrospect, the sound fed into the attitude of the day – not lazy as in ‘no effort’ lazy but lazy as in ‘low slung’ and absolutely zero fucks given, it was an arrival and one brimming with confidence and self belief. Revisiting Faster Pussycat reveals clean sonics, as screechy as Downe’s vocals are, they knit overall sound which is not too glossy and a more fitting earthy atmosphere and destined for the L.A. streets and smoke filled bars. In a sense, Faster Pussycat is something of an uncorking, a branching of an existing sound and taking a blowtorch to it; a deliberately sloppy and snarling version of Aerosmith, and a band revelling in the scene that spawned them, the best and worst of L.A. With songs like Cathouse – named after the club that Downe owned along with DJ Riki Rachtman – or the sleaze anthem Bathroom Wall and its ode to “for a good time call” liaisons, there was no hiding behind metaphors and while some of the lyrics are toe curlingly puerile, these are the quicksands of excess that may be unrecognisable today but still impossible not to be drawn into. As an album, if there is one thing that Faster Pussycat suffers from is the same as when it was released that (in vinyl terms) side one was better than side two. This is not to say that the latter half of the album is bad but the earlier half features the two heavy rotated singles and the other two songs featured in the The Decline Of The Western Civilisation documentary. Sandwiched between was the ballad No Room For Emotion; all strong songs with great pacing over all but there is a ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ with the singles overshadowing the remainder – although the smash ‘n’ grab of Bottle In Front Of Me does see the album out with a snotty bang.
Faster Pussycat remains an album that is of its time but it is certainly a record that makes a statement as to the excesses of the decade.
Faster Pussycat toured their debut heavily supporting acts such as Motörhead and Alice Cooper but within two years of their debut, the quintet released their sophomore effort Wake Me When It’s Over. Proving that the band did not have a fixed perspective, Faster Pussycat moved away from the glam metal of their debut to a more blues infused sound – and it paid off – and with the chart busting House Of Pain (currently sat at 18million streams on Spotify), Wake Me When It’s Over went Gold in the US with sales in excess of 500,000. Not all reviews at the time were kind with a similar issue to the debut where one side was better than the other. The passage of time and music’s evolution over the last 33 years reveals an album that is actually a lot more consistent with some solid song writing that makes the record a varied and engaging listen. What does stand out is that where the debut is trapped by its style, Wake Me When Its Over snakes in and around and those blues infusions free it from the cage of time. Sure, Taime Downe has not changed singing style but it is a lot more focused. Where There’s A Whip There’s A Way is a strong opener which has excellent guitar passages and the terrific addition of backing vocals really gives the song heart. Even the ending – a very long fade out only for the song to have a time change and come back with a stomper of a riff on the return adds a sweet twist. Little Dove is a grimy little number which has an uneasy edge to it; Poison Ivy gives way for Taime Downe’s vocals on the verses keeping the guitar in the background and the frantic stabs of piano on the chorus are a delight. House Of Pain is Faster Pussycat’s Every Rose Has Its Thorn and has ‘mega hit’ splashed across it, the swampy harmonica and Downe’s drawl carry the song around strumming acoustics. Another standout is the tight Pulling Weeds but it is Slip Of The Tongue that is the real monster, the scorching guitar licks and Downe going for broke on the vocals and its rabble rousing chorus would light up any club dance floor – even now. The one negative to Wake Me When Its Over is that it goes out with a whimper, Arizona Indian Doll is actually a corker of a song, the finger clicking/bass/piano is absolutely beautiful in its lounge-like laziness, a quirky, and fun quiet number maybe but one with personality and charm. Instead, the album ends with the ballad Please Dear which is just too standard and totally forgettable.
It would be three years before the next Pussycat would arrive in town and while Live And Rare was released in 1990 it was aimed at the Japanese market where there was a considerable following of the band. While the EP does fill a gap, it is 26 minutes of slim pickings with six tracks culled from the first two albums, a slimmed down remixed version of Bathroom Wall, edited versions (presumably for radio) of Poison Ivy and House Of Pain and live versions of Pulling Weeds, Slip Of The Tongue and Babylon. The Japanese market had a voracious appetite for their favourite bands and the EP made sense in terms of momentum and feeding that audience and even fans in other territories that wanted everything would salivate over owning the “obi” and something of an expensive rarity. In terms of content, unless someone is running out of the door to catch a train and needs an edited version of a song, these versions serve little purpose other than to fill the collections of completists. The remixed Bathroom Wall has less flab, slightly shortened and adds the comedic “p-p-p-p-pussycat’ intro that actually featured on Babylon from the debut album. It is the live material that is the most interesting because this is a tight band that were clearly at the height of their power. Pulling Weeds is terrific to the point where even the maracas are audible. Wake Me When It’s Over highlight Slip Of The Tongue promises a “different version” which is just Downe going into the salacious details of the lyrics and a slow intro before the song proper kicks off is really all that is different. Just like the studio version, Babylon is pure chaos with the band clearly playing up to it with exuberant sloppiness. Live And Rare is not available on streaming services so the inclusion is welcome and definitely worth a listen for the live material but other than that it is one of those completist oddities that was originally released to cater to a particular market.
By the time 1992 came around, rock music was in a different place and there is an enduring myth that it was all Nirvana’s fault and that Nevermind wiped the hair metal slate totally clean. The truth is that hair metal was already dead. Check two leading light bands – Cinderella and Skid Row – in 1990 the former delving into hard driven blues and the latter tuned out a bruiser of a record in 1991– both albums arrived before the Seattle trio hit paydirt with a baby in a swimming pool on the front cover. It is easy to write off Whipped! within the context of the times when in actual fact, Faster Pussycat was heading into a creative oasis at the point that the music world was turning its back on the scene that birthed them. Wake Me When It’s Over was different to their debut and once more, Faster Pussycat looked to different inspiration for Whipped! Opener Nonstop To Nowhere is more Rolling Stones than glam metal. Elsewhere there were hints of industrial rock – such as on Cat Bash – that were to become Taime Downe’s world later on down the line. There are nods to bands of the time such as Jane’s Addiction and even grunge forerunners Mother Love Bone with Mr Lovedog being a dedication to late singer Andrew Wood. Tracks such as The Body Thief could have been from Wake Me When It’s Over, the tight rhythms manage to swing the hips and Jack The Bastard is like a cat o’ nine tails on the chunky riff. Elsewhere, Loose Booty is a half baked attempt at funking things up and is the sort of forced weirdness that even Prince would have turned up his nose at. Whipped! is something of a mixed bag for sure but it is not nearly as bad as it may be remembered and shows that despite all the odds, this Pussycat was still on the prowl creatively and had not shot all of its nine lives.
Faster Pussycat toured the Whipped! album with sold out shows in Japan but the band broke shortly on their return to the US. Taime Downe had long been interested in Industrial music and became involved with band Pigface before forming his own act The Newlydeads. There was a reunion (of sorts) in 2001 with three original members, Taime Downe, Brent Muscat and Greg Steele and the band released Between The Valley Of The Ultra Pussy which was classic tracks remixed in an industrial rock style – divisive with fans seeing as the band’s original sound was nowhere to be heard. There was a tour in 2001 but Greg Steele left part way through, Brent Muscat could not take part but did return briefly leaving again on health grounds. In 2006, there was a legal dispute over the name and Brent Muscat formed his own version of Faster Pussycat in direct opposition to Taime Downe’s industrial version. Muscat relinquished the claim a year later. The band continues to exist – although Taime Downe is the only original member and released a further album in 2006 The Power And The Glory Hole.
As recently as July 2022 Faster Pussycat announced signing to a new label with the intention of releasing new music.
The name Faster Pussycat may invoke a grimace at a bygone age but as a collection Babylon – The Elektra Years is a worthwhile retrospective of the band’s formative years. While Wake Me When It’s Over may be the overall best album but here is plenty to enjoy across the collection from a band that creatively were always aiming to raise their own bar.
This article is respectfully dedicated to the memory of Mark Steward. “Don’t Change That Song…”