Poison’s first two albums sold millions of copies, but the band got no critical respect. Its music was damned as hard-rock candy. Its songs sounded like escapes into fantasy, and were dramatized that way in two videos, ”Nothing But a Good Time,” in which a guy runs away from a dead-end job as a dishwasher, and ”Fallen Angel,” which has a girl fleeing her tired mid-American family.
This third record, Flesh & Blood, is harder and more realistic. Like the earlier ones, it’s full of standard hard-rock preoccupations: music as liberation (in ”Let It Play”) and sex as pure fun (in ”Unskinny Bop,” the first single and one of the most irresistibly dumb and catchy new songs released in recent months). In ”Come Hell or High Water,” Poison screams defiance at anyone who ever tried to hold the group back. But other songs actually sound thoughtful. Among these new mutations are ”Life Goes On,” a sloppy power ballad in which voices raised in raw harmony mourn a torn-off love affair, and ”Something to Believe In,” an anthem of hope improbably pieced together from four tales of trouble, including the all-too-true story of the tragic death of the band’s security guard. There’s a grinding song about deep physical and emotional bonding, ”(Flesh & Blood) Sacrifice,” and even an old-fashioned blues.
But the album has two problems. The first is that, in taking life more seriously, Poison is taking itself more seriously, too. So the album is packed with random Poison souvenirs — guitar fragments, studio chatter, even messages from drummer Rikki Rockett’s sister’s answering machine.
And the second problem is that Poison plays eagerly but not very well. The four guys never quite agree on where the beat comes. Listen to the album once, and that’s an amiable weakness. But after I listened repeatedly, it began to make me feel as if I were wearing a shirt that wasn’t tucked in right. Which is too bad, because apart from the playing there’s lots on this album to smile at, and lots to respect.