It's hard to believe that Little Caesar is this band's first album; Little Caesar's members sound rock-solid and assured, as if they've been around for years. But then their reputation precedes them. Insiders will tell you they're the strongest up-to-now-unrecorded band in the Hollywood hard-rock scene that produced Guns N' Roses and Motley Crue.
But unlike most of its hard-rock competition, Little Caesar doesn't celebrate life in the gutter. Instead, it celebrates working-class life, which includes such favorite hard-rock pastimes as motorcycles, drinking, and women, but never as an empty fantasy of liberation. Work remains trying, as the band sings in ''Hard Times'': ''Blood is what I'm giving/All they want is cash.''
The group moves away from the hard-rock norm in other ways, too. The band members are tough, sure, but they're also easygoing; they seem to have no need for attitude. ''Yeah, we're nice guys,'' they've been quoted as saying. ''You got a problem with that?'' What's more important, though, is that they sing like nice guys, especially in an arching ballad called ''In Your Arms.'' For once we hear a hard-rock band softening its voice, not to come on to a woman but to celebrate mature love.
Little Caesar is also one of the rare hard-rock bands that celebrate black music. In ''Rock-N-Roll State of Mind'' the band confesses something not always acknowledged, that back in the mid-'50s ''white boys'' stole rock from blacks. More remarkably still, it sings two black classics, the Temptations' ''I Wish It Would Rain'' and Aretha Franklin's ''Chain of Fools,'' translating both into its own rugged musical language in a way that honors the much more fluid sound of the originals.
None of this would be very convincing, though, if Little Caesar didn't rock. Drummer Tom Morris keeps a beat that pounds like a gigantic heart. Singer Ron Young opens his burly throat and pours out passion enough for 10 bands. Lead guitarist Apache (he goes by just one name) explores corners you didn't know the music had. You can even hear the guys in the band draw strength from each other, just as they would in a killer live performance. Listen long enough and even some of the songs the Temptations and Aretha didn't sing start to sound as if you've known them all your life.