Forgotten Hard Rock Albums: Warrant, "Dog Eat Dog" (1992)
Warrant—"Dog Eat Dog"
(Columbia Records, 1992)
The early 1990s witnessed one of the most shocking (and fastest) changing-of-the-guards in American rock music history. With just four words—"Smells Like Teen Spirit"—an unkempt band from the Pacific Northwest named Nirvana blasted onto MTV, radio, and the top of the Billboard charts, virtually destroying the reigning "Hair Metal" scene overnight. Suddenly, the pretty boy party-rock bands who'd been enjoying multi-platinum success just a year earlier were crashing en masse into the brick wall known as Grunge Rock. While most of the "hair bands" were dropped from their record labels, split up, and disappeared, a few survivors crawled from the wreckage and attempted to change with the times. One of those bands was Warrant, led by charismatic songwriter/vocalist Jani Lane (1964-2011). Their third major label release, 1992's Dog Eat Dog, was overlooked when it was current, but it has developed a devoted cult following in the years since.
Jani Lane told a now-famous story in many interviews about his band's experience at the dawn of the Grunge Decade. He recalled walking into the offices of Columbia Records for a meeting before the release of Warrant's soon-to-be-multi-platinum Cherry Pie album in 1990 and seeing a gigantic poster of the album's cover hanging behind the secretary's desk. Lane naturally said to himself, "Cool, we're the priority band!" Two years later, when he went to the same office prior to the release of Dog Eat Dog, there was an Alice in Chains poster behind that desk instead. Lane immediately thought, "Uh-oh." The writing was (literally) on the wall.
"Machine Gun" (1992)
Lane and Warrant were walking a fine line on Dog Eat Dog, trying to toughen up their sound without alienating their core fanbase - which, whether they wanted to admit it or not, were mainly teenage girls who swooned over power ballads like "Heaven" and "I Saw Red." The Dog Eat Dog album cover - a rendering of a heavily tattooed canine creature viciously biting its own arm - was the first hint at Warrant's leaner-and-meaner mindset, as was their choice of producer. Michael Wagener was a veteran of grittier recordings by Metallica, Accept and Megadeth as well as Skid Row's then recent Slave to the Grind, which had tweaked that band's sound in a heavier direction and still debuted at #1 on Billboard.
"Andy Warhol Was Right"
Songs about threesomes and comparing women's body parts to pastries (ala the previous album's "Love In Stereo" and "Cherry Pie") weren't going to cut it in this brave new world. With that in mind, many of Lane's lyrics for Dog Eat Dog were more adventurous and personal than ever before. Though the opening tracks "Machine Gun" ("love my little baby like a ma-ma-ma-machine gun") and "Hole In My Wall" are fairly typical for Warrant, the album soon takes a darker turn with a look into a possible apocalyptic future ("April 2031") and the album's moody highlight track, "Andy Warhol Was Right." - an examination of an ordinary person's obsession with the rich and famous, which eventually leads to murder ("I wanna bathe in your light... I wanna be on the news. if I take your life, it's nothing personal... just a boy and his toy gun, dying for attention").
"The Bitter Pill"
Aside from the oddball "Bitter Pill," which attempts to mix Sunset Strip hard rock with the multi-tracked grandiosity of Queen (complete with an out-of-nowhere "Bohemian Rhapsody" style operatic interlude in the middle, sung in German) and the awesome "Inside Out," a high speed rave up which is about as close as we'll ever get to hearing Warrant do thrash metal, the remainder of the tracks on Dog Eat Dog don't stray very far from typical Warrant territory. "Hollywood (So Far, So Good)" is a sarcastic look at the band's experience in the music business meat grinder, while "All My Bridges Are Burning" and "Let It Rain" are satisfactory melodic rockers. Wagener's production lends extra bite to the gang-shouted "Bonfire" and the album closes with the semi-acoustic ballad "Sad Theresa," which is a worthy sequel to "I Saw Red."
Dog Eat Dog was released by Columbia Records in August of 1992 and though it managed to reach #25 on the Billboard charts and eventually achieved Gold Record status (500,000 copies sold), the album was seen as a failure compared to its multi-platinum predecessors, and Columbia Records soon dropped the band.
After signing to CMC International - an indie label known for scooping up '80s rockers abandoned by the major labels - they went on to release Ultraphobic (1995) and Belly to Belly (1996) for a smaller but still appreciative audience. Sadly, Jani Lane's struggles with depression and alcohol, as well as frustration with the music business in general, began taking their toll on his health. Lane's last recording with Warrant was the 2001 covers album Under the Influence. After several unsuccessful attempts at launching a solo career and an abortive reunion of the classic Warrant lineup, Jani Lane was found dead of acute alcohol poisoning in a California hotel room in August of 2011. He was 47 years old
Warrant continues to tour and has released three studio albums since Lane's exit - 2006's Born Again with vocalist Jamie St. James (ex-Black N Blue), and 2011's Rockaholic and 2017's Louder Harder Faster with singer Robert Mason (ex-Lynch Mob).
"This isn't the Warrant You're Looking For."
Helpful hint: if this review has intrigued you and you want to go searching for a copy of this CD, make sure you don't accidentally pick up Warrant, a 1992 EP by the New Jersey based hardcore band Dog Eat Dog. The title of the EP (which was released the same year as Warrant's album) is obviously a lighthearted jab from the Dog Eat Dog guys for using "their" name as an album title, but as years have passed, it seems that people are missing the joke (or not doing their homework) before clicking the "BUY NOW" button. One angry Amazon review for the hardcore band's CD reads, "Don't make the mistake I did! I thought this was a release from the hair metal band WARRANT ... my impression of this band: they need music lessons and can't sing for sh*t!"
© 2015 Keith Abt