Sometimes, music criticism in the 21st century can seem like one big, hapless exercise in re-evaluation. The ascension of poptimism means we can no longer scoff at or ascribe shame to mainstream commercial tastes, and when critics aren’t heaping praise on the Beyoncés and Taylor Swifts of the world, we’re turning back the clock and heaping overdue praise on disco and other trends that made our forebears cringe. But one genre that tends to get lost in this orgy of reexamination is perhaps the most garish, excessive, and commercial-driven of them all: Hair metal.
A popification of metal that began with late ’70s glam rock and spanned the entire subsequent decade, hair metal continues to be shunned by most folks who consume music critically and self-seriously. It lives on in the minds of fiftysomethings who remember being there, whether “there” constitutes a trashed Vegas hotel room or the sordid greenroom at West Hollywood’s Troubadour nightclub.
Defined by its hedonistic baggage as much as its blistering riffs and shout-at-the-sky choruses, hair metal has a definite PR problem in today’s musical landscape. After all, isn’t this the dumb crap Nirvana and all those other great ’90s alt-rock bands pushed back against? Isn’t this the stuff that preached style over substance and eventually morphed into reality TV dreck like Rock of Love and Tommy Lee Goes to College? Yes. It is. But here’s the thing: Some of it also kind of rules.
You might think we’re scraping the bottom of rock’s barrel by stumping for hair metal, but hear us out. This shameless and shameful genre actually spawned a ton of great records that fans of punk, hard rock, heavy metal, and even blues shouldn’t dismiss out of hand. To prove it, we’ve assembled a chronological list of 10 hair metal albums that definitively do not suck. And we didn’t even have to include Appetite for Destruction!
If you’re a hater, we hope you find something here that changes your mind or reinforces your iron-clad prejudices. On that note, leather up and enjoy.
Senior Staff Writer