Saigon Kick – ‘The Lizard’ (1992/2018) – Album Review

For my last You Pick It vote, I had a tie between Queensryche’s ‘Hear in the Now Frontier’ and with Saigon Kick’s ‘The Lizard’. Last week reviewed Queensryche and this week, as promised, we have Saigon Kick. Mike Ladano from agreed to tag team with me here and he is also reviewing this album so go check it out as it came out today as well. Go to Mike’s Lizard Review here.

Saigon Kick had a problem in 1992. Mis-labeling was their problem. Due to their massive power ballad hit, “Love is On the Way”, they got dumped in to the 80’s Glam Rock scene (or Hair Metal) when in fact, they were not even close to anything that sounded like that. People who bought this thinking it was the next Danger Danger, Trixter or maybe even Bon Jovi were surprised at what they heard. They weren’t Grunge either so they were a band that had no real marketable identity at the time. They were alternative, but to melodic for them and not metal enough for the glam. What a weird place to be. The timing sucked for them as well with the Glam scene dying at an alarmingly fast rate and Grunge taking over, just where did this band fit in the mold.

Saigon Kick’s sophomore album, ‘The Lizard’, was a diverse collection of rock songs that defied classification. The songs were so well crafted, so mature and unlike anything else at the time. The closest band I would say would be Extreme as they were also had a diverse, eclectic set of songs and because of their ballads also got lumped in to the Hair scene, unfairly as well I might add. The band was Matt Kramer (Vocals), Jason Bieler (Guitar, keyboard), Tom DeFile (Bass) and Phil Varone Drums). The bands second album saw Jason step up and produce the album and do most of the heavy lifting with the songwriting as he wrote all the music and had his hand in all but three of the songs on the lyrics. The album was released on June 2, 1992 and sold well, going to #1 on the Heatseekers Album Chart and #80 on the Billboard 200 chart. It did get certified Gold selling over 500,000 copies some time around 1996 though.

I was a fan of that ballad I mentioned earlier, but back in the day, I didn’t buy this album. I didn’t buy it until last year after I saw Jeff Scott Soto and Jason Bieler in concert together. They played mostly Saigon Kick songs and I had forgotten how great those songs were so I ran out and bought the band’s first three albums off Rock Candy. This version of the album has massive liner notes all new for this reissue and a bonus track. To top it off, thanks to the clout of The LeBrain Train show, I was able to snag Jason Bieler for an interview and Mike Ladano and I interviewed him for that show. It was a lot of fun and great diving in to his career.

The album opens with “Cruelty” (which is a song not an actual thing they did). An interlude of sorts that was both eerie, creepy and yet dramatic and exciting at the same time. It went straight in to the first track called “Hostile Youth” which comes out rocking, hard and heavy. It was melodic while not being glam, if that makes sense. It had an edge to it and a sound that made stand out from that genre. Bieler’s guitar work was sensational with his deep, crunchy riffs and a solo that was more metal than anything and showed this band meant business and was here to give us something we hadn’t heard before.

“Feel the Same Way” is a little more punchy, more upbeat and a little brighter than the opening track. The chorus was big with both Matt and Jason’s vocal harmonizing great together. The song feels more alternative and shows the band can change styles and has a lot to offer. “Freedom” comes exploding in with some rip-roaring guitars and an almost a cross between Skid Row and Jane’s Addiction especially with Matt’s vocals. The song breaks into a spoken lyric part in a whole U2 Bono style before coming back and rocking out to the end.

Next up is “God of 42nd Street” and it might be the best song on the album. It is a little Beatlesque and psychedelic at times. A great groove laid down by Tom DeFile and Kramer’s vocals, which are so unique, just meshes beautifully with the music. And of course, Bieler’s guitar work sort of floats around, hitting its stride on the solo. A real treat of a song. Then with “My Dog” gives me a whole Red Hot Chili Pepper & Jane’s Addiction vibe with it’s crazy groove and wacky vocal delivery. At only 52 seconds, it was short and sweet and left you wanting more.

“Peppermint Tribe” is more psychedelia with a slightly heavier tinge to it. It also feels a little like prog, but with that solo it is still drenched in heavy metal. Then we get to the ballad that bought Jason’s house with “Love is On the Way”. Thanks to MTV this song got played a lot. It went to #12 on the Top 40 charts and went Gold selling over 500,000 copies of the song, just like the album. The song was pure power ballad perfection with emotional vocals, the softer verses and the more powerful chorus. The acoustic guitar work by Jason was superb and I liked Phil’s drumming, subtle yet effective. The song was a blessing and a curse for the band at the same time. However, I doubt they’d change anything as it got them noticed.

The title track, “The Lizard”, was up next and opened with a slight western vibe with a spit and a “Howdy Stranger” before crashing in to the song. A heavy rock track with some serious riffage going on and some of Jason’s best work. The song is straight-up, in your face rock full of attitude and angst. Matt matches the vocals with that intensity. A killer track for sure. “All Alright” is more aggressive rock & roll, in same vein as Skid Row, yet a little alternative rock as well. He sounds a little like a pissed of Perry Farrell, but I guess Perry was always pissed off.

We get another interlude type track with “Sleep” which is some keyboards and guitar work, nice and simple and it could lull you to sleep. At only a minute that is good, any longer and you might fall asleep. We then go into another of my favorite tracks on the album, “All I Want”. A psychedelic track, with a dreamy guitar sound that makes you feel like you are floating in the air. Very Beatles-esque sounding vocals (with a little more attitude). I am not sure if it is a ballad or a slower rocker, but either way, another beautiful track.

Then we get “Body Bags” which was actually used in the TV movie called ‘Beyond the Law’. The song borders on Thrash as it is heavy and fast in its delivery. Matt spits out the lyrics at breakneck speed with just as much angst. The music chugs along with deep, heavy riffs and a lot of pounding drums. The band can get heavy when they need to and its great. “Miss Jones” goes back to the melodic, yet a little alternative rock. The chorus is catchy and very upbeat and has a great hook. A more radio friendly track than most thanks to that chorus. This about as plain and cookie cutter song you will get from the band…yet still great.

“World Goes Around” takes us on a different ride, a wondrous journey that is a little psychedelic and a whole lot of dreamy. They are stretching the wings here and giving us another Beatles inspired journey and what a ride it is. They definitely are keeping things interesting and I applaud that. The album ends with a fun, almost novelty type song called “Chanel”. It’s upbeat, jovial guitar work and old-timey vocal styling make this a toe-tapping, enjoyable listen. It is nice to see the band have a little fun and sprinkle in a little humor. The bonus track is “Dear Prudence” and shows for sure, that the Beatles were a major influence in the band. They make it their own as it sounds exactly like them, but they still keep the heart of the song there. A fine cover.

What I love about this album is it’s diverse, eclectic set of songs. There is nothing boring about this thing at all. But that could be a little downfall as well as there is no specific identity either. However, there is no denying the production on this is fantastic, the songwriting is heads & shoulders above other bands at this time. With songs like “Gods of 42nd Street”, “All I Want”, “Hostile Youth” and even “Love is on the Way”, the band stands out and the fact they couldn’t find their place, tells me they were ahead of their time and under-appreciated. I really love this album and hate I missed it at the time. I did love the ballad, but never bought the album…which was mainly because i just started my first adult job after college and money was tight…that is my excuse and I’m sticking with it. Now, My Overall Score is 4.0 Stars out of 5.0 Stars. A stellar release and I wish they would’ve had more recognition at the time.

Now, if you want to watch the interview Mike and I did with Jason Bieler, click below…

23 thoughts on “Saigon Kick – ‘The Lizard’ (1992/2018) – Album Review

  1. As I said on Mike’s review…

    I’ve never heard this album, but I’ve always been interested in checking it out. Mr. Phil Varone of pornographic fame on the drums. Most recently playing with Jake E. Lee’s Red Dragon Cartel I believe. Their second album Patina was great. Recommended.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Jake E. Lee is many things. Prolific at releasing material, he is not. I get the feeling from interviews you can’t make him do anything he doesn’t want to do.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I love Rock Candy’s releases. They always put in great liner notes, and the albums always sound great. Whoever does their remastering deserves a raise.

    I never got steered toward this band, back in the day. It’s never too late to look at Rock Candy’s new releases though! Thanks for this.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s been a minute since I played this one. It stuck out like a sore thumb when it was released, pretty interesting to see that song getting airplay alongside all the crazy music of the time. It’s one of those “better than it gets credit for” records.

    Liked by 1 person

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