AROUND 1982-83 a whole new generation of West Coast hard-rock bands landed record contracts as the hopeful heirs of Van Halen. Night Ranger, Great White, Quiet Riot and Motley Crue brought the slick production values of the video age to the time-honored formulas of heavy metal.
Unfortunately, this showbiz savvy only made those formulas sound more contrived than ever.
San Francisco's multi-platinum Night Ranger has applied Alan Fitzgerald's new-wave keyboards to the hard-rock cliche's for an easy-to-swallow hard-pop sound on their new album, "Big Life." Ozzy Osbourne alum Brad Gillis still plays the chainsaw guitar, and Jack Blades still twists his tonsils, but the production is so glitzy that the raw edge is gone. Without that edge, the marshmallow softness at the center of the songs is more apparent than ever. The first single, the theme from "The Secret of My Success," is as silly as the movie; the second single, "Hearts Away," is the kind of overblown ballad that has given the band hits in the past.
L.A.'s Great White is the most old-fashioned of the new hard-rock bands; this quintet harks back to the blues-based sound of Led Zeppelin, with Jack Russell imitating Robert Plant's shrieking falsetto and Mark Kendall imitating Jimmy Page's power chords. On their new album, "Once Bitten," Great White proves to be a good revivalist band but has nothing new to add to an exhausted genre. Newcomer Michael Lardie adds boogie-woogie piano and state-of-the-art engineering but can't compensate for the overall cliche'd excess.
NIGHT RANGER --
"Big Life" (MCA 5839).
GREAT WHITE --
"Once Bitten" (Capitol ST-12565).
Both appearing Sunday at Merriweather Post Pavilion.