I’m sorry … did you say Winger? As in, the worst hair-metal stereotype to crawl out of the ’80s, that Winger? The band whose front man appeared on the cover of Playgirl, that Winger? The one whose biggest hit was a song about statutory rape—that Winger?
Winger is really a footnote in hair metal history—they didn’t even rate a mention in Mr Bad Example’s excellent Scene Spotlight from earlier this year. Mostly, they’re remembered as a punch line from Beavis and Butt-Head, or as the band whose lead singer was attacked, in effigy, by a dart-wielding Lars Ulrich in the video for Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters.”
There’s also the time their biggest hit, “Seventeen,” came in for a bashing on the 1999 MTV special 25 Lame, in which Jon Stewart, Denis Leary, Janeane Garofalo, and Chris Kattan provided commentary on 25 music videos deemed the worst ever. Winger was on the list at No. 12; at least that’s better than Eddie Murphy’s “Whatzupwitu” (No. 3) and Don Johnson’s 1986 disaster, “Heartbeat” (No. 1).
I watched that special when it aired, and it seemed pretty mean-spirited at the time. I don’t think Garofalo or Kattan would like it too much if Eddie and Don Johnson made a TV show ripping on Dog Park and A Night at the Roxbury.
Here are some facts about Winger that you didn’t know.
Kip Winger writes classical music. He cut a record with the San Francisco Ballet orchestra that went to No. 3 on the Billboard classical chart.
Winger guitarist Reb Beach has played for Whitesnake, Chaka Khan and the Bee Gees, and appeared in Wayne’s World as a member of Alice Cooper’s band.
Winger keyboardist Paul Taylor co-wrote the theme song to the ’90s sitcom Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.
I swear, you can’t make this shit up.
Anyway, I’m not going to offer some full-throated defense of Winger’s early output. Most of their ’80s material comes across as watered-down Def Leppard or Mötley Crüe. When your biggest hit would’ve sounded better with Vince Neil singing, I think that speaks volumes.
After breaking up in 1994, Winger reunited in 2001 to take advantage of the nostalgia tour industry, and has since released three new records. I listened to all of these albums for this Spotlight, in hopes of finding a hidden gem or two, and I’m pleased to report there are some. IV, from 2006, is a metal/prog-rock concept album with a dark view of the second Gulf War, which is about as far from “Seventeen” as you can get. The record mostly succeeds, though I have no interest in listening to it more than once.
2014’s Better Days Comin’ is not great. There are a couple of up-tempo tracks, pretty straightforward metal, while the rest of the songs are sludgey attempts at power balladry. I’d rather talk about 2009’s Karma. On this record, Winger’s sound is generally unchanged from their hair metal heyday, and their shortcomings are all still on well-lit display. For instance, the lyrics remain insipid, and, despite Kip Winger’s claims that his band’s music is so technically advanced Metallica could never play it, most of the songs do not impress.
Except for “Witness,” the last song off of Karma, which I highly recommend.This seven-minute epic opens with a string section, closes with a haunting choir, and in between features a massive guitar solo from Reb Beach that I’d put up against Slash’s best any day of the week.
That’s it for now. Keep on rocking!