Since 1980s hair metal was all about excess, it's appropriate that this collection of the decade's "essential" rock balladry is, for lack of a better word, excessive. But it's also thoroughly misguided, as Cleopatra Records has simply cobbled together a loose assortment of live tracks, covers, and re-recorded songs. Not a single track on This Is Rock Ballads! comes from its original source; instead, the two-disc collection is congested with irrelevant versions of songs that lose their spark outside of their '80s context. In fact, "context" is the exact thing that Cleopatra seems to be avoiding here. There's no telling when these re-tooled songs were recorded, or even which members were involved, and the scant liner notes (featuring the original credits and nothing more) are less than helpful. So while we're treated to two Warrant tunes (including a lackluster remake of "Heaven," complete with noodling piano and a drum machine), only the label execs know which era they're from, and only true Warrant fans will be able to deduce that it's Jani Lane singing, not his subsequent replacement Jaime St. James. Another blunder is the collection's track listing, which inexplicably pairs bands like Starship and Atlanta Rhythm Section with a slew of hair metal heavyweights. What is Howard Jones doing here? Why in the world is B.J. Thomas' "Hooked on a Feeling" sandwiched between selections from Winger and Poison? And who authorized Ronnie James Dio to cover "Dream On," a song that -- like "Hooked on a Feeling" -- isn't even from the '80s? Such a lack of organization is unfortunate, because several of these artists have aged rather well despite their waning audiences. Great White sound surprisingly tight on a cover of "Stairway to Heaven," and Cinderella's Tom Keifer retains his platinum-selling, banshee-styled screech on a live cut of "Nobody's Fool." Regrettably, the compilation still suffers, a victim of Cleopatra Records' illogical track assembly and indifferent packaging. Fans would do better to track down Razor & Tie's Monster Ballads series, which is much more indispensable to the genre than this "Essential '80s Box" can ever claim to be.
AllMusic Review by Andrew Leahey
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2