Remember the hair-metal era? A time when MTV promoted a parade of bands boasting spandex, copious blasts of Aqua Net, and enough eyeliner to make Max Factor wince?
Bands such as Ratt, Poison, Mötley Crüe and the "White" brigade - White Lion, Whitesnake and Great White - sold millions of albums, made ridiculous videos, and never earned anything close to critical acceptance. Now the genre that Kurt Cobain and grunge rock were credited with killing in 1991 seems to be roaring back, replete with dry-ice machines and rock god guitar posturing.
Rather than the Sunset Strip, though, Suffolk, England, has spawned the new brigade. That is, after all, the home of The Darkness, an over-the-top British band intent on celebrating, and chuckling over, the genre's dumbed-down formula.
"Something's happening that shows a revival and nostalgia for this music," says John Kalodner, an executive at the Sanctuary Group who worked with Whitesnake and Aerosmith. "It went out of vogue for awhile, but bands like The Darkness show it's coming back."
A combination of forces - nostalgia from the teens turned 30somethings reared on poodle rock, a yearning for escapism, and endless music-network rehashes of the '80s - has given both newcomers and veterans currency, if not credibility.
Led by brothers Justin and Dan Hawkins, The Darkness exploded onto the British music scene earlier this year. The band released a 38-minute CD, "Permission to Land," filled with AC/DC-meets-Warrant riffs and "Spinal Tap"-worthy convictions ("Love On The Rocks With No Ice").
The album has sold 650,000 copies and garnered gushing profiles. One London newspaper dubbed the band a "blast of fresh hair." Justin Hawkins, sporting a cat-striped leotard, evokes Freddie Mercury's falsetto with a dash of Axl Rose's yowling. Quick, find Cinderella and get them back to the (headbanger's) ball.
Industry experts say the hard rock genre never disappeared. Instead, it was cloaked in other guises: first grunge and, later, rap-rock hybrids.
With the recent arrival of garage rockers such as the White Stripes and the Hives, it didn't take much to spur a hair-metal revival. In 1999, for example, Poison began an annual summer tour packaged with fellow practitioners such as Winger. The outings didn't produce dramatic album sales, but the touring business proved solid. "The Darkness have made a splash because they put on a fun, exciting show," says Bret Michaels, Poison's lead singer. "If it's something you love and enjoy, it will last. You can fool people for one record, but you can't fool them for 18 years."
His reference isn't random: Poison began playing arena shows in, yes, 1986 (and is one month away from its 18th birthday).
Mr. Michaels says it wasn't so much grunge that killed pop metal but, instead, the marketing of Flannel Rock Nation. Too many members of the power-ballad set tried to glom onto grunge, rather than sticking with glam.
Whatever the cause, the increasingly rapid recycling of pop culture has begun paying dividends. Bon Jovi played to sellouts on its US tour this year. Universal Records has just launched a series of Mötley Crüe box sets titled "Music To Crash Your Car To."
Perhaps the most compelling test arrives next spring, with the debut of Velvet Revolver, a new act signed by eternal hitmaker and RCA Music Group chairman Clive Davis. Even the band name evokes the dunderhead tradition. (What, after all, is a velvet revolver?)
More important, Velvet Revolver pairs pop metal with grunge. The band's lead singer is former Stone Temple Pilots front man Scott Weiland. His band mates include the former guitarist (Slash), bassist (Duff McKagan) and drummer (Matt Sorum) from Guns N' Roses.
"These kinds of bands were written off in their heyday and I don't expect it to change this time around," says Mr. Kalodner, the artist-and-repertoire executive. "One thing that gets overlooked is that Bon Jovi and Mötley Crüe wrote a lot of great songs. That's why people liked them. It wasn't just costumes."
While few cultural observers are willing to cede much merit to the genre, "there's no bar you can go in where 'Sweet Child O' Mine' comes on and people won't go nuts," says Sean Ross, vice president of music and programming at Edison Media Research. "That includes downtown Manhattan."
Such, um, metal resonance, to riff on the illustrious Tesla, is the point of Fargo Rock City, a 2001 memoir by Spin magazine writer Chuck Klosterman.
"We didn't necessarily dress in leather chaps and we didn't wear makeup to school, but this stuff touched our minds," he writes. "Regardless of its artistic merit, Guns N' Roses 1987 'Appetite for Destruction' affected the guys in my shop class the same way teens in 1967 were touched by Paul McCartney and John Lennon."
For all that, Kalodner says the renaissance won't just be retreads. "This has always been a genre of young bands," he says. "I'm starting to get demo tapes with that sound again. It's an exciting time."
This can only be good news for Aqua Net.