If you are wanting a little background information San Francisco's Y&T, then read the review of 1982's "Black Tiger" first, so I don't have to repeat it here. "Mean Streak" is one of two seminal Y&T albums that have recently been digitally re-mastered and re-released on CD. Originally released in 1983, "Mean Streak" is far and away the definitive Y&T release. The riffs never sounded better, the vocal harmonizing of bassist Philip Kennemore and rhythm guitarist Joey Alves is fantastic, Dave Meniketti's lead guitar burns hotter than ever before, and the songwriting is elevated to new heights.
Fans will debate it, but to me there is no better Y&T song than the title track. Granted, the album was my first introduction to the band, so there is always the risk of nostalgia clouding objectivity. Regardless, no one could argue that the main riff is immediately recognizable and vintage to the bone. The tale of one man's hopeless struggle against his nasty, spendthrift woman is belted out so convincingly by Meniketti that you almost feel as though it is happening to you (and maybe it is). The vocal harmony line on the chorus immediately tells the listener that the band has found its identity, one characterized by an incredible ability to combine gripping melody (led by that wonderful harmonizing) with riff-based hard rock that was unmatched at the time.
My personal love of the title track aside, one could make a strong argument for "Midnight in Tokyo" being the song that includes the best that Y&T had to offer. The superb arrangement kicks off with weepy twin-guitar leads that give way to a galloping crunch. Then through the smoke the verse emerges with a spine-tingling, laid back Kennemore bass line and light 'n' jazzy guitar, building back again to the heavy section and tossing in more vocal harmonizing before the big chorus hits. The track is also one of many that showcases Y&T's secret weapon, the active bass work of Kennemore ("Breaking Away" is another great example of it). "Midnight in Tokyo" is one amazing song and I'm sure my feeble description doesn't do it justice.
In addition to the title track, "Straight Thru the Heart" and "Hang 'Em High" are the album's main balls-out metal rockers. The former is a rough 'n' ready mid-tempo, stop-start stomper that features drummer Haze's hard-hitting accents and fills, the latter a NWOBHM-tinged rocker with a shout-worthy chorus and (once again) lush backing vocals. "Down and Dirty" could also be thrown into this category, although it is more of a KISS-AC/DC call-and-response, fun-filled ditty.
Picking up where "Don't Wanna Lose You" (from "Black Tiger") left off, "Lonely Side of Town" and "Sentimental Fool" are the album's pop-infused, melodic rock moments. The first line of "Lonely Side of Town" is another classic Y&T moment. As Meniketti's melancholy lead guitar fades and the music drops out, one hears "It's a cold, cold ci-tayyy". The beat picks up again and Dave continues with "…when you're out there on your own", followed by Kennemore and Alves' response of "on you're oowwwwnnnn". OK, I guess you've just got to hear it. It's a wonderful song. "Sentimental Fool" is more straightforward and commercial in its approach, defined by the Meniketti/Alves guitar harmonizing and radio-friendly appeal. (You can read the Kennemore's thoughts on several of these tracks in the new liner notes, which also include commentary from Meniketti and Alves).
The meat-and-potatoes rock of "Breaking Away" and the filthy blues swagger of "Take You to the Limit" round out the album. A bonus track called "I'm Not Sorry" is also included. It is a basic, kinda sleazy, mid-paced rock tune that (according to the liner notes) was the first song that Y&T wrote as a band. New lyrics, melody, and lead guitar tracks were added in 2005. Not too shabby, but nothing spectacular.
"Mean Streak" never gets old, never sounds dated, and always rocks my world. If you want to hear the sound of Y&T at the top of its game, then this is the album for you.