VANDENBERG’S MOONKINGS – MK II

Adrian Vandenberg. It’s impossible to not mention Whitesnake when his name pops up. To me, the “real” Whitesnake existed between 1978-1984, after that Whitesnake felt more like David Coverdale’s solo project and the music changed so much that it didn’t feel like the same band anymore. I really like Whitesnake from 1987 and onwards but the 78-84 versions are superior, in my book. I know that Whitesnake have always had the best of musicians but the amazing groove, the feel, the rootsy rock of the old band just aren’t there anymore. What I’m getting to is that I think that Adrian Vandenberg is the only musician (guitarist) in Whitesnake after 1987 that could have taken a place in the “old” Whitesnake without going arena rock on their rhythm & blues based classic rock that was their brand back then. I also have a feeling that Whitesnake’s Slip of The Tongue would have sounded a lot different had Vandenberg been the major player on that record. To me, Vandenberg is the player that got away – Coverdale should have made sure he stayed put.

After a long hiatus – he was away from the scene for 17 years – Vandenberg made a comeback with his new band Moonkings in 2014. Vandenberg had the ill-fated but underrated Manic Eden in 1994 and the last we heard of him was the Starkers In Tokyo, the acoustic record of Whitesnake songs with only him and Coverdale, but after that, complete quietness except for a guest appearance with Whitesnake at Sweden Rock in 2011. For me, the self-titled debut from Moonkings came as a really, really nice surprise. I mean, I know Vandenberg have all the potential to make it on his own, something the three albums he made with his pre-Whitesnake band Vandenberg and Manic Eden proved, but I am totally in love with the Moonkings debut. The Whitesnake comparison is pretty obvious as the classic rock with clear rhythm & blues influences are all over that album and singer Jan Hoving has a lot of classic David Coverdale in him. But the biggest thing with that album was that the songs – pretty much all of them – were so bloody awesome. This is an album I still listen to frequently and hasn’t left my playlist since the day it came out. Do I need to point out that the expectations for this record are sky-high?

Opener and first single “Tightrope” shows that the style of the debut continues here. It’s a mid-paced, slammin’, groove-laden classic rock tune with all the ingredients of 70’s hard rock – Whitesnake, Led Zeppelin, Bad Company – are there. It’s a pretty stripped and down-to-earth rocker that holds a distinct refrain that brings the tune home, just as I had hoped for. Great! “Reputation” is an energetic hard rocker, faster in tempo and more straight forward in your face. It’s a bit rougher and kicking than the opener and there’s an obvious Zep influence here but at the same time very catchy. Great tune! The infectious groove of “Angel In Black” makes me feel as I am in a small rock club with the band going nuts on stage. It’s upbeat, swinging and direct with a chorus that’s memorable without aiming for air-play at all. An album track written for the stage and the band brings it home like it was the easiest thing on earth. Very, very good indeed.

Seven minute epic “The Fire” starts out a bit dreamy with a bit of a late 60’s vibe but soon turns into a steady, 70’s classic rock monster with a bad-ass groove and a Led Zep meets Deep Purple vibe and on top of that lies a refrain that is impossible to resist. The first ballad out is called “Walk Away”. Big and bombastic, complete with a brilliant string arrangement, it sure brings an emotional touch that makes my hairs stand. It’s smooth and beautiful but also with lots of depth and passion – awesome stuff! “All Or Nothing” (really, hasn’t that title been used to death by now? Perhaps someone should introduce an “All Or Nothing”-fine…) is a more stripped rocker with a bass and drum rhythm that makes me think of Mr Big. However, the tune itself is a bit forgettable and fails to make an impact here. Second single “What Doesn’t Kill You” follows and it’s a pretty obvious single choice. It’s based on 70’s classic rock but also sports a big pop influence especially in the catchier than catchy chorus. The acoustic guitars and strings also gives the tune a lift – brilliant!

“Ready For The Taking” comes with a huge blues oriented groove and swings like crazy. It’s a rootsy tune that holds both a memorable melody and tough and steady beat. Should be a future live killer. The uptempo pop-rocker “New Day” should be in line as a single as the hit-potential here is big. It’s a tune that is more melodic arena rock of the late 80’s even though the 70’s influence is lurking in the shadows – very catchy, very good. The Zeppelin and Free influence on “Hard Way” is enormous, almost too big for comfort. Sure, it’s a rough, ballsy and distinct classic rock tune with a striking rhythm but it doesn’t really go anywhere. A good song, but this band have better ones. “Love Runs Out” – actually a cover of pop band OneRepublic’s hit song – sports a magnificent groove and a beat impossible to stand still to and a rock edge that marries brilliantly with pop-laden melodies and the distinct and catchy chorus. A great song that I’d release as a single if I was them. They close the album in a great way with “If You Can’t Handle The Heat”, a big-grooved, steady rocker with a ballsy and punchy rhythm. It rocks hard but comes with a killer melody and a magnificent refrain. That’s how you close an album with a bang!

To wrap this up, I think that if you were into the debut, you’ll be into this one as well because this is much a sister album to the debut. The differences are few, but they are there. For starters, the production here is a bit more stripped, raw, basic and earthy and the 70’s feel is a bit more prominent here. The debut album had all that as well but felt a bit more polished with more 80’s influences. Maybe this is because of the touring the band has been up to in between albums. The quality of Vandenberg’s playing is as high as ever and Hoving’s Coverdale meets Paul Rodgers style vocals is also a winner, I think but what speaks the most here is just how tight the rhythm section of bassist Sem Christoffel and drummer Mart Nijen is. Yes, Vandenberg’s Moonkings really feels like a unit, a real band and not just Adrian’s solo band. Song wise, I still hold the debut slightly better but that’s marginally – this is a brilliant record as well. That said, that might have changed a year from now. Last but not least, this is a band I would love to see live because I think they will work even better from the stage. Do you hear me Sweden Rock?

8/10

More Vandenberg’s Moonkings reviews:

Vandenberg’s Moonkings

Tracklist:

1. Tightrope
2. Reputation
3. Angel In Black
4. The Fire
5. Walk Away
6. All Or Nothing
7. What Doesn’t Kill You
8. Ready For The Taking
9. New Day
10. Hard Way
11. Love Runs Out
12. If You Can’t Handle The Heat

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