When Finish rockers Hanoi Rocks split up for the second time back in 2009, lead singer Michael Monroe – Matti Fagerholm to his family – wasted no time in getting a new band together. Together with guitarists Ginger (The Wildhearts) and Steve Conti, bassist Sami Yaffa (who was Monroe’s Hanoi Rocks band-mate back in the 80’s) and drummer Karl Rockfist (his passport says Rosquist, though), they released the great album Sensory Overdrive in 2011 – his finest effort to date, in my humble opinion – and toured their tiny asses off to support it. But Ginger and Monroe didn’t see eye to eye and Ginger split and with him he took a million hooks, gluey pop-melodies and shitloads of hit-potential. His replacement, Backyard Babies and Hellacopters man Dregen also knows how to write that and therefore the follow-up, 2013’s Horns And Halos became another really good record – albeit not as even and strong as its predecessor.
The collaboration with Dregen didn’t last long either – the guy’s schedule was busier than a hair-spray’s salesman at Sunset Strip in 1988 – so once again Michael had to find himself another guitar player. This time a guy named Rich Jones, an Englishamn who incidentally had played with Ginger previously, was chosen for the job. Personally, I wasn’t aware of who he was so for me, being a new aquaintance and I wasn’t sure of his sing-writing qualities – if he had none at all. The follow-up was called Blackout State and was released in 2015, an album that impressed me enough to grant it an 8/10. This is why the new album – the first with the same line-up as its predecessor – comes with some great expectations.
The leading single and title-track opens the album – and it’s total Michael Monroe music from beginning to end. It’s upbeat, rough, raw, rowdy and punky with a lot of don’t-give-fuck attitude and even if the chorus slows things down some, it keeps all the rowdy punkiness. It holds a sticky chorus as well, where all the hooks are impossible to shake off. For good measure, Monroe invited The Damned’s Captain Sensible to guest on the song and he accepted and brought in some crunchy guitars to the mix. Yes, I really dig this one. Latest single “Last Train To Tokyo” is the kinda song you wish to be a big hit. Uptempo and raw, the song brings on a striking groove, memorable melodies where Classic Rock meets both Pop and some Hanoi Rocks style Glam with a refrain so catchy and sticky that super-glue comes off as water in comparison. What’s not to love about that, huh?
“Junk Planet” is a sleaze-bag of a song, rough and rowdy with a darker twist over a punky Hard Rock foundation. The slightly Arena Rock laden melody arrangement, especially in the chorus, brings back memories of Monroe’s 80’s solo albums – straight-forward, catchy and in-your-face. Good one. The slower paced “Midsummer Nights” moves towards power-balladry and holds a distinct pop-vibe but there’s still some grit and dirt under the finger-nails as far as the raunchy guitars go. It’s a very memorable tune where the gluey refrain sticks and this is the kind of refrain Ginger could have written back in the Sensory Overdrive days. This should be a single with all of its hit-potential. Great stuff.
We get some pop-punk in “The Pitfalls Of Being An Outsider”, a song that shakes, grooves and sweats with raunchy guitars and the Pop of the song makes the chorus über-catchy and I find myself smiling like a moron while the hooks grabs a hold of my brain. Great! Michael’s old band-buddy Nasty Suicide (how brilliant is that for a stage-name!!!) joins in on “Wasted Years” and adds some dirty Keef-like rowdy guitars. The song’s Classic Rock outlook gets bigger because of that and the pop-twists are of those that The Rolling Stones provided us with back in the 70’s but with Michael, Sami and Nasty on the same track, the Hanoi Rocks vibes comes naturally. It contains lots of harmonica, blues-licks and a good, chunky groove and a beefy refrain that sticks. Good one.
“In The Tall Grass” comes in a slower pace – melancholic and laid-back but the chorus brings on a faster beat. The tune is a half-ballad with a slight twist of U2 here and there. Pretty good stuff. “Black Ties And Red Tape” fastens things up again with a rawer and punkier outlook. It’s punchy, tough and bang-on-target with lots of melodic turns. However, the song comes across as a bit messy and unstructured and it kinda falls on the way-side for me. Ok, not more. Without further ado, “Hollywood Paranoia” comes in on a straight-forward, upbeat groove and no curlicues – just a chunky beat, poppy melodies and an effective and striking chorus that could have been off the last Hanoi Rocks album Street Poetry (2007). The catchiness of the pop-punk melodies once again brings ole Ginger Wildheart to mind. I really like this one.
The somewhat laid-back yet upbeat pop-rocker “Heaven Is A Free State” brings on much of just about everything. The horn-section brings a Mariachi band to mind while the big melodies mixes both Classic Rock, early 70’s Glam Rock and a Not Fakin’ It (1989) American Arena Rock vibe. Typical Michael Monroe, in other words – which is kinda hard to resist. “Helsinki Shakedown” sports more Classic Rock where the 70’s meets the 80’s pop-rock in a simple yet effective groovy symbiosis. A solid rocker with a stellar refrain – good one. With “Low Life In High Places”, the MM-one-man-gang rounds things off for this time – and they do it with an upbeat groove, crunchiness, a laid-back arrangement with darker twists and a melancholic outlook. However, the tune gets rowdier towards the end which changes the dynamics some. There are hooks here and it’s a memorable song but it’s more of an album track – a really good album track – with no single-potential.
Plain and simple, what you know is what you get when you spend your hard-earned dough on a Michael Monroe album – it surely takes the same route as the last three Monroe albums. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all – Monroe has found his way musically and he and his cohorts stick to that, this is what they do best and they’re damn good at it too. Where his last couple of records have been good records but faded with time – it wasn’t exactly yesterday that I felt the urge to go through them again – this one shows every sign of not doing so. Without a bad song in sight, One Man Gang is Monroe’s best effort since Sensory Overdrive. The world’s oldest teenager do not disappoint this time either!
More Michael Monroe reviews:
1. One Man Gang
2. Last Train To Tokyo
3. Junk Planet
4. Midsummer Nights
5. The Pitfalls Of Being An Outsider
6. Wasted Years
7. In The Tall Grass
8. Black Ties And Red Tape
9. Hollywood Paranoia
10. Heaven Is A Free State
11. Helsinki Shakedown
12. Low Life In High Places