MICHAEL MONROE – Blackout States

Layout 1When Hanoi Rocks released their debut album Bangkok Shocks, Saigon Shakes, Hanoi Rocks back in 1981, I was only 11 years old and it would take a few years before Sweden got their own music magazine for the young – a magazine that featured Hanoi Rocks quite a lot. But I never listened to them as a teenager – not because I had a problem with their somewhat feminine glam image – Hell, I am raised on The Sweet dammit – I just wasn’t interested and none of my friends listened to them either. Fact is, I didn’t know anybody who had ever heard a note from that band so we just didn’t care. I always thought it was weird that Hanoi Rocks were featured so much in that magazine – called Okej – when no one listened to them. Maybe it was just us. That’s why I believe that the reputation Hanoi Rocks has been given in the last 10 years or so as a major influence on more or less every sleaze and glam band that has ever existed is exaggerated big time and much of that reputation comes from a certain Axl Rose who told everyone that Hanoi Rocks were a big influence on him and Guns N’ Roses in general. As an adult I have picked up some of their earlier stuff just to see what the fuss was all about, but I must say that, even though there are a couple of songs or so that are pretty good, I am not that impressed at all. Hanoi Rocks called it quits after their drummer Razzle bit the dust in a car accident where Vince Neil (Mötley Crüe) did a DUI in 1984, but they reunited with a new line-up 2002, a reunion that lasted until 2007 and featured Electric Boys’ Conny Bloom (guitar) and Andy Christell (bass) and only held guitarist Andy McCoy and vocalist Michael Monroe as the only original members. The three albums they released weren’t as sleazy and punky as back in the day, but me, I think they were really good. On the other hand I have always thought that Michael Monroe is one cool cat. The man with the worst case of ADHD in the business, the man who make guys like Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler seem sedated in comparison. Thing is, I haven’t heard all of his solo stuff and side bands like Jerusalem Slim and Demolition 23, the only Monroe solo album I had as a youngster was Not Fakin’ It (1989), a good but somewhat uneven album. But since I thought that the latest version of Hanoi Rocks were really good, I had no choice but to check out his first solo album after the Hanoi split, Sensory Overdrive (2011, reviewed here) and that album was a very pleasant surprise. The fact that he was writing with the melody-genius Ginger from The Wildhearts sure made that album both a hard rocker and catchy as can be. Too bad Monroe and Ginger couldn’t see eye to eye which led to Ginger leaving the band even before the tour started. His replacement was Dregen from Swedish sleaze / punk / glam / hard rockers Backyard Babies, a guy that also hold some brilliant song writing skills, but the follow-up Horns And Halos (2013, reviewed here), failed to match the greatness of its predecessor. The album was raw, trashy and punky with lots of pop influences, but the sticky hooks  just weren’t there and I find them vey important in this kind of music. The album wasn’t bad though. For album number three (well it’s actually album # 10, but you get what I mean), Dregen had left as well, to reunite Backyard Babies and his replacement is the less well-known Rich Jones who have played with the Black Halos, Amen and well, Ginger Wildheart, actually. The way I see it, this is the album that will show where Monroe and band stands quality wise and this will prove if Michael Monroe still has what it takes as a recording artist. The fact that he is one of the best entertainers and show men in the world isn’t even under discussion.

Opener “This Ain’t No Love Song” sounds like it could have been a leftover and a Dregen co-write from the last album, it’s fast, punky and raw with a Hanoi Rocks meets Backyard Babies attitude and melody. The song is really good and very catchy and it bodes really well for the rest of the album. “Old King’s Road” is the first video / single and with the song’s pop-punk-hard rock sound and über-catchy chorus, this song has every possibility to ge some serious airplay, it’s the kind of song you can both rock out to and sing along with – brilliant. “Goin’ Down With The Ship” goes back to the Ginger way of writing a great pop song with a glam rock vibe. This isn’t Poison by any means, but the extremely catchy melodies and the flirting with radio friendly hooks is a similarity. This song is brilliant and has some big hit potential. “Keep Your Eye On You” is a pop-rock ballad-like song with a scent of country. It takes me back to Sensory Overdrive – killer stuff. “The Bastard’s Bash” is written for the party – crack open a few cold ones, bring your friends and rock out. It’s both bluesy and punky with some Aerosmith thrown in for good measure and the melody here takes a home run. “Good Old Bad Days” is maybe the best song on the album. It’s catchy as Hell, pop and rock ‘n’ roll, swinging like crazy with a killer saxophone solo – this is a hit from where I stand. “R.L.F.” (stands for Rock Like Fuck… how’s that for a cliché?) is a fast and aggressive Motörhead meets The Ramones punk influenced rocker. The song is ok, but forgettable. The title track also sounds like it could come from the last album’s sessions as it has a big Backyard Babies sound, but there is also lots of pop in there which makes it a very catchy rocker – great stuff. “Under The Northern Lights” – penned by none other than the late Dee Dee Ramone!! –  is another one of his upbeat, groovy and catchy pop songs, like “All You Need” from Sensory Overdrive. The melody is intoxicating and I must admit that I have lots and lots of weak spots for songs like this. And he keep the pop up with “Permanent Youth”. It’s a half-ballad that just might get Monroe and his dudes som air play this time. The title of the song speak volumes – it’s Michael Monroe in a nutshell. “Dead Hearts On Denmark Street” sounds auto biographic, it’s an ok rocker with a Hanoi Rocks swagger, but I can’t make it stick, to my ears, this song is forgettable, “Six Feet In The Ground”, on the other hand, is the opposite – a catchy as Hell pop-punk-rocker with a Thin Lizzy influence. If I didn’t know any better I’d guess on a Ginger co-write here as well because I hear some Wildhearts in there too. But Ginger isn’t involved at all. Closing track “Walk Away” is a great one, an attitude ridden, snotty little rocker that sounds like The Ramones goes Hard Rock with some writing help from the Backyard Babies. The kind of song that makes you wanna listen to the record all over again.

If Monroe’s last album was somewhat disappointing, this one isn’t – not one bit. This is a big groover, the melodies are totally addictive and there’s a hunger and take no prisoners attitude that is up there with Sensory Overdrive, if not even better. I love the fact that Michael Monroe isn’t a nostalgia act, that he doesn’t travel around playing old Hanoi Rocks songs for a nostalgic audience, no, Monroe has decided on moving forward and stay relevant for rockers in 2015 and judging by his latest records, he has succeeded. Apart from the guitar spot that is now filled by Rich Jones, the rest of the band is intact since 2011 – Steve Conte (Company Of Wolves, New York Dolls) on guitar, Sami Yaffa (Hanoi Rocks, Jetboy, New York Dolls) on bass and Karl Rockfist (real name Rosqvist – Steel Prophet, Danzig) on drums. For a solo career this feels and sounds much more like a band than many bands do. With his (their?) new record, Michael Monroe show us all that he clearly can stand on his own two feet steady as a rock as a solo artist and challenge his Hanoi Rocks past. Fact is, I take Monroe’s solo stuff over Hanoi Rocks every day of the week. Well done!

8/10

Tracklist:

1. This Ain‘t No Love Song
2. Old King‘s Road
3. Goin’ Down With The Ship
4. Keep Your Eye On You
5. The Bastard’s Bash
6. Good Old Bad Days
7. R.L.F.
8. Blackout States
9. Under The Northern Lights
10. Permanent Youth
11. Dead Hearts On Denmark Street
12. Six Feet In The Ground
13. Walk Away

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