I like Michael Sweet. Not that I know the guy – I haven’t even met him. But he gives a very likeable and sympathetic impression. As a non religious guy, I have a big problem with religious people shoving their opinions and beliefs down my throat, no matter what religion they belong to. But Michael and his pals in Stryper doesn’t do that. No, they simply write about stuff they feel strongly about and sure, they talk about it – quite a lot, to be honest – but it is without the “… or else…” thing that usually comes along with the throat shoving. Also, the sometimes prejudice and pejorative talk about minorities such as gay people isn’t anything he seems to be going along with. Many of his lyrics are also written in a way that you can interpret them in a different direction if you don’t happen to be a christian. But more than that, he just comes across like really nice guy. Also, I love Stryper and I find Michael a fantastic singer and a great songwriter and lyricist. I’m not a starstruck person and meeting celebrities has never been a big deal for me. However, there are some of them that I would like to meet someday, for different reasons and Michael is one of them. I think that it could be quite entertaining to just sit down and just chat with a guy like that. Well, well, enough of that and forward to the music. Michael Sweet has turned out to be a very productive gentleman. Not only does he write and produce more or less everything for Stryper, he has also got a solo career going on. Stryper has always released high quality records and they still do so. Their latest effort, No More Hell To Pay, is totally stunning and easily their best album ever. Michael’s solo albums are also of very high quality. His debut self titled solo outing from 1994 was a bit uneven at times, but was for the most full of great melodic hard rock, the kind that was popular in the early 90’s. Bon Jovi and Def Leppard influences were all over the album. But it is his second one, Real from 1995, that I hold as my favourite. A little darker, but still melodic and with a more acoustic vibe. Truth from 2000 was a heavier record that showed off his metal influences and that also is a really good album. However, I must admit, I have never really gotten into Him (2006) and Touched (2007), even tough they’re not bad at all. Maybe they both felt a bit too religious based for my taste. So now that Stryper are on a roll for real and they seem to be more popular than ever and are being given much more respect than they have ever had, a new album from Michael shows up. On top of that, the album coincides with Michael’s biography “Honestly”. To release an album along with your book is something other artists such as Sixx A.M., Vince Neil and Kee Marcello has done as well. In Sixx A.M.’s case, the album is like the soundtrack to Nikki Sixx’s books.
On this album, Michael has invited some friends to guest on a few songs and the first one shows up already on the first one, “Taking On The World Tonight”. TNT lead singer Tony Harnell sings with Michael on this awesome fast rocker and he fits like a glove. Tony and Michael has voices that reminds of each other, but it’s still easy to pick which one is which is. They both has pretty high-pitched voices and wide ranges and they work brilliantly together. “All That’s Left” is a great little pop rocker with a good message, “The Cause” is more on the heavier side, a really good song that could have been on a Stryper album and the title track is just great, a hard rock song with a bit of a modern twist. “Coming Home” is a beautiful ballad with a scent of country. Michael Sweet has an ability to write those fantastic ballads that normally would be cheesy but for some reason, Michael’s ballads are not. “Strong” is another really good ballad with a guitar melody that has an alternative twist that was common in the mid 90’s. More ballads: “How To Live” features Stryper members, Michael’s drumming brother Robert and bassist Tim Gaines and the song sounds very much like a Stryper ballad. A leftover maybe? “Heart Of Gold” is a Neil Young cover with both a blues and country influence. I have never liked the song, but it’s nice to hear it with a singer that can actually sing! We also get that tune as a bonus track, this time as a duet with one Electra Mustaine, yes Megadeth-Dave’s 16-year-old daughter. The two versions are not that different to each other musically, but for some reason I really like the bonus version. Electra Mustaine has a fantastic voice and I’m sure this is not the last we hear from that girl. Also, the guitar solo from Night Ranger axeman Joel Hoeckstra is brilliant. Former wrestler and Fozzy frontman Chris Jericho guests on “Anybody Else”, a brilliant Stryper-like hard rocker and “Unsuspecting” is a mind-blowing metal track that would have fitted perfectly on Stryper’s latest album.
I must admit that I prefer Stryper to Michael’s solo stuff, if I have to choose, but the fact is, Michael’s new album is a real winner. The whole production is really good and most of the songs are great. That said, I can’t find any bad songs at all, just the odd filler. The musicians he has used to perform are top-notch as well, even though many of the names are pretty unknown, the most famous has to be brilliant drummer Kenny Aronoff, who actually played the drums on Stryper’s 2009 album Murder By Pride when his brother Robert wasn’t available. I know that both Michael and Stryper are getting more and more respect from music fans all over the world, but in my opinion Michael (and Stryper) should be huge. Therefore I dare you to give this a shot. I know that there are narrow-minded and pretentious people who refuses to bother with Michael and Stryper because of their religious beliefs, but do choose to not be one of them. So you’re not a christian? Big deal! We all have different views and opinions, but there is some really fantastic music to be discovered, blinders removed. I’m giving this album an 8, but it’s a very strong 8. I will rate this album as Michael’s finest solo album to date, even better than Real. I suggest you go out and get this one.
Jon Wilmenius (8/10)
01. Taking On The World Tonight (featuring Tony Harnell)
02. All That’s Left (For Me To Prove)
03. The Cause
04. This Time (featuring Kevin Max)
05. I’m Not Your Suicide (co-written with Blair Daly)
06. Coming Home
07. Miles Away
09. How To Live (featuring Robert Sweet and Timothy Gaines of Stryper)
10. Heart Of Gold
11. Anybody Else (featuring Chris Jericho and Doug Aldrich)
13. Heart Of Gold (featuring Electra Mustaine) (Bonus Track)