Release Date: 9th October 2016
Renowned frontman Michael Monroe, famed as the lead singer and saxophonist of Finnish glam/punk/metal band Hanoi Rocks, has released a number of critically acclaimed solo albums. This, his tenth, sees Monroe continue his work with bassist Sami Yaffa, a former Hanoi Rocks colleague.
Born Matti Fagerholm in Helsinki, Monroe fronted the successful Hanoi Rocks (who were initially active between 1979 and 1985) who arguably bridged the gap between glam rock and American punk; without Hanoi Rocks, the direction (or even existence) of Motley Crue and Guns n' Roses could be quite different.
Inspired by Black Sabbath's live in Paris TV appearance and influenced by Alice Cooper, New York Dolls and Led Zeppelin, Monroe played in various local bands, meeting guitarist Andy McCoy before forming Hanoi Rocks with guitarist Nasty Suicide and bassist Sami Yaffa in 1979. The line-up was cemented by McCoy and drummer Gyp Casino.
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The band relocated to London and released 'Bangkok Shocks', 'Saigon Shakes', 'Hanoi Rocks', followed by 'Oriental Beat' when drummer Casino was replaced by Razzle, completing the classic line-up.
'Self Destruction Blues' was a compilation of singles and other tracks, before the band released 'Back To Mystery City' and 'Two Steps From The Move', which featured a roaring cover of 'Up Around The Bend'. Razzle was infamously killed in a car crash (Motley Crue's Vince Neil was driving the car, drunk), and the band continued briefly before splitting.
Monroe's solo career got off to a slow start, with 'Nights Are So Long' and 1989s 'Not Fakin' It' (the title track a Nazareth cover), the latter featuring Nasty Suicide, Ian Hunter and Anton Fig. He then recorded albums with Jerusalem Slim and Demolition 23, and guested with G'n'R, before releasing the 'Peace Of Mind' album in 1996 and 'Live Gets You Dirty' in 1999.
Alongside releasing 'Take Them And Break Them', and 'Watcha Want', Monroe worked alongside Andy McCoy in a reformed/revamped Hanoi Rocks who released a further three albums.
In 2010 Monroe put together a solo band, featuring bassist Yaffa and former Wildhearts guitarist Ginger. The 'Another Night In The Sun' live set featured many Hanoi Rocks tracks and tracks by Demolition 23, Nazareth, The Damned as well as solo material.
Signing to Spinefarm, 2011s 'Sensory Overdrive' received rave reviews, as did 2013s 'Horns And Halos' (with Dregan replacing Ginger). A well received performance at London's High Voltage festival saw Monroe perform a couple of songs atop the stage scaffold. I was lucky enough to witness the show and interview Michael afterwards (with then guitarist Dregen) and was impressed by the energy on stage, the tightness of the band and just how nice he is face to face.
Alongside Monroe and Yaffa now are guitarists Steve Conte and Rich Jones and drummer Karl Rockfist, a tight and punk influenced recording and touring band.
The album kicks in with 'This Ain't No Love Song', which is a blistering mix of punk, sleazy metal and rock'n'roll. A high tempo glam thrash of the catchy kind. 'Old King's Road' has a retro feel, albeit with a modern heaviness to it. Think Alice Cooper meets the Strolling Bones and beefed up somewhat.
'Goin' Down With The Ship' is a bit more melodic and has some strong vocal harmonies. There's a grittiness to the vocals too. 'Keep Your Eye On You' is more heartfelt, slightly more balladic (think mid tempo power-pop done Monroe style). Then with 'The Bastard's Bash' the foot's on the sleaze peddle again. And 'Good Old Bad Days' follows suit nicely, in an epic fashion.
'R.L.F.' has everything turned up to 11; there's a touch of the Motorhead brand of rock'n'roll only here it's sharper and punchier. And that's definitely a late 80s/early 90s Motorhead guitar solo in there.
The title track is a good solid number, but is one of the lighter and least sleazy; that said the vocals (power and range) are good and the bassline stands out too. Again in contrast, 'Under The Northern Lights' has a decent acoustic intro, building into a melodic power punk track. 'Dead Hearts On Denmark Street' is a solid number, the punchy guitar riff is a stand out and lyrically about the potential changes in the famous London street at the heart of the musician's music industry.
The 13 tracks here really do rock, the twin guitar solos, intertwines, riffs and crunches, Monroe still sounding good, largely due to his drug avoidance over the years compared to many of his peers. The production matches the punk rock'n'roll sleaze perfectly, and like the songs, gets a little more polished towards the end. There's less trademark Monroe saxophone and harmonica than I'd expected/liked, but his vocals and band more than do the business.
This guy always cuts it, always performs, whether on record, on stage or in person.
Forthcoming UK tour with Hardcore Superstar
9 Birmingham The Library
10 Sheffield Corporation
11 Glasgow Cathouse
12 Manchester Club Academy
13 Norwich Waterfront
15 London Electric Ballroom
29 Plymouth Pavilions (with Alice Cooper)
29 Swindon Oasis (with Alice Cooper)