-Record review by Anguish Young
“Every day, I feel like running away… much as I did as a teenager in Vermont in the ’50s. But now, there’s nowhere to run to. All the cool places have been ruined. Soon, we will all be evicted from the planet, and so the world will end just as I leave it.
What will emerge from the polluted, radioactive primordial soup that’s left [after all the higher life forms are extinct] remains to be seen, but the gods have infinite time to come up with something more interesting than what’s left of the human race.”
Quick! Tell me the best remaining rock band on the planet. You probably said Motorhead, Jim Jones Revue, Beasts Of Bourbon, or Michael Monroe, right? Maybe a couple of you thought Morrissey, Manic Street Preachers or Primal Scream. I’m partial to Tango Pirates and Captain Zapped. Best frontman? Did you say Iggy, Idol, Tyler, Jagger, or Michael Monroe? If you like rocknroll, and you ain’t talkin’ ’bout AC/DC, Joan Jett, or the Stones, chances are, you’re usually most likely still yappin’ on about ageless glam rock peacock, Michael. We always come back to Michael. He never sold out, never cashed in, never gave up, never crapped out. Michael Monroe endured it all ten times, overcoming every setback and tragedy known to man, kept coming back again and again, a constant inspiration to millions, worldwide. On solo lp’s like “Nights Are So Long” and “Peace Of Mind”, Monroe has always made category defying rocknroll music that shocks, rocks, and shakes us. Powerful originals like “Dead, Jail, Or Rocknroll”, “Loneliness Loves Me More”, “Make It Go Away”, and “Smokescreen” have soothed our broken hearts, stirred us to form our own glam bands, sound tracked our love affairs and long lost nights of drunken debauchery. He made a couple of awesome comeback records with Hanoi Rocks that produced more memorable hits-“People Like Me”, and the chilling, “Center Of The Universe”. He’s always surprised us with the coolest covers by artists as diverse as the Damned, Hoyt Axton, Alice Cooper, the Deadboys, and Leonard Cohen. The man’s got fabulous taste, tons of heart, and seems to eat well, because while the rest of us age, he still high kicks and jumps around like he’s twenty. “Classic Rock” magazine voted his last record “Sensory Overload” album of the year and “Little Steven’s Underground Garage Radio Show” listeners voted his song, “Trick Of The Wrist” coolest song of the year.
His latest guitar bender, Steve Conte, has already co-written timeless anthems like, “Temptation To Exist” and “Plenty Of Music” with the surviving members of NY Dolls, and has similarly shattered the long odds and even managed to win over the majority of impossible to please Cult Of Thunders die-hards. Sami Yaffa, you all know as the living legend from Hanoi Rocks, Jetboy, Smack (briefly in L.A.), NY Dolls, Mad Juana, and the Compulsions. Dregen from the Backyard Babies and Hellacopters replaced Ginger from the Wildhearts, and since Dregen’s got his own album and tour to do, Rich Jones from the Black Halos, Yo Yo’s, Ginger, Neil Leyton, Yo-Yo’s, Amen, etc., has stepped up, to fill-in on theis new tour. Karl Rockfist, you know from Chelsea Smiles, Danzig, and Dizzy Reed. This is an unparalleled revolving door roll call. The best of the best, so expectations are high. The smash hit single, “Ballad Of The Lower East Side” rocks like “78”, their last smash debut single, it cribs a line from one of the Rolling Stone’s best 45’s and takes us on a crash course tour of the gritty, industrial, burntout backstreets of beautiful, badass, bohemian NYC… before far right extremist Mayor Rudolph Giuliani closed the after hours pubs, 9-11, the surveillance state, media-monopoly fed, mass consumerism and conformity, stop n frisk, NYU landgrabs, the billionaire nanny state, the perversely jacked-up rents and gratuitous ongoing Disneyfication of the city formely known as the melting pot, by despicable one percent mayors and their thug police that billionaire Mayor Bloomberg proudly refers to as, “the world’s sixth biggest army”.
Even dapper old rich guy David Byrne groans about how the global elites and their trust funded children have squeezed all the egalitarian heart and artistic genius out of Lower Manhattan. Patti Smith says “Don’t Come Here”. The gilded age banksters and war profiteers want us all dumb and running on the hamster wheel, competing with one another, and focusing numbly on idle heiresses, video games, diet products, marrying-up, plastic surgery, divorce and pre-nup’s. Waving flags and chanting “Woof, woof” like dogs, rooting for war like it’s merely sports. We’ve had to all, at least, contemplate the hard fact that the people on top of the capitalist pyramid are actively eviscerating our civil liberties, building internment prisons while closing our schools, groping us in our airports and chemical spraying us in our public squares, spying on us, crackingdown brutally on free speech, and pushing us out of our traditional bohemian enclaves, actively depopulating with their Monsanto toxic foods and bad medicines, pollution and nuclear radiation. In uncertain times, we deserve real rocknroll with a rebellious spirit, that reflects the reality of our situation and encourages the young to resist the inhumane injustices. Dregen delivers “Child Of The Revolution” to “Horns & Halos”, and it, too, is outstanding. It’ll remind some dedicated listeners of “Teenage Revolution” from “Street Poetry”. Michael and his glorious gang of eternal teenagers always pay homage to the old school cool of Downtown, when even us working class libertines and punk rockers could still find a rat’s nest squat, or share a rundown hovel with other runaways, musicians, film makers, drug dealers and hookers, before the hedge-fund managers and lawless white collar criminals overthrew our justice system, and drove everyone away from NYC except for the Olsen Twins and Lenny Kravitz, and those bridge and tunnel white shirted bullies of the enforcer class. Who the fuck has four grand a month for a shoebox apartment in a neighborhood full of shitty chain stores and jet-setter designer label garbage? For what? Even our historical landmarks are systemically being erased and replaced with awful shit for horrid, rich, slave owning pigs. Corporate music sucks beyond belief. Way worse than it did, even in the insufferable, 90’s black days of phony “alternative” marketing and moaning grunge Tarzans. Meanwhile, Mike and his dizzyingly energetic crack team of swanky, quick draw artistses keep the authentic gutter soul and delinquent spirits of Stiv Bators and Johnny Thunders close-by, even as their explosively epic aural assaults also bring to mind stadium pop of Cheap Trick, and the F.M. radio rawk of Golden Earring, Mott The Hoople, Nazareth, and Rose Tattoo. Michael’s always excelled at the rebel songs-think back to “While You Were Looking At Me”, “Smokescreen”, and “Too Rich To Be Good”, etc., and “Horns & Halos” does not disappoint.These cats are stylistically all over the place, as usual, sounding like fifties Little Richard, or the Heartbreakers one minute, or Guns N Roses, or 69 Eyes, the next. Hopefully, his also talented, sometimes songwriting collaborator, Ginger is making a cool mint performing alongside Courtney Love, so he won’t always have to resort to relying on the fanbase to finance his frolics with Kickstarter campaigns. You know the economy has really nosedived when even bigtime marquee, namebrand artists, of Ginger’s caliber are apparently struggling to record and release their own independent music. Ginger co wrote the exquisite “Superpowered Surperfly” and other class tunes on the last Michael Monroe album, before returning to his own headline making songwriting juggernaut and well known crowdsourcing approach to fundraising. Monroe only works with the top guns in the music biz. I’ve still never heard the Jerusalem Slim cd he and Sami recorded with Steve Stevens and Ian McLagan, but I hear Stevens has started a new band with Duff and Sebastian Bach. I have very much enjoyed Monroe’s collaborations with Slash, which are probably, next to Izzy’s albums, the best work we’ve heard from Guns N Roses alumni since Michael guest starred on their punk covers album twenty some years back.
Andy McCoy remains one of the world’s premiere rocknroll guitar virtuoso’s, but has chosen to pursue his painting, and television shows in recent years, introducing us to his Finnish gutter rock hellions, Greasy Helmet, who are the throwback essence of nasty comic-book metal, a bit like Buck Cherry without the brains, and while there’s obviously no replacing an artist of McCoy’s musical stature, Mike Monroe’s carousel of creative collaborators like Nasty Suicide, Jay Hening (R.I.P.), Stevie Klasson, Slash, Dregen, Ginger, and Steve Conte have all done a heroic job of maintaining that top-notch quality level that fans of glam rock’s favorite frontman take for granted. Some fans say Michael Monroe’s current line-up are providing an infinitely more satisfying rocknroll experience, than most any of their former peers, by not limiting their songwriting to a narrow subject matter, and by avoiding tiresome, eighties adolescent, formulaic themes, like so many stunted hairband veterans. Michael Monroe has never been the least bit inhibited about exploring various musical sub-genres, it’s all punk rock to him, his last platter co-starred Lemmy and Lucinda Williams, that vintage Hanoi Rocks stardust always glinted with sparks of surf, disco, reggae, echoes of the Cramps, the Clash, etc. The same holds true now, as probably my favorite song on the last Michael Monroe l.p. was almost Gram Parsons style Americana, more cosmic cowboy, than cosmic ted. His latest side has bits that will call to mind everyone from Aerosmith to the Waldos to the Alarm to Joe Strummer & The Mescaleroes.
Wealth inequality and shock doctrine austerity have made real street rock an endangered species, just like Mike sings on Demolition 23. Alley brats, like most of you and me, can’t even afford a rehearsal space or new guitar strings in the darkening age of eight twenty five an hour, that’s minimum wage here in the states, so we deeply value these last few, precious, real rocknrollers who still have something genuine to communicate, more and more with each passing year, even as we keep ailing icons Little Richard, Billy Rath, Henri Paul Tortosa, and Bootsey X in all our rocknroll prayers. Michael Monroe and his scrappy lads still dress like they always did, they still make music like they always did, with nary a concession to any of the soulless mousepad muzak the corporations have pushed on us all, against our will, for these past twenty odd years.
I like that “Horns & Halos” comes with a handsome booklet and lyric sheet. Album opener, “TNT Diet” kicks off with an audio assault against gloomy grunge poseurs and insincere hipster types who pay top dollar for fashionably distressed attire to make it appear as if they worked in the carwash all day. Pure UK Subs style punk aggression. Somebody pissed him off. “Eighteen Angels” is lyrically elegant with a slinky groove, sure to move the hips of your favorite bombshell barfly, it’s cool, Stones-style funk with a helluva harmonica hallelujah rousing the ghost of Little Walter, or at least sayin hi to ole Sugar Blue. “Saturday Night Special” is a blazing little number about the ill advised perils of self destructive tendencies, penned by Mister Steve Conte as a bit of a cautionary tale, and a reminder to us all. Michael really sings the glitter offa this one here. “Stained Glass Heart” is another one that really impresses one, with Michael singing exceptionally well, at the top of his game. Looks like Dregen and Steve co-wrote that one, it’s the best new song I’ve heard in quite some time. It’s pretty, poetic, with an essential and uplifting message to the real rocknroll people: “Love remains and we will carry on!” Brilliantly played guitars. “Stained Glass Heart” is a #1 hit in this aging desperado’s ultra-underground. Just this much would be more than most lingering rock revival acts could still deliver, but wait, the best is yet to come. “Horns & Halos” is a sneering, philosophical rabble-rouser, about how we all have darkness and a sinister side, but also, always the infinite, and instant capacity for forgiveness, truth, and being COOL, anytime, we so choose. “Child Of The Revolution” is really touched with grace, and makes me want to hear Dregen’s new solo album. “RISE UP! YOU’RE A CHILD OF THE REVOLUTION!” is the song I’ve been waiting to hear from these guys, since the brownbag corner gang favorites, “Scum Lives On” and “Hammersmith Palais” set the bar so high. “Soul Surrender” has an urgent chorus and a skanky reggae tinged vibe, shot through with more of Michael Monroe’s trademark positivity and pure white light. “Half The Way” is driving rock with gutsy vocals and sleek musicianship. “Ritual” is another highlight, it’s really unique, a thing of gothic beauty and noir sensuality, like the Lords Of The New Church meets Mick Taylor era Rolling Stones. Artistically, a triumph. “Ritual” is kinda…well, mystical. “Hands Are Tied” is an anti-drug anthem. And thus ends another classic from an unstoppable band that just can’t fail. Well worth your investment.