Sunday, October 18, 2015

Album Review: Michael Monroe - Blackout States

I am not ashamed to admit that, as a rock and metal fan, there are still countless bands from the classic days that I have no familiarity with. It's simply impossible for me to have heard everything, and especially since I have never dropped my more pop and melodic roots, the breadth of music out there available to me has never lent itself to an encyclopedic knowledge on my part. Hanoi Rocks is one of those bands whose name I know, and whom I'm aware had a strong impact in the 80s, but that's all I can tell you about them. I can't recall ever intentionally hearing one of their songs, nor can I tell you anything else about them. I'm just being honest about that, because I'm coming into the new album from their frontman Michael Monroe with absolutely zero preconceived notions about what it should sound like, and no already formed opinion about him or his career.

After listening to Blackout States, there is a very particular comparison I want to make, but I'm going to save that for later.

The album kicks off with "This Ain't No Love Song", which establishes a punk feeling with the steady beat and gang vocals in the chorus. It's a fun little number that doesn't waste any time, hits hard, and gets things going with plenty of energy. That carries over on "Old King's Road", which uses its big chords to drive the chorus home. These are songs that capture the side of punk that I enjoy, which is the bit where certain bands use the sugary bliss of a hook to subvert the listener and drive a more deviant point across. Monroe isn't doing the latter part of that, but the songs are upbeat, catchy, and oh yeah, fun.

I love "Goin' Down With The Ship", which swaggers a bit more, and settles into a glorious hook that I could imagine a bar full of half-drunk rockers singing together as a message of camaraderie. It's just a great, simple song that doesn't try to be anything but three minutes of good-time music. Wisely, Monroe sticks to that blueprint, and doesn't push the music outside his comfort zone, either tonally or vocally. It's not hard to hear that while his voice is still strong, there are definite limits to what he's able to do these days. He doesn't try to do anything he can't, so these songs work beautifully for him.

The one place the album fails is when it tries to be artificially heavy. "The Bastard's Bash" is still pretty good, but it's not as hooky as it thinks it is. "R.L.F." is the nadir, however, two minutes of juvenile heaviness that replaces both hooks and intelligence with rampant overuse of the word 'fuck', to the point where it comes across as cheesy and desperate, not tough and rebellious. A man in his fifties singing about how he wants to 'fuck shit up' isn't cool, it's sad.

Thankfully, it's the only such misstep on the album. Aside from that song, everything here fits a certain sound and mood that is quite a bit more enjoyable than I had been expecting. And that brings us to that comparison I mentioned earlier.

This record reminds me intensely of Bad Religion's one-off experiment "The Dissent Of Man". Like that record, this is a hybrid of classic rock and punk, with heavy doses of Big Star's brand of power-pop thrown in for good measure. There are several similarities, but most of all is the feeling. This comes across as punk music for the mature soul, a type of music that wants to show how the music of our youth can gracefully age along with us.

That album was a revelation for me, and is one of my favorites of the last five years. "Blackout States" isn't the same masterpiece that was, but it is the first album since then that evoked the same feeling. I'm by no means a punk rocker, but if it sounded like this, I'd be more inclined to get behind the movement. "Blackout States" shows that Michael Monroe has plenty of tricks up his sleeve yet. If you want to have fun listening to a record this Autumn, you can't do much better than this.

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