Style: Hard Rock
Release Date: 18 Oct 2019
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I remember Michael Monroe very well, mostly from his years as lead vocalist for the legendary Hanoi Rocks but also from some of his early solo material, as the Not Fakin' It album did well in the UK at the end of the eighties. I know him primarily for pioneering glam metal, though, which this isn't, at least not through and through. It's more of an old school hard rock record that goes all the way back to the Stones and explores outwards from there.
Of course, there's quite a lot of outwards to explore when you travel back that far to a starting point. There's blues, there's rock, there's punk and there are all sorts of intriguing combinations of those, only one of which is that pioneering glam metal which comes out to strut on a couple of great songs, Last Train to Tokyo and The Pitfalls of Being an Outsider, two major highlights to the album.
I think this is the point, of course. There's a general theme here, which is to look at the stereotypical rock 'n' roll lifestyle through the time that Monroe has spent at the heart of it. It's done with tongue firmly in cheek but the majority of songs have at least one telling line that's deceptively simple and surprisingly deep. I rather like, "I'm on the last train back to Tokyo and I can't find my way home."
I prefer the up tempo rockers here, whatever the style. There are fast punk songs like the title track, which comes complete with a guest performance by Captain Sensible on lead guitar, and Black Ties and Red Tape, so punk that it's done and dusted in just over a couple of minutes. I dug the closer too, Low Life in High Places, which starts out like nothing but keeps on building until it wraps up the album in style.
Perhaps my favourite (right now, but ask me again tomorrow) is Junk Planet, which kicks in like a golden era Iggy Pop song with maybe some Alice Cooper swagger added for good measure. Monroe's harmonica does call and return with the lead guitar for a tasty touch. The song's title could be taken in a few different ways, one of which would work as a neat counter to The Pitfalls of Being an Outsider. Even when Monroe was in the middle of the lifestyle, he'd often opt out of things and suddenly become an outsider.
Heaven is a Free State is my other go to track and it's versatile. It has a Latin vibe, courtesy of Tero Saarti's trumpet, which isn't the only reason I heard a lot of Adam Ant in it, but it's never far from being a Stones track, with Monroe sounding even more like Jagger than usual.
My least favourite tracks are the quieter ones, not ballads per se but songs that play down a couple of notches. They're indie rock songs with Americana edges and they're even more introspective than the rest of the album. In the Tall Grass and Midsummer Nights are decent enough but they're the songs that I'm mostly likely to skip over on a repeat listen. Only Wasted Years finds a successful softer blues based vibe, with more harmonica and strong lines like, "For all my friends and all my peers, I got no regrets for my wasted years."
If you recall, the autobiography of Hanoi Rocks was called All Those Wasted Years, so those words are telling. It's worth mentioning here too that the special guest on Wasted Years is Nasty Suicide. As Sami Yaffa is in Monroe's band right now, that means three of the four surviving golden era members of Hanoi Rocks on one song. Only Andy McCoy is missing, but he's just put out a new album of his own that I should look at next week.
On the musical side, One Man Gang is a solid album with plenty of good hooks and the variety it needs to survive. More importantly, on the lyrical side, which seems to be notably important this time out, it's even handed. Monroe sings about all the bad things the rock 'n' roll lifestyle brings, and he's experienced some of the bigger lows that can be brought, but he also tells us that it was a heck of a lot of fun and he's got no regrets. Just to make it very clear, Helsinki Shakedown adds: "We're never gonna change the life we know."
That's good for us, because it means we get albums like this in 2019, with Monroe still young at heart even at 57.