It feels like only about ten minutes since the last Michael Monroe album, One Man Gang, but it's a surprising three years and, as enjoyable as that one was, this feels more consistent and, dare I say it, more mature. And that sounds flippant of me, I know, but, while that patented Michael Monroe blend of punk and glam on offer here, the whole thing feels a little less rough and loose (crucially, though, not more polished) and more carefully thought out. The lyrics grabbed my attention last time out and they do so even more this time, starting at the very outset with Murder the Summer of Love.
That's a strong opener in every way, lyrically and musically, but things don't fade at all from there. Songs that, in other hands, could have become filler material, aren't here, merely taking different amounts of time to grow on us. I remember liking the up tempo songs more on that last album and they're surely the ones that caught me first here, like All Fighter and, most notably, Pagan Prayer, but then the sleazier, slightly laid back ones grew and eventually the ballad as well, an impressive piece in the style of Mott the Hoople that I came to really dig. Initially, it felt like an interlude but it's a real grower that has become one of my favourites. Notably, it's located right at the heart of the album and maybe that has meaning.
What I'm finding, on my fourth time through, is that every song here could well end up like that. It didn't initially feel like a great album, just a good one, but nothing fades and everything grows. I'd be as hard pressed to pick the worst song as the best one and that doesn't happen too often. Most albums have a standout or three and a couple of songs that don't live up to the rest. I'd have given you examples of both after one listen but not after three. Derelict Palace may take a little longer to stand out than the songs around it on the first half but it's just as worthy and the same goes for Everybody's Nobody. The former has a really cool groove and the latter stands out lyrically.
And, just like the Latin vibe on Heaven is a Free State last time, there are songs here that add an unusual angle to Monroe's tried and tested formulae. Sure, there are moments here that feel like they could have been on Two Steps from the Move, like the bridge in All Fighter, but there are also subtle shifts. Can't Stop Falling Apart isn't that far from his usual style, but somehow it's also half Steve Earle and half Status Quo, which is quite a cool collaboration. There's a laid back reggae vibe on No Guilt behind the alt rock and Dearly Departed is an electronic new wave song, but a very successful one. If Monroe made an album in that style, he'd find a whole new audience.
There aren't a lot of guests here and only one you'd expect me to call out. That's Slash, who shows up on the sassy title track to lend his guitar talents and to weave a solo. It's a neat team up but it's not the event that it could have been. The song is another good one, with a memorable and catchy chorus, and I'm not going to fault Slash's solo either, but it's just one of eleven tracks here. In fact, given where Dearly Departed goes after it, it doesn't hold our focus as long as you might think. It feels like another good Michael Monroe song, whereas Dearly Departed plays much more like the departure it suggests and its uncharacteristic synths seem more notable than Slash's solo.
I like this album a lot. It was always a good one and I never doubted that it would be another 7/10, just like its predecessor, but I don't think that's fair. This is an 8/10 album. It just doesn't slap us in the face with how great it is. The more I listen to it, the better it gets and the less surprised I feel about that rating.