Today's reminders that I'm getting old are that Sebastian Bach not only isn't in Skid Row right now, meaning that the gang technically isn't all here, but he hasn't been for over a quarter of a century now and he isn't even the the longest serving vocalist in the band, his decade rather skimpy compared to a sixteen year stint from Johnny Solinger. Now, Solinger died last year, so it isn't him singing on the record either. The new fish is Erik Grönwall, who's quite the success story, given that he auditioned for Swedish Idol in 2009 singing 18 and Life solo as as a dorky twenty-one year old who was still growing into himself. Now he's singing it to the world as the frontman for Skid Row. By the way, he won the entire show in 2009.
And he sounds damn good here, which helps to rejuvenate the band on record, as I'm sure it will on stage. It doesn't hurt that he clearly grew up listening to Sebastian Bach, because the escalations and sustains sound very familiar, but he's no clone. He's a solid replacement. Behind him are a trio of long term members, guitarist Dave Sabo and bassist Rachel Bolan, who co-founded the band in 1986, and guitarist Scotti Hill who joined a year later. And that leaves drummer Rob Hammersmith who may only be the most recent of seven but the one who's occupied that seat the longest.
I can't say there's anything new here, but this band do what they do very well. There's some biting guitarwork on the opener, Hell or High Water, setting the stage for more later. Bolan's bass kicks off the title track in style, as it does The Lights Come On. There's an urgency to Not Dead Yet that escalates those two strong openers to another level. If there was ever a fear that the first studio album from this band in sixteen years wouldn't be heavy, then this along with the grinding riff to Time Bomb right after it should end that. Yes, there's still some hard rock here in the vein of their debut album, but it's the heavier follow-up, Slave to the Grind, that's the real template in play.
And template is a good choice of word, I think. There's not a lot of variety here. The best songs are driving but playful, most obviously Not Dead Yet and The Lights Come On, which both carry a little Mötley Crüe swagger, but they otherwise don't sound particularly different from anything else on offer. They just have riffs that speak a little louder and, in the case of the latter, glorious bass from Bolan to guide it and a neat scream from Grönwall to wrap it up that highlights why hiring a talent show winner shouldn't be questioned. He can do this. That's all we need to know. For now.
If churning out ten variations on a good theme is all you want from Skid Row, then this will do the job for you. Well, nine variations, because October's Song is a power ballad, but the point holds. It all does what it does unashamedly and with a certain amount of panache. It feels fresh right now, the clear passion Grönwall has for singing in this style rubbing off on his band members who have been playing in it for decades. But, realistically, it's not going to stay fresh for long. This is a solid return for a band who have been away too long but they're going to need to vary the formula next time out to keep that freshness.
And, if you're looking for that variety already, then this isn't going to be the album that convinces you that Skid Row are going to bring anything more to the table than they have already. I enjoyed this, but the songs blurred together on a first listen and didn't start to delineate themselves on a second or third time through. The only thing that further listens did were to highlight how strong October's Song is, even though it's a ballad. It's the only song that grew on me, though it's fair to add that none of the others vanished with familiarity. That's why I'm staying with my initial 7/10.