Friday 12 May 2023

Mike Tramp - Songs of White Lion (2023)

Country: Denmark
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 14 Apr 2023
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The most recent Mike Tramp release I reviewed here at Apocalypse Later was an album of original pop songs, For Første Gang, which he sang in his native Danish, that only rarely felt like trawling in rock. It was the one before that, Second Time Around, that comes to mind here because it was a re-recording of a 2009 album called Mike Tramp & The Roll 'n' Roll Circuz, with all the same musicians, possibly because it was only previously released in Denmark and, hey, maybe there was some sort of rights or ownership issue. That's why Taylor Swift is re-recording all of her early albums.

This is another album that's like that, because it's a look back at the catalogue of White Lion, that late eighties band that brought him most success, with re-recordings of select songs, including the bigger hits. What's especially odd here is that he's done it before, with 1999's Remembering White Lion, which has seen release under a number of different titles too. There are five crossovers that are both on this album and that one, though the musicians are all brand new again, meaning that on those particular songs, Tramp is re-recording a re-recording with a third version of White Lion. Why, I have no idea.

The good news is that it all sounds great. White Lion were usually classified as glam metal, but the sound they had was always firmly rooted in hard rock and this is a more overtly hard rock take. The opening of Lady of the Valley feels like metal, all Marcus Nand guitars, but it softens up a lot more than the original and it doesn't just benefit from 21st century production values. Tramp's voice is wonderful here, as clear as ever but with a delightful hint of age. It's been a while since 1987 and I believe he's continued to mature that voice ever since. Maybe there's the answer. He wants to see those old songs sung by the voice that he has now and I can't blame him for that.

Lady of the Valley is one of the highlights here for me. I remember Pride from its original release, but I was getting more and more into thrash and other proto-extreme metal at the time and so my sister would have listened to it a lot more than I did. It's the most represented White Lion album in this retrospective, with five tracks redone compared to four from Big Game, a couple from Fight to Survive and only one from Mane Attraction. It prompts me to go back to the originals but that just highlights how these do sound better. Production has moved on and the only expectations now are Tramp's, not his record label's. The ending on this one sounds even more like Mountain and it does not fade out this time.

I remember Pride being a big album and Big Game followed suit. It shouldn't shock that the songs here from those albums sound good. What surprised me the most about this is that two of my five highlights are the pair from their debut, Fight to Survive. I'm sure that I heard that album back in the day but I don't remember it at all, just the two that came after it. Clearly I should check it out afresh because Broken Heart stands out here, playing like a heavier Bryan Adams song, if he had taken up hard rock, and All the Fallen Men is even better, heavier again with a neatly churning riff. I woke up this morning with this one playing in my head. Tramp relishes both.

I should highlight that Broken Heart opened up Fight to Survive and my other two highlights were also album openers, so suggesting that I like emphatic White Lion songs rather than ballads, which were a good part of their repertoire. Other fans may well go for hit singles like Wait and When the Children Cry first, but it's apparently the openers that get me going. Hungry opened up Pride and Goin' Home Tonight opened up Big Game. Everything else was apparently a bonus in my book. It's perhaps telling that Lady of the Valley wasn't an opener in 1987 but is here and it's easily the best song on the album for me.

I should confirm that those bigger hits sound good too, just in case you wondered if they didn't sit well with taste a few decades on. When the Children Cry is particularly strong, which is why it's at the tail end of the album to wrap it up, as indeed it did on Pride. Tramp's voice sounds fantastic on this version. Listening to the original, he was clearly trying for an effect and the fact that it was so popular merely suggests that he nailed it. Here, he's not trying for anything, that effect is simply there in his voice. There's a lot to be said for the flexibility of young voices but there's just as much to be said for the maturity of old voices that have been there and done that, but not broken. Nand provides a huge solo too, that's all the more effective for the contrast of soaring over a soft piano.

It's a bit of a cheat to give this an 8/10, given that it's effectively a best of album that reaps some benefits that a traditional best of album wouldn't have. Sure, they did it right, which is important, but it ought to be this good. White Lion were an underrated band in the eighties, painted into one of those media-friendly buckets that never quite fit them, and they're well worth checking out. It's fair to say that this would be a good starting point because of the better production and because Tramp's voice has never been better.

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