Album Review: Michael Monroe – “One Man Gang”
By all accounts, this album, Michael Monroe’s fourth since Hanoi Rocks went their separate ways in 2008, has had something of a troubled genesis. The fact that it’s come four years after its predecessor, 2015’s Blackout States, and is seeing the light of day some 18 months after being recorded, does make you wonder what’s caused such a big delay.
Well, at least it does until the opening title track blasts in with all the force of a 200 ton gelignite explosion, and a whiplash riff from Captain Sensible backing up regular six-stringers Steve Conte and Rich Jones, while Sami Yaffa and Karl Rockfist provide a suitably thunderous rhythm section and Monroe snarls out “From the heart of the city to the alleyways / Everybody’s pissin’ on their own parade”.
Last Train To Tokyo and Junk Planet keep the momentum going nicely before Midsummer Nights provides a break in pace with a wistful mid-paced look back at Monroe’s early career in Hanoi Rocks. The claustrophobic The Perils Of Being An Outsider ratchets the angst back up a notch or two with Monroe snarling “What doesn’t cure us probably won’t make us stronger” while railing against faceless corporate rock bands who are simply happy to chase whatever trends are in this year, and hitting paydirt with a big stadium-sized singalong chorus. The harmonica honking Wasted Years sees Monroe and Yaffa’s old Hanoi Rocks bandmate Nasty Suicide put in an appearance on guitar and it’s good to hear three-fifths of that awesome band’s classic line-up reunited, especially on a song as good as this one.
In The Tall Grass, led by Yaffa’s bassline, is another reflective look back at Monroe’s younger years with lyrics about “Makin’ memories ‘cos the summer’s fading fast” before Black Ties And Red Tape amps the tempo up to an almost Motorhead/Misfits level of intensity with Monroe spitting pure venom about the music business over a frenzied Eddie Clarke style riff from Jones and Conte. Hollywood Paranoia is a bit more mid-paced but similarly vicious in its dissection of the red carpet lifestyle. The anti-organised religion Heaven Is A Free State adds some Mariachi trumpets into the mix for a bit of extra atmosphere, before the rumbling Helsinki Shakedown and the ominous Low Life In High Places sign this one off.
Hand on heart, One Man Gang isn’t anything you wouldn’t expect from Michael Monroe, but the truth is that he and his band sound well and truly locked in and tight here, and this is definitely a contender for one of his strongest solo albums to date – the sheer energy and enthusiasm is almost certain to draw you in and have you cueing this up for a second listen once you reach the end. One of the better releases of this year, make no mistake about it.
Sometimes there's a good argument to sticking to what you know in music, and Michael Monroe proves on One Man Gang the wisdom of playing to your strengths. By turns energetic, angry and anthemic, this is a great collection of songs played by a band well and truly locked in to the music. Highly recommended.