When Mötley Crüe singer Vince Neil’s Panther swerved and hit an oncoming car side-on, killing his passenger Razzle Dingley, Hanoi Rocks all but died with him.
The English drummer had only joined the band two years previously, but had an immediate impact upon the group’s music and image. It was he who pushed the other members to fully embrace the glam look (to match their Dolls-inspired rock n’ roll), and he who gave Hanoi Rocks the “swing” that Andy McCoy’s Chuck Berry-alike riffs demanded. Without him the band fell apart, and the album that threatened to be their breakthrough, the Bob Ezrin-produced Two Steps From The Move
, turned out to be their bitter swansong.
Believing they couldn’t possibly continue as a band, the group disbanded in 1985. Seventeen years later, time has obviously healed those wounds. Frontman Mike Monroe and main songwriter and guitarist Andy McCoy resurrected the name and recorded Twelve Shots On The Rocks
with three session players filling in for bassist Sami Yaffa (now a New York Doll) and guitarist Nasty Suicide (now Jan Stenfors, a pharmacist). Few expected a follow-up, but in 2005 they dropped Another Hostile Takeover
, having recruited guitarist Conny Bloom and A.C. Christell (ex- of Swedish funk-metal band Electric Boys) and retained Finnish drummer Lacu from the previous record.
Twelve Shots On The Rocks
was essentially a throw-back to the band’s classic era, the post-Razzle, pre-Two Steps
period. Another Hostile Takeover
is another beast entirely, having more in common with Mike Monroe’s solo releases than anything the band produced, with only the ultra-slick Two Steps From The Move
as a reference point. Yes, Another Hostile Takeover
rocks with the best of ‘em, but there’s other forces at work as well: Finnish beatmakers DJ Alimo and DJ Control contribute to two standout tracks, the ambient pop of ‘The Devil In You’ and the self-evident ‘Reggae Rocker,’ while the album as a whole is more thoughtfully-produced, with guitars and vocals heavy in the mix at the expense of the rhythm section.
The song choice also shies away from the raucous rock of Back To Mystery City
et al, the group opting instead for a wider range of material. Opener ‘Back In Yer Face’ is a chunky rocker in the vein of Hanoi Rocks-acolytes Backyard Babies, with a more-aggressive-than-usual vocal from Monroe and a catchy, explosive chorus the group’s not generally known for. Downbeat rocker ‘Hurt’ is more than a little bit reminiscent of Get A Grip
-era Aerosmith, while ‘Eternal Optimist’ is a far-too-calculated radio rock song, with wonderfully tight guitar work (check out those flamenco rolls!) its only real saving grace.
‘Experimental’ isn’t really the word to use when the music is this self-consciously slick, but there are moments on Another Hostile Takeover
where one can justifiably ask, “why aren’t all pop albums this well executed?” ‘The Devil In You’ is probably the most accomplished of Mike Monroe’s flirtations with New Romanticism, channelling both Duran Duran and Savage Garden, while ‘Reggae Rocker’ takes a sublime Joe Strummer-like chorus and pits it against a funky rapped verse that almost (I said almost
) hits the lows of Extreme’s ‘I’m The President.’ “Clap yer hands!” Yeah, hold on…
The obligatory cover song is Phil Lynott’s ‘Dear Miss Lonely Hearts,’ from 1983’s Solo In Soho
, and it’s difficult to imagine a more apt choice. The band pay tribute to one of the late rocker’s lesser-known hits, adding their own sleazy swagger (should that be ‘drunken stagger’?) to the track, itself one of the better products of a rocker struggling to transfer his talents to the pop scene. ‘Love’ is a pure rockabilly track that could as easily fit on the latest New York Dolls release, while ‘Better High’ draws a line somewhere between the blues-y proto-punk of old and modern Scandinavian hard rock.
‘No Compromise, No Regrets,’ inspired by the Stiv Bators (deceased singer; The Dead Boys, Lords of the New Church) track of the same name, was the last song Mike Monroe wrote with his late wife and writing partner June Wilder. If ever a lesson was needed of how to write a truly heart-rending rock ballad was needed, this is the one: a wonderfully tasteful arrangement takes in unobtrusive strings and synthesisers, allowing the beauty of the melody and the lyrics to take centre stage. Monroe sings, ”When everything in life seems like you’re slowly going nowhere, make no compromise, have no regrets.”
‘Centre of my Universe’ is an old track, dating back almost a decade. It’s Andy McCoy’s most personal, and most accomplished, lyric to date, written with the death of his own wife in mind. If ‘No Compromise, No Regrets’ is the best example of the “new” Hanoi Rocks, ‘Centre of my Universe’ harks back to the band’s glory days, with an unassuming melody that invites the listener rather than inviting itself over, and features an all-too-rare sax solo from the multi-talented singer.
While the record features just as many clever and amusing one-liners as we’ve come to expect (see: ”by the time you’re forty you’ll have the face that you deserve”
from ‘Back In Yer Face’), ‘Centre of my Universe’ is an example of McCoy’s more soulful side, an aspect of his songwriting he’s only allowed glimpses of on previous Hanoi records. It must also be noted that Andy isn’t a native English speaker, but lyrics so raw and honest would look good in any songwriter’s notebook.
”You used to be the centre of my universe,
You were my gravity that kept me down to earth,
My head sky high and my feet firmly on the ground.
Then came the end, now it seems to me my friend,
I’m alone in the centre of my universe.”
Still, ‘Centre of my Universe’ is an example of the one spot in which Another Hostile Takeover
fails: the Hanoi Rocks of old never sold you a melody you didn’t want and, as the best tracks on this album prove, they’re still quite capable of making great rock, and even pop, music without all the excess production. Fans will inevitably point out the it’s not “the real Hanoi Rocks,” but Another Hostile Takeover
is more than a good enough continuation of the legacy. Here’s hoping (wishing, begging) they keep making music together.