Review Summary: As brilliant as it is stupid
Ex-LA Guns singer Ralph Saenz's (aka Michael Starr) 80's tribute/parody band Steel Panther have been selling out South California's Key Club fairly regularly for some time now. Tongue in cheek humour, larger than life parody personas, and a wealth of on-stage celebrity guests (ranging from Tom morello, to Pink, to April Margera) helped them gain considerable recognition. It was only a matter of time until the guys landed themselves a record deal and set about recording their debut under the Steel Panther name. Is it as bad as it sounds? A juvenile jibe at 80's metal cliches complete with unoriginal music and utterly stupid lyrics? Without a shadow of a doubt, yes. And yet, it's utterly brilliant.
Although Feel The Steel comes across in design as an homage to the 80's rock what you'll find here is more in the vein of the early 90's dying breath of hair metal. Feel The Steel is akin to the more contemporary sounding Appetite For Destructions or Skid Rows of the world, with a focus on fast, catchy riffs supporting powerful soaring vocals. The guitar work is decidedly Slash-come-Dave 'The Snake', although the tone and speed of the guitar adds just enough early Metallica to give the band's sound a real metal edge as opposed to the more hard rock orientated bands one would peg as influences. Guitarist Satchel displays more than his fair share of chops throughout the run time of the CD; his solos are often blistering, wah wah and whammy bar fueled affairs that belie the parodical nature of the material, whereas his acoustic work on the album's ballads is, if not highly original, extremely well performed. Coupled with the more than competant drumming and the (naturally) inaudible bass, there's plenty to keep fans of old school and contemporary heavy metal entertained. But where is an 80's (influenced) rock band without an iconic lead singer, who has both the voice and the lyrics to burn the band into one's brain permanently? Absolutely nowhere, and here's where the album truly shines.
Michael Starr is, to put it simply, stunning. His singing is melodic, yet has just enough grit and low end to it to keep it from descending into true 80's cliche. He throws out soaring, epic choruses left and right, and bookends them with a nice mix of slightly gravelly energetic verses. When it comes down to tone it down for the odd acoustic number, he's equally flawless, adopting a drawling, subdued yet happy, nostalgic tone that you can't help but smile at and relax to. A brilliant example of the latter can be found in the song 'Girl From Oklahoma', a ballad recounting an encounter with a memorable, apparantly underage groupie in Oklahoma City. Who may have caught VD off Starr. This is easily the third or fourth reference to VD in one form or another throughout the record, and here is where the album gets divisive.
Fans of rap-metal/pop-punk/dance jokers The Bloodhound Gang, or the endearingly inane and inventine Lonely Island will be right at home with the lyrics on Feel The Steel. This band is, to put it simply, the heavy metal alternative to the Tenacious Ds of the world. If these bands are anathema to you, then Steel Panther is unlikely to be up your alley. Although all the lyrics are arranged wonderfully into soaring choruses, the content may cause some shaking of the head. 'Turn out the lights before you suck my dick, someone beat you with an ugly stick, I wanna *** but you make me sick, so turn out the lights' cries Starr (or in this particular case, M Shadows of Avenged Sevenfold in a guest spot) in one of the album's many brilliant hooks. "I would give you the stars in the sky, but they're too far away, if you were a hooker you'd know, I'd be happy to pay, if suddenly you were a guy, I'd be suddenly gay" he declares in the album's first ballad, Community Property. "Whoa whoa, hey hey hey! *** all night and party all day!" he advises, in what is probably the catchiest chorus this particular reviewer has heard in some years.
And so it goes. Every song on here is a full on attempt at humour, and there are plenty of moments of sheer hilarity to be found if you're inclined towards to this sort of thing. There are a few misses here and there, notably most of Eatin' Ain't Cheatin', but Starr's timing is frequently impeccable, often saving the punchlines for just the perfect moment to leave you chuckling to yourself. It's this continously clever positioning of lines such as "I love your boobies", slipped in after the chorus of Stripper Girl, but before the next section of the song, that seemingly elevate Steel Panther's lyrics from pathetically childish to hilariously juvenile.
And juvenile really is an apt description for this record. Four fully grown men with spandex and huge hair playing faster, heavier Guns 'n' Roses esque hard rock with some of the most childish and ridiculously rhymed lyrics this side of Soulja Boy's debut. And yet it's utterly fantastic. There's plenty of energy all the way through this record, and a wide enough variety of song styles to keep the listener's attention from start to finish. This is an absolutely brilliant hard rock album, and if you're a fan of, say, Will Ferrel movies, you'll find the humour only adds to an already highly entertaining album full of cheekily sampled riffs and melodies. Personally, lost in a sea of Protest The Hero, BTBAM and Dir En Grey, I still can't help but love this album for it's brash, shameless approach to the act of simultaneously vandalising and paying tribute to old school heavy metal. Sure, there are a couple of songs that don't stack up to the rest of the album, some of the jokes lines misfire now and then, and it's nowhere near revolutionary enough to be a classic, but it's still a hell of a lot of fun.
'Death to all but metal!'