Review Summary: The debut record by Finnish rock 'n' rollers, Hanoi Rocks, presents very little evidence as to why this band couldn't have been the most successful rock 'n' roll band of the 1980's.
The opening track title to Finnish rock ‘n’ roll band Hanoi Rocks’ debut album, ‘Bangkok Shocks, Saigon Shakes, Hanoi Rocks’, is all too fluky; this is because this set of songs is the first documentation of a band who may be regarded as the greatest band that never was – at least in terms of 1980’s rock ‘n’ roll – and this, surely, is a ‘tragedy’.
To lump this cut of early 80’s rock (to be precise, it possesses a release date of circa March, 1981) into a genre, such as glam rock or glam punk, would be unfair. For what I believe this group is aiming at, with this set of songs, is to maintain the flame of that purely simple corner of the global music psyche, rock ‘n’ roll.
Diving in, album opener ‘Tragedy’ sets an effective tone for the remainder of the ten tracks released on the original cutting of the record; the chugging bass of Sami Yaffa (who now serves as bassist for the New York Dolls, a band with a glaring influence on this one – probably living a childhood dream) and the accurate (if uninspiring) drum work of Gyp Casino showcase the dependable rhythm section upon which the more affluent guitar and vocal parts are built. ‘Tragedy’ works, as McCoy and fellow guitarist Nasty Suicide weave their licks about, which is the first comparison to the Rolling Stones I would like to make: McCoy and Suicide appear to be disciples of the partnership approach to rock ‘n’ roll guitar, as laid down by Keith Richards and Brian Jones (and later Ronnie Wood). Coupled with high pitched, Keith Richards-esque backing vocals (sung by McCoy) to enhance a sense of melody, ‘Tragedy’ exists as probably the strongest tune from the album.
Another memorable moment is the ballad, ‘Don’t Never Leave Me’; though possessing a definite ballad styled vibe, the quirky temperament of the song allows for an ease of enjoyment, while still efficiently emanating the appropriate emotions; an excellent example of such eccentricity is the near-spoken-word interlude by McCoy.
For a balanced perspective of the album, I must admit, the album has to have a low point; but when one must go in desperate search of this aforementioned low point, it’s safe to say, the album is brilliantly done. For me, the least memorable track is the underwhelming album closer, ‘Pretender’ – while certainly not a bad track, and though it shows off a high level of Stones-ish swagger, the hook emphasized sensibilities which are in abundance throughout the rest of the album are in a lesser force here. Indeed, some may also criticize the general similarity in sound among the tracks; most of the tunes found here follow the same general formula: a catchy, sleazy riff (with the filthiest of rock ‘n’ roll guitar tones – a sure compliment), moments of Monroe’s saxophone and harmonica, accompanied by toe-tapping, melodic verses and choruses. I’ll admit, the variety isn’t great (despite a cover of Herman’s Hermits’ ‘Walking With My Angel' thrown in, and cleverly done), however, if something ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Michael Monroe’s vocal expertise (and impressive showcase of multi-instrumentalism), supported by Andy McCoy’s capacity for song-writing, leave these two as the distinct stars of the band, and the tracks presented here give very, very little reason as to why Hanoi Rocks couldn’t have been the biggest rock ‘n’ roll band of the 1980’s; their unfulfilled potential, caused by ‘Tragedy’, surely is just that. A tragedy.