As one of the frontrunners of glam rock, Michael Monroe is still on a roll. His look may be out of step with modern rock conventions, but that’s never seemed to faze him. Whether it’s HANOI ROCKS, DEMOLITION 23, JERUSALEM SLIM or in this case his solo work, Monroe does his thing and more often than not, it works.
On his latest album, “Blackout States”, his trusted right-hand man, Sami Yaffa, joins Monroe. Yaffa has, of course, played with HANOI ROCKS and DEMOLITION 23 along with Joan Jett and the second incarnation of the NEW YORK DOLLS. Also in Monroe’s posse is drummer Karl Rockfist (who has backed up Glenn Danzig and Joan Osborne) along with guitarists Steve Conte and Rich Jones. Conte’s teeming resume includes filling in for Johnny Thunders in the NEW YORK DOLLS, while Jones has spent time playing with Ginger Wildheart and THE BLACK HALOS.
The band gets in your face on track one with the snarling but peppy “This Ain’t No Love Song”. Michael Monroe invites his listeners to sing along to a fast-whipping punk groove and its catchiness is contagious. “Old King’s Road” drops back a couple of clicks but Sami Yaffa’s warbling bass lines and Karl Rockfist’s slapped-out tempo gives the song’s punk pulse a hard heave. Steve Conte and Rich Jones’s riffs are sparkly here and on the following cut, “Goin’ Down With the Ship”. The latter song is a steady, pop-driven trad rocker, which Monroe fields with as much glee as the song’s up-tempo harmonies.
As the album gradually slows into the conventional “Keep Your Eye On You”, Michael Monroe’s vocals refine alongside the guitars, which plug into pop-rocking chord patterns from yesteryear, hitting a minute sense of urgency during the solo section. As compared to the old HANOI ROCKS years, “Keep Your Eye On You” is rather tame, yet the next track, “The Bastard’s Bash” has much more fang. Here, Michael Monroe and company ride a set of dirty chords mingling HANOI ROCKS with T-REX: nasty fun. Ditto for the glam-slammed pining for home, “Dead Hearts On Denmark Street” later in the album.
Even more pleasurable is the springing, MOTORHEAD-spun “R.L.F. “. This one ought to induce mini riots in clubs once Michael Monroe’s fans learn the acronym constituting the song’s unruly choruses. The title track falls into calmer waters, mingling punk and blues, and given a hearty pump by Sami Yaffa’s bass leads. “Under the Northern Lights” fakes a ballad with a whispery intro but quickly sways into a tempered NEW YORK DOLLS-driven number.
What’s successful about this album is its rolling dynamics. “Permanent Youth” is another switcheroo that allows the band to lull along behind Michael Monroe with bass knocking and back-and-forth chord progressions set to a likeable groove. Monroe’s shrieking sax solo in the middle of the number is Springsteen-esque, but “Permanent Youth” is still punk in nature and Michael Monroe treats it like a personal anthem.
For a guy who never really indulged in a rocker’s vices, Monroe’s always managed to project like he’s been acclimated with a crash and burn. Bearing witness over so many years of his career helps him interpret accordingly. Never developing a serious chemical addiction, is likely one reason why Monroe continues to sound like he matters when he records. Surrounding himself with a band that knows punk and rock measures, keeps Michael Monroe stuck in that state of permanent youth he yearns for on “Blackout States”.