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Monroe, Michael: The Best
Think Michael Monroe and you think Hanoi Rocks. Considering that the singer – and sax player – started his solo career some thirty years ago, maybe it would be fairer to view his time outside of that band as the main focus? Admittedly his solo path has been littered with Hanoi reunions, dalliances with Steve Stevens in Jerusalem Slim and time well spent with Little Steven, who produced and co-wrote with Demolition 23. But with eight studio solo releases under his belt, the three decade mark feels like as good a time as any to reappraise what shows up to be a rather remarkable canon of work.
With Hanoi Rocks imploding in 1985 after the tragic death of their drummer Razzle, Michael Monroe completed a protracted departure from the band, and having taken time to gather his thoughts, returned with his first solo album, Nights Are So Long, two years later. Interestingly, while The Best runs in chronological order, the three cracking tracks from that clearly raw, emotional album don't open this compilation, the trio of "It's A Lie" (also featuring Stiv Bators), "Can't Go Home Again" and the parent album's title cut, preceded by the 1989 released Not Fakin' It pair of "Dead Jail Or Rock N Roll" and "Man With No Eyes", before the rest of this 29 track, two disc collection runs in order of release.
With the running order chosen by Monroe himself, possibly the thought that "Dead Jail Or Rock N Roll" sums up the man and his career perfectly, is why it opens this collection? Either way, the Not Fakin' It album is arguably still Monroe's best, the man's ability to blend the sleazy ramshackle accuracy of Hanoi Rocks to a more obvious punk n' roll ethos never better illustrated. That said, to these ears Monroe's best work outside of Hanoi remains the one and only album from Demolition 23, the 1994 effort produced and co-written by none other than Little Steven of the E Street Band. Out of print for many a year, anyone unfamiliar with "Nothin's Alright", "Hammersmith Palais", "You Crucified Me" or "Deadtime Stories", needs no more reason to rush out and buy this collection immediately. Monroe never sounding more lethal than he did alongside guitarist Jay Hening, drummer Jimmy Clark and Hanoi bassist Sami Yaffa.
With Dem-23 tragically short lived and Jerusalem Slim proving equally brief and much less rewarding, Monroe was solo again in 1996 with Peace Of Mind and 1999 with Life Gets You Down, before Watcha Want appeared in 2003. All three are less celebrated moments in the double M catalogue, but with "Stranded", the reworked Hanoi number "Self Destruction Blues" and David Lindhom cover "Telephone Bill's All Mine", perfect examples of the man's ability to combine shit kicking rock n' roll to an authentic lyrical melancholy and nostalgia for days gone by, that they remain largely ignored is a travesty.
With Hanoi Rocks reforming, Monroe would put his solo career on the back burner until the Finnish sleaze masters split for good in 2009. The enigmatic frontman would again take stock before returning with a slew of albums as potent as any in his never less than impressive catalogue. With 2011's Sensory Overdrive spawning "'78" and "All You Need", Horns And Halos two years later serving up "Eighteen Angels" and "Stained Glass Heart" and 2015's Blackout States hitting hard with "Old King's Road" and the ultimate sing along, "Goin' Down With The Ship", you could argue that Michael Monroe is in the form of his life (something his recent live shows confirm).
As if that all wasn't enough, five extra bonus tracks appear starting with the rockin' good time of brand new single "One Foot Outta The Grave", while the previously Japanese only "Get On" is simple, hip shakin' rock n' roll served with a curled lip and snarling sneer of punk. Add in two Blackout States leftovers ("Fist Fulla Dynamite" and "Simpletown") that are just as good as what made the main album and a 1993 version of Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride" featuring non other than Slash, and not only is The Best a superbly chosen overview of Michael Monroe's work outside of Hanoi Rocks, it also contains the equivalent of half a new album's worth of unreleased or rare material. Who could ask for more?
Put simply, do yourself a favour and get The Best. That album title ain't an idle boast.
1. Dead Jail Or Rock N Roll
2. Man With No Eyes
3. It's A Lie (feat. Stiv Bators)
4. Nights Are So Long
5. Can't Go Home Again
6. Nothin's Alright
7. Hammersmith Palais
8. You Crucified Me
9. Deadtime Stories
10. Where's The Fire John?
11. Make It Go Away
12. Life Gets You Dirty
13. Self Destruction Blues
15. Telephone Bill's All Mine
1. Trick Of The Wrist
3. All You Need
4. Ballad Of The Lower East Side
5. Eighteen Angels
6. Stained Glass Heart
7. Old King's Road
8. Goin' Down With The Ship
9. Keep Your Eye On You
10. One Foot Outta The Grave
11. Fist Fulla Dynamite
13. Get On
14. Magic Carpet Ride (feat. Slash)
Added: June 10th 2017
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Michael Monroe online
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