CD Review: Michael Monroe - Horns and Halos

CD Review: Michael Monroe - Horns and Halos
Spinefarm Records
All Access Rating: A-

Michael Monroe - Horns and Halos 2013
There aren't many like Michael Monroe left on this planet. A real honest-to-goodness rock star, the former Hanoi Rocks ringmaster still looks the part, what with his platinum-blonde hair, thick eyeliner, form-fitting clothes and all the thrift-store jewelry he can wear on his rail-thin Finnish body. 

Monroe, and those like him, are an endangered species, and there are precious few out there who can still deliver the goods like he can, still belting out songs with all the desperation and raw, in-your-face attitude of an angry young rocker rebelling against everything you've got. Sensory Overdrive, released in 2011 to critical acclaim, was a primal rock 'n' roll scream from this patron saint of glam-metal that woke the dead, or at least shook up a sleepy hard-rock scene that needed a good slap in the face. And Horns and Halos, Monroe's latest, is even better. 

Like knocking back one Red Bull and vodka after another, Horns and Halos is rousing set of up-tempo, razor-sharp rock 'n' roll excitement, the shouted choruses, hand claps, the occasional rollicking piano runs and blazing guitars all raising a glass, slamming its intoxicants and then breaking it on the floor. If he did wear sleeves, Monroe's racing punk-rock heart would be more visible than ever on Horns and Halos, where tight, barbed hooks are never in short supply. His vocals are like a brick thrown though a plate-glass window or a lipstick-smeared punch to the face, as he forcefully spits out lyrics nostalgic for hand-to-mouth living, cheap thrills and danger. 

Monroe pines for a time when New York City wasn't so sanitized in the "Ballad of the Lower East Side," where he tells of living on 3rd Street as his boys Sami Yaffa and Steve Conte of the New York Dolls, Dregen from The Hellacopters and Backyard Babies, and drummer Karl "Rockfist" Rosqvist go running with him into the past with wild abandon. When Monroe sings, "There were junkies, pimps and whores/hallelujah," it makes the hair on your arms stand up, as this rowdy, fist-pumping anthem, and Horns and Halos is full of them, becomes positively euphoric. With its carousing, singalong chorus and its infectious spirit, "Ballad of the Lower East Side" rides a wave of emotion, much like the melodically earnest, but still emotionally potent, "Child of the Revolution."

Bristling with energy, Horns and Halos is fast, tough and surprisingly sleek. This is no shabby production, but it's not overdone. Tracks like "TNT Diet" and the title track have a blistering pace and a raucous atmosphere, and "Saturday Night Special" and "Eighteen Angels," with Monroe blowing harmonica on the latter, are similarly wired for sound that is gutsy and fully realized, but never glossy. And "Stained Glass Heart" manages to grab some of that mangy charm of The Replacements for itself, proving that smart songwriting still counts for something in Monroe's book. As does having an adventurous personality. Holding nothing back with a band always willing to go for broke, Monroe even goes so far as to inject brief pieces of dub and high-stepping reggae when the mood strikes, just to let listeners take a quick breather.

With a devil on one shoulder and an angel with a dirty face on the other, Monroe hasn't picked a side just yet. With hardly anybody making high-powered hard rock this ballsy anymore, maybe it's for the best that he hasn't.
- Peter Lindblad

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