Welcome to the musical meandering insights of Aaron Joy. Here you'll find 600 reviews of CDs & DVDs of rock & metal in all its variations, mainstream & indie. What they all share is that the album or band is unique in some way & not every submission was reviewed. Please share these reviews or link to them if you like what you read. Reviews are no longer being posted here but feel free to e-mail Aaron & post comments. (Formerly the Roman Midnight Music Blog)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Hanoi Rocks ~ Two Steps From The Move

(Click heading to visit official website.)
Style: glam, hard rock, Finnish
Label: Epic
Year: 1984
Home: Finland (disbanded)

Members: Michael Monroe ~ vocals/saxophone
Nasty Suicide, Andy McCoy ~ guitar/b. vocals
Razzle ~ drums/b. vocals
Sam Yaffa ~ bass/b. vocals

Guest: Bob Ezrin ~ keyboards/percussion/b. vocals


I got to meeting former HR/New York Dolls/Joan Jett bassist Sami Yaffa earlier this year when I filmed a couple private living room rehearsals he did with New Yorker songwriter/guitarist Uncle Bob NYC & Television drummer Billy Ficca just before going back on tour with former HR bandmate Michael Monroe. Yaffa kept turning to me cracking jokes as I seemed to be the only one in the room relaxed enough to be receptive. I'll confess that until that time I'd never paid much attention to HR. Only until I knew I was going to film the rehearsal did I listen to anything by them & research their legacy. In a way it was good because I wasn't drooling on him for an autograph, which I didn't get though I still have the video footage, albeit there's probably no better way to suddenly being introduced to someone's music then by meeting them. Discovering guitarist Al Pitrelli came the same way when he was waiting for me in a bar having chatted on e-mail. Yaffa & Pitrelli are such lowkey modest guys & very friendly that its hard to not want to then check out their music. Drummer Ficca is probably the most unassuming drummer I've ever met & I've since gone back for a listen of Television too. The funny thing is that by not hearing their music, whether Television or HR, I've also missed their legacies & seeing their influence. These are influences not to be ignored. Television was the first & probably most artistic CBGB's band while HR influenced all the 80's bands I love & going back to them I suddenly see how imitative of HR they are visually & musically. I still call Motley Crue a favorite band but I suddenly see how luck has as much to do with musical success & popularity as anything. By the time HR got to Two Steps From The Move, planned to be their breakthrough album but became their anti-climactic final before everything fell apart in a history you can read on wikipedia, HR had actually gone through more musical changes than one might expect for a relatively short career, from Ramones-esque rock to straight 70's glam that included recruiting as producers Mott The Hoople's Dale Buffin Griffin & Overend Watts. Never being much of a glam fan beyond Bowie & Bolan I wasn't able to really dig HR on first listen. I'm also a confessed non-fan of the Ramones & the punk scene. HR turns in a good updated glam sound, no doubt, but it just isn't my thing. But, Two Steps From The Move brings it all together & smooths out some of the rough spots & when it's said that this was going to be their breakthrough album it's hard not to believe. I've finally found an HR I can listen to repeatedly ... & I'd pretty much not bothered looking anymore having been bored by some comprehensive greatest hits collections. On one hand it feels less imitative than the previous albums, though that also has something to do with famed producer Bob Ezrin of Lou Reed, Alice Cooper & countless others coming into the picture as producer, musician & co-songwriter. While some bands hate producers, with some good reasons over the history of music, a good producer builds up & focuses a band & gives them a distinct personality & is a near member of the band by honor & necessity. Ezrin has a reputation for home runs & doesn't disappoint here. Though, by the time Ezrin gets to HR they were already on the path to success & major international fame having already become the template for the L.A. hair metal glam rock scene. The scene already knew about them but this album was going to put them on the map for everyone everywhere, much in the same way that Desmond Child was called in by Alice Cooper to create Trash after a decade off the charts in a drunken stupor. If only drummer Razzle hadn't died in a car crash leading to bassist Sami Yaffa resigning ... to be followed by the band soon calling it a day & going their separate ways & giving up the crown they were destined to wear. Of course, I would have liked to have asked Yaffa about these days, but I was cool & kept my comments only to the new music. He's probably dwelled in the past too much. The kings of the scene vanished overnight & the imitators Motley Crue, Poison & later Guns N Roses took over. The debt to HR has never really been repaid or recognized by many in the music scene. Thankfully frontman Michael Monroe's current comeback, even if he does now look like an old woman with too much eyeshadow, is turning out some great music loved by fans, peers & critics. If you want to know the buzz on HR & like me are not a glam fan I'd recommend avoiding the greatest hits compilations & go straight for Two Steps From The Move. Perhaps, even, I should have started here & not ended here as there's no place to go but backwards now or live albums or discovering the solo work of the guys. But, this is such a great album it's all I need to feel like I'm fully enjoying HR. This album still has the fun pop glam sound, as recorded previously, both lyrically & musically (for example "Don't You Ever Leave Me", "Boiler (Me Boiler N' Me)"), as singing songs of teaching high school is certainly pop (i.e. "High School") & Michael Monroe's playing the saxophone certainly recalls Bowie, while there's definetly a T-Rex influence (i.e. "I Can't Get It", "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams"), which makes one want to go back & check out the oft ignored Marc Bolan who went head to head with Bowie in terms of popularity much like it was the Stones vs the Beatles. There's also a bit of an 80's new wave or synthesizer touch putting a contemporary spanner into the nostalgia with some great twin guitar work (i.e. "Underwater World", "Futurama") that is surely courtesy of Ezrin since he had his ear to the ground. The weakest track also opens the album, a cover of Creedance Clearwater Revival's "Up Around The Bend". It's catchy but not as creative as what follows. It's the old cheap trick of throwing on a cover to get listeners & showing how creative you can sound when really the cover is the least creative & most restrictive musically. Compare it to the single "Don't You Ever Leave Me" & cheap the trick is becomes obvious. "Cutting corners" that ends the album could also very well have been a single & certainly "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams" if things had been carried that far for the band. The later is also the title of a Green Day song, no relation. Also noticeable on this album is that Michael Monroe isn't trying to slur out his words like he's in the Ramones nor sounding quite as sleazy as previous releases. He reigns in the vocals for what is actually a better & less forced performance. While I might have met just the lowly bass player the rhythm section of HR deserves mention. HR turn in some great melodic songs but the rhythm section often holds it together if not driving the song while the guitars are just along for the ride. Yaffa & Razzle also refrain from cluttering up the low end. After hearing this one can only wonder why a drummer would want to fill up the air with double bass drumming. Actually, there's no clutter on any level, much in the same way that Quiet Riot was uncluttered or Randy Rhoads era Ozzy. Check out Yaffa on "High School" for some great little bass fill-ins or "Underwater World" where Yaffa & Razzle keep it all together, or Razzle on "Million Miles Away" for some fun cowbell. Cowbell is cool. If anything really hurts the album it's some weak lyrics & topics that sound like they were from the Archies playbook. Sugar coated fun. Even when Alice Cooper sang "School's Out" or "I'm 18" it had more guts lyrically. But, the weak lyrics keep it all fun. It's not as in your face as the later L.A. stuff nor aiming for anything but fun music. No social criticism here. One can only imagine what it would have been like if HR had taken the rock crown they were aiming for. L.A. would be far different & maybe Americans would take more interest in the international music scene. Without hesitance, if you haven't already, fill in your musical scrapbook with HR as it's only two steps...




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