Thursday, 8 June 2017

Warrant's 'Louder Harder Faster' - Album Review

Despite gaining popularity towards the end of the big hair metal boom of the 1980s, Warrant are a band that certainly left a lasting legacy on the genre. Formed in 1984 by rhythm guitarist Erik Turner, Warrant's brand of poppy metal become very popular at the toe end of the decade and are definitely one of the hair metal crowd that has really stood the test of time. The classic Warrant line-up, consisting of frontman Jani Lane, guitarists Joey Allen and Turner, bassist Jerry Dixon, and drummer Steven Sweet, was established in 1987 and the band signed a record contract with Columbia Records the following January. At this point, the hair metal scene was really at it's peak. Bands like Poison and Mötley Crüe were riding high in the charts, and Whitesnake had made their big shift towards a more 'American' sound and image. This is probably why, when it was released in 1989, Warrant's debut album Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich was an instant success and went straight into the Top 10 in America. This instant success was capitalised on in 1990, when the band's second album Cherry Pie went to number 7 in the US album charts and also produced a number of successful singles. While Warrant are mostly known these days for the album's title track, it is fair to say that Cherry Pie is easily one of the best hair metal albums of all time. It is remarkably consistent throughout, and the relative diversity of the material on offer shows that Warrant had more depth than bands like Poison. Sadly for Warrant, and many other great bands, the imminent demise of the hair metal scene saw them effectively consigned to the 'Where are they now?' file. Multiple line-up changes followed over the years, but there has always been a Warrant on the circuit touring and recording albums. 1992's Dog Eat Dog was the last release with the classic line-up and showcased a somewhat heavier sound that the band would then stick with throughout the 1990s. Fast-forward to 2011, and Warrant's eighth album Rockaholic was released to an unsuspecting world. Rockaholic introduced to Warrant fanbase to frontman Robert Mason, who had formally played with Lynch Mob in the 1990s. The classic line-up, minus Lane (despite a short run of shows in 2008), had been playing together again since 2004 and this was their attempt to show the world they were still capable of writing quality material. While Rockaholic was not a exactly a classic album, it definitely shined a light on the band again and showed potential. Six years later, following plenty of hard touring, that potential has mostly been fulfilled on Warrant's new album Louder Harder Faster, their second effort with Mason. Where Rockaholic was a few songs too long, Louder Harder Faster is a leaner beast that clocks in at around 45 minutes in length, and is packed full of anthemic, hard rocking anthems with killer choruses and strong riffs. Warrant fans have been made to wait a while for this album, but it sounds fresh and exciting and shows a veteran band that still have the drive to be creative.

Not wanting to waste any time, the comes out swinging with the hard-hitting title track which opens with a heavy, bluesy riff and a confident vocal display from Mason. This a song that is packed full of attitude and energy, and fills all of it's three minute length with riffs and melodies. The chorus is a sleazy moment, filled with 1980s-style gang vocals, and the little bursts of bluesy lead guitar from Allen really add a little class to a song that otherwise is based on pure energy. It is a cracking start to the album, and shows the band really firing on all cylinders. Devil Dancer, while being more of a mid-paced affair, still packs a punch. Dixon's basslines are prominent throughout, and really drive the sparse verses, and chorus really soars with some tight vocal harmonies and melodies that would have found themselves on the band's early albums. There is enough of an overall sleazy vibe throughout the song to link to the hair metal scene, but there is also enough bluesy crunch to give it more of a fresh modern feel. The guitar solo is excellent too, and Allen really delivers with a lengthy blues-based turn that is full of neat phrasing and fluid runs. Perfect opens with screeching guitar leads that trick you into thinking the song will be a heavier affair, but in fact it turns into a more laid-back affair with a slight West Coast feel with plenty of vocal harmonies and a summery feel. This song is more reminiscent to the sound that was featured quite prominently on Rockaholic and draws more comparisons with the world of AOR than the hair metal scene. Despite this, the song is still enjoyable with a strong chorus and a surprisingly technical guitar solo from Allen that sparks with playful fluidness. Only Broken Heart gets back to the harder-hitting sound of the opening two songs, but incorporates a twin-lead guitar sound reminiscent of Thin Lizzy. While most of the material on Louder Harder Faster was written by Mason and Dixon, Only Broken Heart was also co-written by Turner which might explain the more in-your-face guitar leads as opposed to the band's usual riff-based style. It is not just the guitar style that is reminiscent of Thin Lizzy, but the bass-led sections and the storytelling lyrics are also similar. Unsurprisingly, the song is a strong one and will no doubt become a fan favourite. U in my Life is a ballad, led by Mason's piano melodies and melancholic vocals. While the song is enjoyable, it is certainly not a patch of the classic Warrant ballads of old. It is not without merit however, and allows Mason to show us a different side of his voice and demonstrate that he is certainly no slouch on the piano. The song does build up somewhat as it goes along, but some rather ham-fisted guitar leads rather dominate and lack the subtly that a song of this nature requires. Music Man certainly helps to get the album back on track, and you get the impression that this song is intended to be the spiritual sequel to Uncle Tom's Cabin as it opens with a similar Southern acoustic blues section before a big dirty riff kicks in which drives the rest of the song. This is definitely one of my favourite numbers on the album, as it is packed full of great Southern grooves and excellent guitar leads which are played with the perfect tone for this kind of sound.

Faded returns to the more summery sound of Perfect with a Queen-like opening guitar lead, before a jaunty verse comes in with ringing guitar chords and a ride-heavy drum beat that is surprisingly good at lodging itself in your brain. The AOR trappings are back here, with lots of vocal harmonies during the chorus and lots of wordless backing vocals throughout to add depth. While I think the heavier, bluesier sound suits the current Warrant line-up better, these lighter numbers are also enjoyable and help to add some variation to the album. Like the album's title track, New Rebellion is a real upbeat rocker with some excellent sleazy riffs and a strident vocal performance from Mason. Songs like this are much heavier and in-your-face than Warrant ever were during their classic era, but it certainly works well in a modern context. The meaty riffs really help to build the energy, and the song once again possesses a strong bluesy guitar solo from Allen. Big Sandy returns to the more mid-paced that dominates the album but also has a strong Cheap Trick with vocal harmonies and melodies that are reminiscent of the great power pop band. The clapping rhythms also bring that genre to mind, as does the overall feel off the song that is more about thrashed chords rather than traditional riffs. This overall emphasis on vocal melodies makes the song very catchy, but also makes it rather stick out on the album. It does not sound like Warrant at all really, but it is still a decent song and helps to add variety to the album. Choose Your Fate is another strong song with probably the album's best chorus. The AOR feel of the chorus mixes well with the overall heaviness of the rest of the song and ends up feeling quite a lot like classic Warrant. The heavy verses have some excellent punchy guitar parts, but it is the chorus where the song really takes off with a fantastic vocal display from Mason aided by plenty of excellent vocal harmonies. After the excellent Choose Your Fate, the album's final two songs do fall a little flat. Let It Go is another summery song, and it just fails to live up to the excellent previous number. Nothing about the song really stands out, as there are no real riffs or big vocal melodies to catch onto. It is the first song on the album to really fail to be memorable at all, and is lacking a big chorus and a real hook to make it stand out. The album's final song is a cover of Merle Haggard's I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink, which is quite enjoyable but does not really fit in with the vibe of the rest of the album. In fairness, the song is classed as a bonus track so this is understandable to a point. I feel it would have fitted in better if it was placed in the middle of the album as a 'mid-album break' as opposed to being tacked on the end where it really sticks out. The heavy country feel of the song is enjoyable however, and Warrant certainly do it justice. Overall, Louder Harder Faster is a strong album from the veteran American band. Despite loosing it's way a little at the end, there are plenty of excellent songs here that show the band still have plenty to say. It is easily the band's best effort since the first three albums, and contains plenty of nods to the past while having an overall modern hard rock sound.

The album was released on 12th May 2017 via Frontiers Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Louder Harder Faster.

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