Friday, October 4, 2013

White Lion - The Best of (1992)

Before the rather aesthitically appealing Mike Tramp joined Freak of Nature, he was in a glam-rock band called White Lion. Like many rock bands of the 80s their lyrics focused on the good things in life - sex, parties and rock and roll, with the occasional bit of political commentary thrown in. White Lion originated in Copenhagen, Denmark, when Danish-born Mike Tramp teamed up with American-born Vito Bratta. They had reasonable success - mainly with the songs on this album which is, of course, going to showcase the best of their music. Less of the sex, more of love and rock & roll! (And, of course, the social and political commentary). They are noted for their dyed-blond poodle haircuts, pretty boy eye shadow and the delightful fashions of the 80s (leather jackets, fringed jackets, tight jeans, lether pants etc) . Watching the videos is a little like stepping back in time!

It's a best of album, so it's not the most exciting of sleeves - a lion head, inked in exquisite detail, above wings, beneath the band logo, looking rather like an elaborate door knocker. Inside there's not much of anything - just a track listing and a photograph of ephemera, which includes a rather cute white lion plush.
The album opens with "Wait". Taken from their 1987 album "Pride" (which I own on cassette tape), this track peaked at #8 on the charts in the USA. It is a sweet love song, with Tramp's melodious, but raw-edged vocals adding a hint of pleading.

It's so dated, it sparks something in me, that gentle hint of nostalgia - the memory of long car journeys plugged in to my walkman; of lying in the grass during my lunchbreaks, lost in a world of music; of day-dreaming that one day I might find a poodle-haired musician of my own to make my world a brighter place...

Then we rock on in to the cruisy "Radar Love". This is a cover song, originally performed by Dutch band, Golden Earring. It's rockin' good fun with a bitchin'ly competent guitar solo. A great driving song, play it loud in the car!

More relationship angst, it's time to mourn a "Broken Heart" - starts with heartbreaking loss, then moves into a determination to move on and find something new:
"...I know that things will get better, I know the sun will shine again..."
This would be a good song for a teenage girl suffering her first break-up. Was I such a girl? No, in my teenage/High School years I never dated.

Let's have some real glam - "Hungry" is a song about carnal desires. Filled with all the typical glam-rock metaphors such as "loaded gun". It's fun, frivolous and contains such delightful lines as:
" take off your leather and show me all your lace..."
After that nod to the glam-rock conventions, it's time to show their political side, with the melodious "Little Fighter" - a tribute to the Rainbow Warrior - the Greenpeace ship destroyed by the French Intelligence Service whilst at harbour in New Zealand in 1985, with one activist casualty.*  Filled with determination and passion - this is a love song to a ship, but a ship with a purpose and a mission. This is one song that cannot fail to inspire you.
"... rise again little fighter and let the world know the reason why..."
And now we have a rather impressive array of power and guitars merging into a symphonic intro into the glory and might of "Lights and Thunder". Heavier on the drums, sophisticated structures. Cruising vocals, a gentle and immense purr - like a lion would purr**.

This is followed up with the anthemic*** "All you Need is Rock and Roll". A competent, but repetitive number with skillful guitar solo and a twiddly bass line. Surprisingly long considering there's only about 5 lines to the entire song. But what a guitar fade-out! Very dramatic. Ah, we are back to the days of the long-haired guitar heroes. Not that Vito Bratta ever really made the "guitar hero" list.

Probably the track that made White Lion at least marginally famous, "When the Children Cry" is a gentle, bittersweet ballad beginning with gentle plucking and the taste of tears. Tramp's voice is at its most beautifully broken. It was true in the 80s - and it's even truer now:
"... all that we have broken, you must build again..."
This song never fails to choke me up a little inside.

Another lovesong laden with loss and longing - "Love Don't Come Easy" - nice rhythm, easy to sing along with, nothing special but very likeable. As a follow-up to "Children Cry" it's a bit anticlimactic however. Somewhat repetitive and rather along the line of 'state the obvious'.

Drum and baseline usher us into the cruising, maudlin chords of "Cry for Freedom", another politically slanted piece about the futility of war and the loss of life. Heart-renching with a superbly anthemic chorus. Here again, Tramp's choked, raw voice really adds to the mood. A glorious track.

Another live track, "Lady of the Valley" rips on into the rock and roll with a gloriously enthusiastic guitar riffs, before fading down into a slower beginner and then rising again in passion to crash into a mellow chorus. This is a song of mourning and loss. The lyrics give it a slightly fantastical, maybe almost primeval/pagan air, which makes you wonder who the lady of the valley actually is:
"I have brought my fallen brother and I've laid him, yes I've laid him at your feet..."
"Tell Me" is another song of love lost - teenage love that has turned to ashes. A bittersweet ballad of farewell.

And then the final song of farewell - "Farewell to You" which is a pleasingly mellow, catchy song that works well for any occasion - the last song for a party; a goodbye to your reckless, rock and roll years and also a pleasing way to conclude an album. White Lion, you will always have a place in my heart - rock may come and rock may go.
"It was easier to say hello, than to say goodbye..."
This is probably one of the best choices of White Lion albums for those that are not huge fans - the songs are light on the sexual connotations and lyrics have more substance, with a sense of hope and purity that is somewhat lost in the more cynically-fueled Freak of Nature. Here is a band that is young, and feeling optomistic about the future, despite the pain and suffering caused in the presence. Alas, by the time they had evolved and grown into FoN the pure naivety had been lost in favour of a darker slant and realisation that things were not going to get better, that hope would not necessarily lead to triumph.

This is an album that proves that despite the poodle-hair, the eyeliner, the tight pants, White Lion were (are?) a band with sustance, and beliefs that went far beyond sex, drugs and rock n roll.

Some of these songs bring a tear to my eye, others are mere frivolities. I feel an 8/10 is a fair assessment.

Some of my favourite White Lion songs that don't (for some reason) qualify as "Best of" are "Broken Home" and "'Til Death Do Us Part". I suggest you look them up. The first is heart-breaking, the second beautifully romantic.

* I was only 8 at the time and have vague memories of the event but I guess it wasn't of too much interest  to an 8 year old girl into My Little Pony, Sylvanian Families and collecting erasers, stamps and dinosaurs.

 ** if they could, but lions can't purr.

*** that is to say - stadium rock anthemic - the sort that gets everyone jumping up and down and shouting along. Like Kiss' "God gave rock and roll to you" but not as good.

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