It’s 32 years since Hanoi Rocks’ drummer Razzle died, a victim of vehicular manslaughter at 24. When Raz died, Hanoi Rocks died with him. For their last, and best, two years, their most recent recruit’s unrelenting chirpiness seemed the only thing keeping the gloriously chaotic quintet together.
When an unpolished, unsophisticated Hanoi Rocks unexpectedly burst out of the hitherto undiscovered rock’n’roll frontier of Finland in an explosion of colour, attitude, half-cocked pop nous and fully cocked glam swagger they were a breath of fresh air. Gloriously naive, spectacularly uncool (successive music-press memos concerning what could no longer be worn post-punk had clearly failed to reach Finland), they were a New York Dolls cheese-dream; Rolling Stones reborn as 42nd Street hookers. It was all fringed leather this, feather boa-ed that, stetsons, tats, pouts, preens, a Boots-full of slap and hair… so much hair. Lead vocalist Michael Monroe was ‘the most beautiful man alive’, and the others, well, they were drunk. Spectacularly drunk.
They were also quite the rock’n’roll band and their reputation spread like a virus. Sadly, they emerged concurrent to an era of appalling of-their-time production catastrophes, so their first five albums (modestly boxed here) are far from flawless.
Debut Bangkok Shocks… is little more than raw demo; opener Tragedy’s a gem, but Monroe is yet to find his voice, and Don’t Never Leave Me its ultimate Ezrin arrangement. Oriental Beat suffers from an emasculating mix that excises all essential roughness. Early singles comp Self Destruction Blues is better, but HR’s first classic came courtesy of Mott’s Dale Griffin and Overend Watts who finally captured their proto-GN’R/sleaze magic on Back To Mystery City. Completing Strange Boys’ picture is Hanoi’s defining live-at-the-Marquee set All Those Wasted Years.
Of course, losing Razzle in such tragic, intoxication-based circumstances came to define Hanoi Rocks, even validating their Dead By Xmas rhetoric in the eyes of the vicarious 27 Club ghouls, but no one deserves to die just to endorse an image. Raz was a lovely geezer and a ferociously Moonified drummer, but, as SB’s cover confirms, never a man who looked his best in crimson lipstick.