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Hanoi Rocks - Two Steps From The Move: Album Of The Week Club Review

Hanoi Rocks' Two Steps From The Move was meant to propel the impossibly glamorous Finns to stardom... instead it became an epitaph

Hanoi Rocks - Two Steps From The Move
Hanoi Rocks - Two Steps From The Move

1. Up Around The Bend
2. High School
3. I Can't Get It
4. Underwater World
5. Don't You Ever Leave Me
6. Million Miles Away
7. Boulevard Of Broken Dreams
8. Boiler (Me Boiler 'N' Me)
9. Futurama
10. Cutting Corners

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Upon the release of their magnum opus Two Steps From The Move, it was fair to say the world lay at hard-living Hanoi Rocks’ feet. But as they teetered on the brink of going global, heart’n’soul drummer Razzle was killed in DUI Vince Neil’s speeding car and the dream was over. 

From its finely tooled ballads (Don’t You Ever Leave Me), through its all-out rockers (Futurama) to Underwater World’s ‘Welcome to the jungle’ refrain, every last nuance of Hanoi’s Faces-tinged glam-metal masterpiece was latterly adopted by Guns N’ Roses.

Instead, after Razzle’s death, Two Steps From The Move became a monument to what might have been.

"It made me want to go to Los Angeles," says Guns N' Roses keyboard player Dizzy Reed. "That’s why I moved out there. Everything was cool after that. When I heard those songs – fuck, man. They were a throwback, but they were new. It was just done so well. Hanoi Rocks had a look, they had a vibe, and I just wanted to be a part of it. 

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Background

In 1983, Hanoi Rocks took to the stage at the Reading Festival, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana blaring and a deluge of projectiles incoming. They simply ignored the flak, as if nothing could get in their way, and played a set that suggested they had very little regard for their personal health or safety. 

They were wild, and unstoppable, and impossibly glamorous, and clearly welded together in that way bands like to pretend but very seldom are. 

A year later they released the album that was meant to propel then to stardom. It was supposed to be the game changer: the band’s first album for major label CBS, produced by Bob Ezrin, who’d made classic records for Alice Cooper, Lou Reed and Pink Floyd.

What they said...

"In terms of combining the attitude, gang shouts, punk energy, and classic rock burn of the band, things couldn't be better -- Monroe sounds phenomenal, the McCoy/Suicide guitar team comes up with some great riffs and even better trade-offs, and the Yaffa/Razzle rhythm section keep it all chugging." (AllMusic)

"The record was paced well, shot like a cannon with joyous lead single Up Around The Bend, written by Creedence Clearwater Revival (lone alternate choice: Bad Moon Rising by the same band), spilling into the hard rock of High School, eventually into the torrid and florid traditional balladry of Million Miles Away and Don't You Ever Leave Me (a remake of a track from the band's '80 debut) and back out again with the hard rock of Boiler and Cutting Corners. 

"The album marked Hanoi at their overall peak, perhaps less charming than on, for example, '82's Self Destruction Blues, but brimming with confidence, surrounded by good help, thick, muscular, adequately in tune with their essence to refrain from dishing what could have been an overflow of heavy metal." (Martin Poppoff)

What you said

David Heaton: Great album from one of the best live bands I've ever seen. This major label debut should've launched them into the big time. Unfortunately, Razzle was killed within months of it's release. Vince f***in' Neil has never apologised to the rest of the band, according to Andy McCoy.

Maxwell Marco Martello: Hanoi Rocks’ “make it or break it” album is my least favourite of their classic period.

It sure is sonically superior, courtesy of Bob Ezrin’s slick production, but that’s also one of its weaknesses. It comes across as a bit institutionalized. The fact that it starts with a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s hit Up Around the Bend screams hunger for easy chart success. In the wake of Quiet Riot’s Slade remake, hair metal treatment of old rocking songs appeared as the easy route to many a rocker.

My personal favourite is track number three, I Can’t Get It. That one is so badass it’s unbelievable. Mid paced and menacing. Almost military.

The retitled rehash of Don’t You ever Leave Me from Hanoi’s first is competent, yet redundant for a fan like myself who worships every record released by the Finns before this.

It’s still a great pleasure to listen to this album, but I just cannot rank it on par with Bangkok Shocks, Saigon Shakes, Hanoi Rocks and Back to Mystery City.

It’s so sad that this went on to be their last for about two decades. Blame Vince or blame the drinks.

David Heaton: I saw them on this tour at The Powerhouse in Birmingham. They were magnificent. On stage for almost two and a half hours and finished with an encore of The Stooges' Lookin' At You featuring Rat Scabies on Drums and Roman Jugg of The Damned on keyboards. Razzle stood at the front of the stage smashing a tambourine and headbanging like a maniac. He sat on the drum riser at the end and said "I'm fuckin' knackered, now". I had tickets for their Christmas dates in December, but Razz was killed two weeks before the tour.

Graham Watt: Best production that a Hanoi album had, but the song writing was below par compared to the earlier tinny sounding records. Not a bad album but not their best.

Hai Kixmiller: I listened to the album twice today. I didn't care for it back then and it still doesn't do anything for me today. One or two songs made me tap my foot a little, but then I remembered I had laundry to do. 

The good Hair Metal, Glam Rock, whatever you call it, had hooks that snagged you right away. It had guitar riffs and melodies that made you wanna dance like Paul Stanley or Axl Rose. It made you snarl your upper lip and fist pump like Billy Idol. This band never did much of that for me. It just didn't quite have that Sunset Boulevard attitude or the NWOBHM sound. Sadly, it was the tragedy of Razzle and not this album that brought Hanoi Rocks up from the depths of Hair Metal obscurity.

Pekka Turunen: As a Finnish music fan born in '86 I've been aware of Hanoi Rocks as a thing of the past for as long as I can remember. To people outside my country Hanoi is probably seen as a piece in the puzzle that brought us Guns n' Roses and other glammier and far less powerful groups that dominated the late 80's, but, for Finns, in addition to that Hanoi is very significant as the first band that made any real impact outside our borders and paved the way for HIM (managed by the same dude as Hanoi), Nightwish, Children of Bodom and such.

So I respect Hanoi as a piece of Finnish pop music history, but I'm not that into the actual product. Two Steps From The Move is the album I'm most familiar with, but it doesn't get a lot of time in my player, once every few years I guess. I recently read Hanoi bassist Sami Yaffa's autobiography, which I very much recommend if it gets translated since he's an interesting guy with a very versatile career and life, and he talked about how they were in big trouble when approaching the recording sessions for this album, because Andy McCoy's writing was drying up and they only had scattered bits and pieces when going into the studio, whereas before they'd had their songs all ready and rehearsed when recording their previous albums. So there was quite a lot of panic involved, this being by far their biggest production yet. 

In the end there are a couple of pretty good tracks on the album, like Boulevard of Broken Dreams and Cutting Corners, but it's never a good look when the cover song overshadows everything else, like Up Around the Bend does here. There is a certain stiffness in the production and delivery, especially the drums I think, that doesn't do the songs much good either. 

It's a big what if question, what would have happened to Hanoi had they had enough beer to last the entire night partying at Vince Neil's place. But they didn't and Razzle was dead as a result. In his book Sami Yaffa talked about the toxic atmosphere within the band during that era and how he and Razzle had considered leaving the group before the fateful US tour. So even with everyone alive they might not have been a band for very long anyway.

For the remaining members things turned out mostly OK. Michael Monroe and Yaffa are again playing together in the Michael Monroe band, the insane drug fiend Nasty Suicide cleaned up, went to school and is actually a pharmacist nowadays (a very interesting career choice considering his past exploits, in his book Yaffa told a story about how Suicide was so out of it at one of his post-Hanoi gigs that they actually had to duct tape him to a post on stage to keep him upright), but Andy McCoy has degenerated into a sad caricature of an ageing rock star.

Helen Minnes: Great album. My sister is a huge fan so I was brainwashed with this one. Very nice interview with Michael Monroe in a recent episode of Chris Shiflett's Walking The Floor podcast.

James Praesto: First of all, I do have a special bond with Two Steps from the Move, actually. Back in the very long ago, we had something called radio” and “cassettes". Basically you would sit there, primed like a leopard stalking a gazelle, listening to a rock show on radio, and when a song came on, you hit “record” and hopefully you got most of the song without the host yammering over the fade-ins and -outs. In 1985 (-ish), I caught two different songs from two different shows. Unfortunately, I didn’t catch the names of the band, but I listened to those songs on constant repeat. One was Million Miles Away, and the other was Boulevard of Broken Dreams. Little did I know that they both were by the same artist from the very same album. Years later, I picked up the record and had a happy family reunion with two favourite songs.

To many, Hanoi Rocks had a short sweet stint on Sunset Strip, and helped kick off the hair band era, but that is not all they did. They earned their stripes much earlier, playing punk root rock to the masses (six people and a reindeer) in the smallest towns in Finland you can imagine, for years. There was not a bar or locale they had not blown up with their flamboyant piss and vinegar. There was nothing like them in their neck of the woods; they were extrovert, cocky, loud and often way too much for the locals. After moving to Sweden and recording their first album, they toured extensively all over the world on the back of their second record, being hailed as super stars in Japan (although, it seems the bar was set pretty low for that achievement back then). Two Steps from the Move was the culmination of a rock’n’roll-vaganza that had been pretty much on tour since 1979.

A few things about the album itself, before we get to the details of the songs. This already being their fifth album, but their first on a major label, it was decided that Bob Ezrin should produce. For a producer of Bob Ezrin’s caliber, the album is oddly put together, sound-wise, with the rather muddy guitars almost buried in the mix at times. Vocals and bass sound awesome, but the rest is not up to the usual Ezrin Gold Standard.. 

After kicking ass and taking names with the brilliant cover of CCR’s Up Around the Bend – yes, better than the original, we get the first “real” introduction to the trademark Hanoi Rocks sound in High School. The Boomtown Rats shot up their school in I Hate Mondays, Hanoi Rocks instead settled for becoming teachers as some sort of far-fetched revenge on the times suffered in class rooms. Disregarding that odd lyrical concept, the song is a fantastic glam rock Ramones-stomper with an infectious groove and catchy hooks. You’ll be humming this song for days.

The glitzy, but oh so very gritty I Can’t Get It, spouts more attitude from Mike Monroe as he delivers an anthem to being a bitter fuck and all the things he will never have (but did eventually – the irony). Bob Ezrin’s strength as a producer is to take seemingly ordinary rock songs and add texture, and on pretty much every tune here you can tell that Andy McCoy and Nasty Suicide got that treatment. Their licks and riffs are smartly arranged and all make perfect sense. 

Underwater World is such a cool number. The rhythm’s got some serious swagger here, and the guitars are shimmering with just the right amount of that precious wet 80’s reverb. Don’t You Ever Leave sounds like something you heard before, until you realize Hanoi Rocks recorded it first. The song is an actual re-recording of a song from their debut, and it is a vast improvement. 

Million Miles Away… Sigh… I do get a serious case of the ole nostalgia when I hear it. I must have listened to this song hundreds of time. The opening guitar theme, Mike’s dramatic vocals on the slowly rising verse, the sappy climactic chorus, the saxophone solo (yup)… It’s the perfect ballad… until about three minutes in when this dance beat kicks in and the song changes to a different animal altogether. My original pirate recording of the song didn’t have this part, so it was weird to get to know a new side to the song, but it works... kind of.

Boulevard of Broken Dreams is perhaps the strongest track on the album. Listen to how cleverly the guitars build up in the background right before the 70’s Kiss-style guitar riff in the chorus. Actually, Sam Yaffa plays his bass lines very similarly to Gene Simmons way of playing, and Ezrin lifts that to the forefront on this song. Put this powerhouse fucker on your playlist and drive your Toyota Prius like a goddamn demon while blasting it to the high heavens. It’s that kind of song. You know you want to.

Boiler is the only real dud on the album, with its 60’s vocal harmonies and traditional power pop arrangements. I think I am going to go scratch it out of my vinyl record with a sharp object. What a bloody shame. I realise they were all riding the dragon in the studio, but someone, at some point, could have left this on the cutting room floor. Futurama and Cutting Corners are more in the traditional glam punk New York Dolls vein of the other songs. Like with so many of Hanoi Rocks’ songs, you can see how they would work better in a live setting, than on record, but they still manage to convey that honest adrenaline rush in the studio. 

Bottom line with Hanoi Rocks is that even though they were given credit for (“blamed for” by some) jump-starting the hair band era, they sound NOTHING like the bands that followed in their footsteps. Their energy, their attitude, their drive had more in common with the NY punk scene and the 70’s glam rockers that came before them, only with better hooks and much better arrangements. Razzle’s death cut their career short before it really took off, but I was so happy when they started the band up again in the early 2000’s (I can recommend the comeback album 12 Shots on the Rocks). Hanoi Rocks was the real fucking deal, and that is sadly overlooked by many who just lumped them in with musically non-related hair bands of the later 80s.

Iain Macaulay: Oh yes. Here we go. A one in a million band. Metal heads liked them, Punks liked them, even Post Punk, Goths, liked them. The MC5, Stooges, Aerosmith, New York Dolls and The Damned all thrown into a big black Voodoo pot with a bottle of JD and a big bag of speed to keep them stewing away. So, a punk band playing rock and roll or a boogie woogie band playing punk? It’s all there in a band with enough song writing ideas and musical skills to keep them on the right side of style over substance, no thanks to the public perception of the image. But what an image. One to rival The Clash at the height of their fame. And then there’s the fact they inadvertently created a genre of music in their wake. What a band. It’s just a shame they didn’t get to capitalise on it. But that’s another story. 

Although I like Two Steps, it’s not my favourite Hanoi album, that accolade goes to Mystery City, closely followed by Oriental Beat, both of which show off much better song writing skills than Two Steps but suffer a bit in the production stakes. Oriental Beat more so than Mystery City. However, there are some fantastic songs on here, Underwater World, I Can’t Get It, Million Miles and, Boulevard of Broken Dreams, (a favourite song of all time) but on a whole, it has to be said it’s a bit patchy, compared to what proceed it. I blame Bob Ezrin trying too hard to get them to crack America by making the guitars sound a bit too ‘muddy and off the moment’ resulting in the album becoming a bit too sanitised. But then, studio production was always going to be a problematic affair for a band with such a huge, raw and nasty, live appeal.

I have all the albums from that initial six year run on vinyl, on the original Lick label. Including the Tracks from a Broken Dream compilation, which is a great companion piece to this album. 

On it we get to hear songs that didn’t make the cut for Two Steps. It’s such a shame the song Two Steps From The Move got relegated in place of Up Around The Bend as it’s a belter of a track, almost Cramps like in its rockabilly vein, Willing To Cross The Ocean, should there instead of the rewrite Boiler, as should have the punky Shakes. And it’s criminal Oil And Gasoline was a B-side that ended up becoming a Cherry Bombs track. Listening to those songs, its almost as if the record company was trying to dumb the band down to be more palatable for the states. A big mistake. What could have been...

On the whole, I guess the album is a cult classic, just like the band, not least for what it achieved and spawned. It burned briefly and very bright and it’s impact was huge in the States, Japan and Europe. And although the individual parts never quite managed to achieve what the whole did, there is still great music to catch in The Suicide Twins, Cherry Bombs, Cheap and Nasty, and of course Andy McCoy and Michael Monroe’s solo efforts. Self Destruction Blues indeed.

Chris Wigmore: What a great record. I have two copies, one's mine, one's the wife's. After the raw snotty power of their previous albums, this one was gonna break them big, boasting big tunes, savage guitar work and a razor sharp production that couldn't fail.

Opening with Up Around The Bend sounding just like Creedence would've wanted the song to sound had they been exposed to bedsit poverty, no sleep, heroin and cheap speed, it's a bold move to open your big shot album with a cover, but Hanoi own it.

Underwater World might be off its tits and not right behind the eyes but it has a middle eight with more melody than every hair metal song recorded ever. High School is brilliantly stupid. I Can't Get it is twisted genius. Sometimes the whole album, like a lot of Hanoi, feels like something got lost in translation on the flight from Helsinki, so it's easily forgiven... but you can't argue with the album's two ballads, the reworking of their Don't Never Leave Me is wonderful, even with the bonkers spoken word sections. Million Miles Away is heartbreaking and made even more poignant by the death of Razzle. Check out the clip of Mike Monroe falling to bits singing it live shortly after Razzle's death.

Then we're on the home straight. Three bonzo rockers, reeking of London clubs, rain, birds and booze charging to victory. Well. Nearly. Vince Neil put pay to that.

I think it's a classic, they never bettered it but then they never really got the chance.

Jim Kanavy: Two Steps isn't ragged enough. They were a ragged ass Rock and Roll band. This record cleaned them up too much. The songs are good but the production is too slick.

Roland Bearne: I cut my early teenage musical teeth on the likes of The Stranglers, Jam, Clash, 999, Pistols. After that came AC/DC , Van Halen, Zep,Leppard, Crue ... a smorgasbord of big crotch busting sounds which zinged and fizzed my neurons. People and the music press told me in no uncertain terms that Hanoi had to be done. I duly invested in this album on cassette. Using punk guitar tones a cover and a really silly Quo pastiche, the tape largely languished rarely listened and unloved in the collection. They weren't punk, they weren't Aerosmith, they weren't The Clash. They seemed to be all pose and no bollocks. And the sound was unexceptional. But I loved Dogs D'Amour! Having said that I will pretty much drop everything to go and see Mike Monroe live. Possibly THE best rock n roll performer this planet has ever produced.

Carl Black: I don't know a lot about Hanoi Rocks so you'll have to excuse my ignorance. I feel that they are a cross between Kiss and Sham 69 / The Clash. Nothing wrong with that in itself however I do think the whole album gets very one-dimensional and they never really expanded on the ideas that other bands took advantage of such as Guns and Roses. However I don't think Guns and Roses as whole take a huge amount of influence from Hanoi Rocks. More like Slash took a huge amount of influence from Hanoi Rocks. I don't know who the guitar player is and I'm sure someone will tell me who the guitar player is but he is The Star of The Show, the rhythm, the riffs and the solos are absolutely perfection and I love the slide guitar that he slips into a couple of songs. 

I wish there was more of that because it is absolutely epic. I really didn't like this album as much as I should. A little bit boring although I have to say it I didn't find it offensive, it's going to be a middle of the road album for me and I apologise for sitting on the fence. I've seen Micheal, Monroe live, supporting Motorhead at Southampton Guildhall, he is an exceptional frontman and really engaging and I enjoyed the 45 minutes set. I wouldn't pay money to go and see him and I'm not interested in anything that they do but I enjoyed the 40 odd minutes of listening to this album.

Mike Knoop: Great fun in the way that the New York Dolls or past club picks Mott the Hoople or Alice Cooper are great fun. Wildly theatrical with enough grit to keep the sound grounded. Mike Monroe had a great look and a better voice. Axl Rose definitely seems to be copying Monroe's look in the Welcome to the Jungle. For a while, I thought Andy McCoy and Izzy Stradlin were the same person.

It sounds like they influenced the sound of other Nordic bands like the Hives, Hellacopters, Sahara Hotnights, and Turbonegro more than the Strokes ever did. Love High School, I Can't Get It, and Boulevard....

And - yay - we finally get to put a pin in continental Europe on the club's rock 'n' roll map.

Mike Bruce: Hanoi Rocks were by turns idolised, eulogised and mythologised. Theirs is the kind of over the top rock and roll story it's easy to wax lyrical about and then forget the actual sounds. So, from the band that launched a thousand haircuts, what about the music? Though more New York Dolls, Mott and the Stones than Zep, Purple and Sabbath it's an 8o's album with one foot in the 70's. Their musical colours get nailed to the mast right from the first track, a lively version of the Creedence hit, Up Around The Bend

What Hanoi Rocks had that many of their copyists didn't, was the lightness of touch and a rock'n'roll feel that allowed them to cover a classic putting their stamp on it without bludgeoning it to death. I don't think you can mistake HR's version for anybody else's and that individual sound permeates the whole album. That much of the song writing on the album measures up to UATB says it all really. And it's bloody good fun. There's so much enthusiasm and elan in the playing that it would take a churlish listener indeed to say that much the music's success can be credited to the polish added by collaborations with Ian Hunter and producer Bob Ezrin. Satisfying as it is though, on a human and a musical level it's an album that can leave you crying into your Jack Daniel's thinking "What if?..."

Ari Väntänen: Musically, I think they were a mixture of all the good stuff (most of it mentioned above), had a brilliant live chemistry and a great songwriter (Andy McCoy). To me, Back to Mystery City and All Those Wasted Years (live, watch the video if you can) are better examples of their brilliance than Two Steps, which I also do like.

Eetu Tiainen: Coming from Finland, I basically have to like this album. I had my first taste of Hanoi back when just five and been a fan ever since. This is by far their most produced album, the album that was going to spring then to the top of the 80s music game in LA. That heavy production takes away some of Hanois raw rock'n'roll power to be honest. There are some good songs on this one, but they're best heard live! Hanoi was always a live band, and Michael Monroe is still kickin' it just like in the eighties. The guy hasn't aged at all!

But yeah, TSFTM is a good album, but not Hanoi's best. Cheers!

Brian Carr: I’ve played SongPop on my iPad for a few years and at one point a song clip came on with a cool sounding hook. It was Don’t You Ever Leave Me by Hanoi Rocks. I knew of the band, but had never heard anything except possibly their cover of Up Around The Bend, so I was interested. When I listened to the whole song, I was disappointed - I found Michael Monroe’s vocals irritatingly off key and what the hell is this spoken vocal part? So I didn’t listen further, until a few years later when it came up as the Classic Rock Album of the Week.

I managed to not be scared off by the Apple Music description that begins “Finland’s answer to punk rock and the New York Dolls...” I wouldn’t call Hanoi Rocks punk because they play well, in tune and wrote some interesting hooks on Two Steps From the Move. I like the guitar playing throughout and love the big gang vocals on I Can’t Get It, Underwater World and the aforementioned Don’t You Ever Leave.

But for the second week in a row, I’m listening to an album that I wish had a different singer. Michael Monroe has the punk attitude delivery through most of the album, which pretty much ruins it for me. He SINGS on the ballads Don’t You Ever Leave and Million Miles Away, but ugh. Just not working for me. Or, “I can’t get it.” Although I suppose I get it way more than I get Radiohead.

Final Score: 6.52 ⁄10 (131 votes cast, with a total score of 855)

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