In a fascinating, very funny, deeply lovable way, Steel Panther pose questions about how we want to engage with our past.
Superficially a parody metal band singing dumb-as-you-are pastiche anthems, their success is about more than just cheap laughs. There’s a deep streak of nostalgia attached to what they do and what they are, and the biggest smiles that they evoke are those of recognition and reconnection with a lost era.
Steel Panther also carry their origins with them. They are not actors like Spinal Tap or Bad News; they don’t exist to appear in a fake (if you will) rockumentary. Rather, they are veterans of the hair-metal scene that they are sending up, and they began as nothing more than a fun, somewhat defiant covers act in an LA club under the Metal Shop banner.
Their skills are genuinely owned. Michael Starr (Ralph Saenz) is actually a tremendous singer, Satchel (Russ Parrish) a player good enough to knock out almost any song from the canon by ear. They are of a certain age, and their success as a comedy act has emerged as organically and unpredictably as it would with a regular band. Three albums and a large-scale world tour to back this one up is testament to them, and to the hold that the era they represent still has over fans of a certain age.
There is barely a joke left untold here. Pussywhipped has a wonderfully po-faced Spanish guitar intro presaging its ludicrous riff, and Gloryhole opens with bozo couplets worthy of the best of Jackyl or Dangerous Toys: ‘There’s a place in France/Where the naked ladies dance/There’s a hole in the wall/Where you put your cock and balls’. The Burden Of Being Wonderful marries Whitesnake’s knack for a mid-tempo ballad with David Coverdale’s monumental self-regard.
Sometimes they are a little too good. The keyboard riff for The Burden Of Being Wonderful would grace any hit single circa 1989; the guitar parts on the chorus of Fucking My Heart In The Ass are pitch-perfect Poison, better than some of the lines CC tossed off back in the day. They often go for the lowest common denominator and there’s an element of having their cake and eating it to the ‘irony’ in some of the lyrics, but that is a minor quibble.
Good ideas aren’t always new but they have their time, and Steel Panther’s timing has been perfect. They are magnificent in their way, a fitting element of the legacy of a unique and unforgettable era.