By now, the only thing more reliable than Steel Panther’s sophomoric send-up of schlocky 80s hair metal is the rhetorical musing as to whether the joke has run its course. But then, that implies an expectation that, eight years after their 2009 debut, Feel The Steel, Steel Panther should be evolving. Evolving where? Death metal? Prog? With a catalogue underpinned by obscenely crude anthems about gangbangs, hookers, cocaine and shagging the elderly, we’re already about 10 time zones away from Opeth. Perhaps we should manage our expectations accordingly.
By this point, everybody understands the setup: these would-be Sunset Strip refugees – singer Michael Starr guitarist Satchel, bassist Lexxi Foxx and drummer Stix Zadinia – are the women-objectifying, drug-devouring alter-egos of four LA rockers predisposed towards crafting authentic hair metal anthems with lyrics so jaw-droppingly lewd and so barren of subtlety as to render Vince Neil a latter-day Patti Smith in comparison.
Last year, Steel Panther kicked the plugs out of the wall for Live From Lexxi’s Mom’s Garage, a live set of jangly acoustic renditions of their biggest hits. Lower The Bar, their fourth studio campaign, sees the quartet return to the plugged-in, amplifier-blowing muscularity of their early outings, with 11 new tracks erupting with equal parts testosterone-drenched machismo and lowbrow, locker-room humour.
In the exceedingly gifted hands of producer Jay Ruston, Lower The Bar suffers no lack of polish or power. Tracks like the opening ode to anal, Goin’ In The Back Door, are stacked with surging riffs, hip-swivelling tempos and Michael’s David Lee Roth-esque vocals. If that track doesn’t grab you, abandon ship, because your listening experience is not likely to improve over the next 10 tracks. If you like what you’re hearing, however, then you’ll probably dig what follows; you might even pick up the subtle growth (‘evolution’ is a bit generous), between Lower The Bar and 2014’s All You Can Eat. Whereas earlier albums serve up obvious references to various glam bands, the new material takes on slightly darker elements that shape a new sound that’s – dare it be said – uniquely theirs. Sort of anyway. Wasted Too Much Time offers a prime example; Michael’s scorned-boyfriend lyrics take on a sense of real bitterness, coalescing around the arms-around-your-mate chorus, ‘I wasted too much time… fucking you!’ Likewise, Wrong Side Of The Tracks (Out In Beverly Hills) absolutely rips with driving grooves and divebombfuelled solos without sounding like a carbon copy of something you’ve heard before.
Not without misses, Now The Fun Starts lacks the hooks and edge of other tracks, while Poontang Boomerang stumbles straight out of the gate. Lower The Bar concludes with a wholly reverential and stupidly fun Cheap Trick cover, She’s Tight, featuring Robin Zander. If you prefer your metal packed with doom and darkness, then you’re not even reading this right now, but metal will always hold a welcome place for Steel Panther. Crude as ever, catchy as hell and never SFW, Lower The Bar delivers exactly as promised, with a few welcome surprises along the way.
Michael Starr (Vocals)
HOW ON EARTH DID YOU CONVINCE PARIS-MICHAEL JACKSON TO APPEAR IN THE SHE’S TIGHT VIDEO?
“She’s a friend on Twitter – we’d never hung out, or had sex or anything. She took a picture of a poster that was of us at The Roxy, so I commented on it. She was like, ‘Oh, I love you guys, and I love Van Halen!’ So when our producer said, ‘Hey man, we need some girls to be in the video’ I thought: you know what? I’m gonna reach out to Paris. She didn’t want to get naked or show her tits – it’s cool, I get that – but she totally had a good time doing it.”
HOW DO YOU REMAIN SOUNDING MODERN?
“We love heavy metal. We take our craft really seriously. You can put out great records, but if you can’t back it up live then people won’t be as interested down the road. We don’t get radio airplay, so we have to play well!”
WHICH LIVE ALBUM IS MORE IMPORTANT – LIVE FROM LEXXI’S MOM’S GARAGE OR CHEAP TRICK AT BUDOKAN?
“Cheap Trick At Budokan is more important than a lot of live records, except Peter Frampton Comes Alive! I’m very proud of …Lexxi’s Mom’s Garage but I think Cheap Trick are great, and that album was really important to me growing up. So I would say At Budokan!”
THE US HAS A NEW COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF. THINK HE’D BE DOWN WITH STEEL PANTHER?
“Well, we like pussy and it seems like he likes pussy! So I think we’re pretty good. And his wife’s hot! America’s pretty divided – some people are pissed, some people are happy. It’s like Steel Panther – you either love us or you hate us!”