This was always going to be a tricky album to review. White Lion is one of those bands from the 80s that are spoken of in almost hushed tones by Hair-Metal/Melodic Hard Rock aficionados. The combination of Mike Tramp’s vocals and the genius Van Halen-esque guitar playing of Vito Bratta elevated their already good material to almost legendary status among fans and there have been continued calls for a reformation ever since the band called it a day in 1992 when Grunge destroyed the Hair Metal movement almost overnight, despite the fact that guitarist Vito Bratta clearly has no desire to ever do anything with the music again.
Over the intervening years, Mike Tramp has had an extremely successful solo career with a much more organic hard edged Rock ‘n’ Roll sound and some very, very good albums. However, many of the die-hard White Lion fans have always berated him for not revisiting the sound and style of his former band, with far too many dismissing his excellent solo albums out of hand (which is frankly criminal – check out his other solo stuff if you’ve not heard it: it’s really good!)
Anyway, here we are in 2023 and Mike Tramp has released a kind of ‘Best Of White Lion’ album with new recordings of classic White Lion songs. I was immediately intrigued, as aside from the awesome Pride, I was never a huge White Lion fan back in the day and haven’t listened to much of anything they’ve done in years. However, I am a fan of Tramp’s solo work. Should I go back and revisit the White Lion versions before listening to these new ones, or should I just take the new ones on face value? I pondered this for a while before opting for the latter approach, as I figured it would do the album more justice to just take it as it comes.
So, what’s it like then? Well I think it’s really , really good! Tramp has recruited a great band to play these songs (I have no info on who they are as I don’t have personnel details on the copy I’m using to review the album) and although there’s no Vito Bratta in there, the guitar player does a fabulous job! Tramp hasn’t rerecorded these songs exactly as they were in the past, but neither has he tried to shoehorn them into the style of his solo work either. Instead it sounds as though he’s simply taken the songs and played them exactly the way he feels comfortable in 2023 and it really works!
Quite simply, this is a superb Melodic Hard Rock record. It has a timeless sound and style to it. It’s not overproduced, doesn’t pander to modern Rock cliches and doesn’t try to be 1987 all over again either. It just rocks!
Tramp’s voice sounds absolutely great! He’s singing these tracks in a register that is comfortable for him and his tone is warm, comforting and powerful throughout. The guitar playing is fiery and powerful, with elements of Vito Bratta’s clever arpeggiated riff approach where the parts are essential to the vibe of the song, but aside from that it’s just lots of big chunky riffs and chords and kick-ass solos: just what the doctor ordered!
Tramp has chosen well from the White Lion back catalogue. The album opens with ‘Lady Of The Valley’ (from Pride) which surprised me slightly as I wouldn’t have put it as an opener until I heard it as one. Here it is a huge piece of Hard Rock and ably demonstrates that this album is something of a labour of love! It is followed by the always brilliant ‘Little Fighter’ (from Big Game) and ‘Broken Heart’ (from Fight To Survive and Mane Attraction), both of which remain gloriously melodic AOR-tinged Hard Rock songs with monumental hooks galore. The acoustic intro to ‘Broken Heart’ is superb and only serves to accentuate the stunning chorus riff when it finally scythes in.
‘Love Don’t Come Easy’ (from Mane Attraction) follows. I’d completely forgotten about this track and it’s great to hear it again in this context. It’s another absolutely banging piece of AOR-tinged Melodic Hard Rock with a massive chorus and oodles of melody throughout. ‘Hungry’ (opening track from Pride) is up next and is still the thunderously brilliant riff-heavy Melodic Hard Rocker that it always was. The guitars here spit and snarl a bit (albeit quite politely – this is Melodic Rock after all!) and do kinda follow the Vito Bratta style a bit more than some others on here, but that totally fits the vibe of the track.
‘Cry For Freedom’ (from Big Game) brings in swathes of keyboards among the delicately picked guitars on a mid-paced grooving monster of a track. I don’t recall liking it that much back in the day, but maybe my memory is hazy. Whatever, this version works so well – the slightly Arabian feel to the solo is very lovely and the layered backing vocals support Tramp’s delicate and emotive delivery perfectly. ‘Going Home Tonight’ (opening track on Big Game) is next and it is still the insanely catchy rocker that it always was, before Mike Tramp delivers probably my favourite White Lion track, ‘Wait’ (from Pride).
This is one of the few White Lion tracks I’ve listened to in recent years so I still have a memory of its original sound and here it has obviously been repurposed into a lower key. However it is still a monumentally good piece of Melodic Hard Rock and to my ears sounds as good as it ever did. Tramp certainly sounds way more comfortable in this slightly lower register. There are plenty of ‘Bratta-isms’ in the solo which has some superb tapping licks going on. Still awesome after all these years!
Next up is ‘All The Fallen Men’ (from Fight To Survive). I have absolutely no memory of this track whatsoever, so it’s like hearing a brand new song. It has a classic 80s Metal feel to the chugging riffery which is no surprise given how old it is. However, it still doesn’t sound that dated and has another absolutely huge chorus. It’s a great mix of muscle and melody and Tramp pushes his voice a little more on this one, which also works really well.
‘Living On The Edge’ (from Big Game) is up next and has a similar feel – chugging pedal-note 80s Rock riffing and another massive hookline in the chorus. I don’t really remember this one from its original incarnation either. Here, it is probably the track I’ve enjoyed least, but only because of the strength of what has gone before it.
‘Tell Me’ (from Pride) is next and with its ‘Woooh Ooh’ intro hook, is perhaps the most dated of the tracks here. That doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable though and its uptempo chugging riffery and highly melodic vocal lines are still as good as they were all those years ago. It had to be on here really!
The album ends with a quite stunning ‘When The Children Cry’ (the ballad from Pride). On that album, it was an acoustic guitar-led tour-de-force and I have very fond memories of playing it to my class of 8 year olds in a music appreciation lesson and then teaching them to sing it for our class assembly in front of the whole school. One little boy in the class was so blown away that he wrote a brilliant story inspired by the lyrics. The power of music, eh? Anyway, I digress slightly but the point of that anecdote is that this track has always been absolutely brilliant and has always touched people from all walks of life and here, re-imagined with piano and vocal and in a changed key, it is even better than it was originally! Tramp’s vocal hits the spot with just the right level of emotion and the soaring guitar solo just lifts it to heights hitherto unimagined. It’s the perfect way to end this wonderful album.
I love this album! I really do! However, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m very aware that Mike Tramp’s detractors will probably continue to whine about how the songs don’t sound like the old versions, why don’t the original band reform, and what’s the point, etc. However, I feel that they are completely missing the point: White Lion will never reform. That’s been a fact for decades now. However, they had some truly great songs that Mike Tramp was heavily involved in writing. Those songs represent a massive and wonderful part of his extraordinary career and he’s rightly proud of his legacy. Recording them like this – in the way he imagines them now – is a very fitting tribute to the legacy of his former band. And the music he helped to compose. Tramp’s vocals throughout are absolutely great and his band play these tracks like their lives depend on it. Do yourselves a favour and buy or stream it immediately. It’s absolutely fabulous!
Review: Andy Hawes
Mike Tramp – “Songs Of White Lion” is out now courtesy of Frontiers Music srl.
“Songs Of White Lion” tracklisting:
Lady Of The Valley
Love Don’t Come Easy
Cry For Freedom
Going Home Tonight
All The Fallen Men
Living On The Edge
When The Children Cry
Line-Up: MikeTramp – Vocals
Marcus Nand – Guitars
Claus Langeskov – Bass
Alan Tschicaja – Drums
Sebastian Groset – Keyboard
Christoffer Stjerne – Harmonies