‘The critics said our debut record was our peak’, Michael Starr sings on the third track of the Steel Panthers latest effort, ‘Lower the Bar’, a confirmation that no one is more aware of the LA quartets limited capacity for evolution than themselves.
Having catapulted to fame in 2009 with their raunchy lyrics, glam-rock pastiche and infectiously catchy tracks like, ‘Eyes of a Panther’, Steel Panther have carved out a niche as one of the most raucously enjoyable novelty acts out there. What better measure of their success than the simple fact that they have toured with a number of the acts – Motley Crue, Def Leppard – who inspired their lovingly mocking tribute?
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You know where you are with Panther – perms, headbands, soaring riffs, tales of groupies so adventurous they must be fictional, and a general sense of displacement to the 80’s, a time when both rock’n’roll and STD’s seemed a lot more authentic.
But being a novelty act is a double edged sword. Well-crafted schtick can catapult you to the status of festival favourite, make you a quick curiosity, but where do these acts go next? Five albums deep, is there any new ground for Steel Panther to break? Judging by this latest effort, it doesn’t seem so.
‘Goin in the Backdoor’ kicks off the album, and pretty much sets the tone. Sexual metaphor veiled in clingfilm, bouncy guitar solos from Satchel, and enjoyable enough, if lacking entirely in originality. At a certain point, one has to accept – or not accept – Steel Panther for what they are.
‘Poontang Boomerang’ is a highlight, a ‘Cherry Pie’ soundalike for the Tinder age. The sole attempt at a slower number, ‘That’s When You Came In’ is less so, hinging entirely on the comic bait-and-switch of the line ‘that’s when you came in and blew me…..away’.
And so on goes the rest of the album. ‘Wasted Too Much Time’ – a Whitesnake-esque scorned lover lament – will no doubt be a live favourite, while the groove-tinged ‘Wrong Side of the Tracks’ gives the boys their best opportunity to show off their instrumental skills. A couple of the others, ‘Pussy Ain’t Free’ and ‘I Got What You Want’ are as peripheral as the titles might suggest. Subtlety has never been the name of the game for these guys, and it would be unreasonable to expect different here. An astoundingly OK Cheap Trick cover rounds things to a close.
For all that we’ve heard it before, there is unmistakeable musical talent evident from listening to any Steel Panther album, and that is why they have remained (mildly) successful – they appreciate and more importantly, really understand the world that they parody.
Yet, while they will likely retain a reputation and a small fanbase doing what they do forever – and have every right to do so – it’s the skill that makes one wonder if they couldn’t somehow do something radical with the parody they’ve established. Perhaps dig deeper into the characters they’ve spend decades moulding. Perhaps the world’s most self referential rock opera. Perhaps something else entirely – to ape a refrain from this very album, ‘Fuckin’ ANYTHING goes’.