1994 was a very good year for music. Everything was a bit edgy back then. Alternative was king, Grunge had killed hair metal and in turn was dying a death. Nu Metal and Industrial sounds were on the rise with Korn and NIN, Green Day and Rancid were spearheading a punk movement for the MTV generation and over in the UK Oasis were making waves, while The Wildhearts and Terrorvison were regularly seen bouncing around on Top Of The Pops.
Bands had to adapt to survive and those that did survive released arguably the best albums of their careers. From Manic Street Preachers and King’s X to Motley Crue and Warrior Soul, all with varying degrees of success but all had one thing in common and that is: those albums stand the test of time nearly 30 years on. And of course, Michael Monroe was in that mix as well with a band called Demolition 23.
Following the ill-fated Jerusalem Slim project with Steve Stevens, Michael Monroe went back to his roots, collaborated with Little Steven and wrote a punk rock album in the spirit of ‘77. Pulling in Hanoi Rocks bassist Sami Yaffa, Star Star guitar slinger Jay Hening and session drummer Jimmy Clarke, what started as a covers band jamming with friends, turned into a serious project.
Recorded in 5 days at Power Station Studios in New York City, produced and largely written by Little Steven along with Monroe and his first wife Jude Wilder, the eponymous 10 track album was a throwback to the Hanoi days and a tribute in spirit to lost friends and heroes such as Stiv Bators, Johnny Thunders and Charlie Harper.
To be honest, the production job back then was pretty spot on and you would have to play the original back-to-back with the remaster to spot the differences. But I’m pleased to say it sounds as crisp, fresh and damn right essential as it did back in 1994.
I always loved Monroe’s thought-provoking lyrics and album opener ‘Nothin’s Alright’ has always been a favourite. From the roaring, 3 chord riffage to the cool lyricism, each verse a love letter to the past 3 decades (at the time), it channeled the much-needed gap between the Sex Pistols raw energy and Hanoi’s penchant for a catchy tune.
The following ‘Hammersmith Palais’ again, is a retrospective look to times and places that are long gone. A theme that has continued through Monroe’s lyrics to this day. A punked up blast with an anthemic “oi-oi” chorus that is an instant earworm. It’s about as British punk as you can get, which is quite a thing considering its Finnish/USA writing heritage!
A killer one-two as good as any album before it, and a pair of songs that remain constants in Michael Monroe’s live set to this day. Demolition 23 sound energized, fresh and vital in 2022.
As Demolition 23 was initially a covers band, it makes sense that a few of those tunes they jammed would feature. The Dead Boys ‘Ain’t Nothin’ To Do’ and UK Subs ‘Endangered Species’ are suitably raucous and filled with attitude. But its Johnny Thunders ramshackle ‘I Wanna Be Loved’ that blows the cobwebs off, even by today’s standards. Hening’s guitar tone is perfection and the vocal delivery has enough spit and venom to better the original. It’s a glorious blast that the band make their own.
‘Scum Lives On’ was originally on the Jerusalem Slim album. The Demolition 23 version is rawer and more in tune with the punk attitude. Even the dumb ass, tongue in cheek ‘Same Shit, Different Day’ sounds vital.
The emotive ‘You Crucified Me’ showcases the Van Zandt/Monroe ability to pen radio-friendly hit singles, and you probably forgot how good it was until you listen to this remaster. It sounds like it was recorded last week, not a lifetime ago.
The included demos of ‘Hammersmith Palais’, ‘Dysfunctional’ and ‘Scum Lives On’ are curiosos and don’t vary too much from the originals, but surely must be a testament to the fact that these 10 songs were the full recorded legacy of one of the greatest forgotten bands of the 90’s.
Of course, good things never last. Hening was replaced by Nasty Suicide on guitar by the time they started touring, but he left in March 1995 and the band folded soon after. Hening tragically passed away not long after and while Sami continues to play in Michael Monroe’s solo band, as far as I am aware Demolition 23 have only reformed once for Monroe’s 60th birthday bash in Helsinki recently.
With only a limited release in 1994 on CD, this is an album that has been crying out for the vinyl remaster treatment for years. It remains a lost classic and hopefully, this remaster will give it the distribution and worldwide regard that this long-lost classic album truly deserves. An essential purchase folks.
Author: Ben Hughes