THE GANG’S ALL HERE
Released on October 14, 2022 (earMusic)
I’m a New Jersey boy! I grew up listening to my sister listen to Skid Row songs and for the past 30 years, have been a Skid Row fan myself. I was hooked the moment I heard the line “Since I was born, they couldn’t hold me down” from “Youth Gone Wild”. For someone like me, a legally blind guy who has to fight for every opportunity sometimes twice as hard as others just to keep up pace, that line really sold me and made me a life long fan. Is that silly? Maybe. But, lyrics matter. And, no one wrote more bad ass lyrics than these guys!
The difference between myself and a lot of Skid Row fans is I’ve been here for most of the journey. While many never returned in any real way after Johnny Solinger took over from Sebastian Bach, I remained a fan of the band. Well, that’s mostly true. In reality, the second ZP Theart joined the band, I did check out. I won’t spend long on the former singers of this band because I’m sure the Skid Row members want the focus to be on the new line-up. But, what in the Blue Hell were the guys thinking hiring a guy who wrote songs about unicorns and dragons? ZP‘s time in Skid Row produced low energy live shows as he cosplayed as a singer who could sing for a real rock band and not some pretentious power metal act. His delivery is cringe worthy as he comes off as a guy who is doing karaoke night with his Dungeons and Dragons cyber friends in his mom’s basement and he’s trying not to have his mother yell down the stairs to shut up. I never saw them, except for YouTube, with this guy singing even though they came by. Because, why the hell would I?
With that said, I am a fan of the band H.E.A.T. I wouldn’t say I’m a super-fan of theirs like I am a fan of Crashdïet who I often compare to a hungry Skid Row. But, I’ve got an album or two of theirs. When they announced, somewhat unexpectedly, that Erik Grönwall had joined the band, I literally jumped out of my chair with excitement. I mean, I literally celebrated like my favorite team just won the Super Bowl or the World Series. For one, the theatrical, low energy, no connection to the audience ZP was gone from the band and I could resume being a fan… And, for another, Erik Grönwall, the guy from H.E.A.T, was the guy replacing him. We have something here! I knew it right away. And, boy, as time has gone on, I’ve found out just how much of something we, they, have!
Using the power of the internet as a launching pad, Skid Row have managed to create a lot of buzz about themselves simply by making people pay attention. Every single day, I turn on YouTube and I see a new interview with a band member, a new music video, or dozens of “reaction videos” where random people watch videos and react to them like unfunny Beavis and Butthead segments. In other words, if you’re using YouTube as something to listen to in the background and typically seek out rock and roll, these videos crept into your “Suggested Videos.” And, by this, it seems to really have re-lit a fire under the Skid Row fan base and welcomed new fans of younger generations to the party. This is wonderful to see. It really is. And, they deserve a lot of credit for helping their own cause with this somewhat grass-roots effort.
One last thing about the former singers. First, I never see Sebastian Bach returning. If these key anniversaries came up and they didn’t figure it all out, they never will. And, when you have a singer like Erik, do you need Baz back? I’m sure there would be a “Stadium Tour” 2023 spot for them if they reunited. And, they’d hate every second of having to deal with each other as well. So, let’s put that to bed. Oh, and the one guy who got kicked in the butt the most by all these new fans posting videos about Skid Row is Johnny Solinger. This guy was with Skid Row for 15 years! I love Thickskin as a record although it wasn’t the classic Skid Row sound. So, if you are a new fan or a returning one, give Thickskin and the United World Rebellion records a spin. Solinger wasn’t as good as Sebastian or Erik vocally but he was a good frotnamn and like Alice Cooper, could sell songs even if his voice wasn’t what these other guys can do. R.I.P. Johnny. You’ll always get respect from me.
All right, all right! The Gang’s All Here! See what I did there? Anyway, the album! It comes with a sticker on the shrink-wrap that reads “The Rock Album of 2022.” Holy crap, that is not false advertising! The first song is “Hell Or High Water”. From the crunchy guitar kick off to Erik‘s immediate inflections, you could probably convince some people that this song was sung by Sebastian Bach. But, that isn’t what they’re going for, I don’t think. What a catchy chorus and a ballsy set of lyrics! I know they wanted some different sounding songs to put forth as singles leading up to the release. But, I’m not at all sure why “Hell Or High Water” wasn’t one of the singles or videos. I think they could still consider putting out a video for this one in the next few months because the classic Skid Row fan would eat this one up — even the critical ones.
“The Gang’s All Here” is the second track and also the title track. It is a little ballsy to call the album this as the gang isn’t all here. Mathmatically, 3/5ths of the gang is here. But, I think the song celebrates two different things. First, it celebrates the band members — the gang — returning to their roots and original sound. And, it celebrates us all getting the fuck out of the house again after the Covid pandemic of which I have strong political opinions on and, frankly, questions about. Some of those questions and feelings about the world shutting down I believe inspired quite a few songs on this album. I’m not entirely sure how it hasn’t inspired more artists. After all, for about two years, could you do much except be introspective? I’m just saying. What a great song this is. From the “And tricky little Vicki is the only girl I trusted, that’s right” with Erik‘s inflections really just makes you not have to check to see what band you’re listening to. This sounds like Skid Row. This sounds like the Skid Row we wanted back. Guess what? We’ve got it. The Gang is, almost, All Here!
“Not Dead Yet” is a cool song. Much like the opening lyric to “Youth Gone Wild”, there are a lot of lyrics about overcoming that connect with me. But, for Erik, there must be a lot more than even that. For a guy who had to have a bone marrow transplant and had cancer just over a year ago, a song like this is easy for him to own and probably packed a punch. I know Rachel Bolan wrote the lyrics. But, Erik made this his. What a bad ass, Slave To The Grind sounding track!
“Time Bomb” is an interesting track. Of the three singles released, this was the most polarizing. Even my wife has been critical of the “Tick Tick Tick” in the song. I do wonder, though. If Sebastian were in the band and this song was left more or less the same, would people have been critical? Or, is it just something to bitch about from an audience that wants to be critical? For me, this has a Ronnie James Dio vibe in the verse and a more modern vibe in the chorus. I like it. It has vibe all over it. Rachel says he wrote it during the pandemic and felt the world spinning faster around him and seeing time going faster and technology growing so fast, he just felt like he was going to explode. I get that! And, I think all of us can relate to the lyrics. I wonder if those critical had a problem with Saliva‘s “Click Click Boom” song that was used in the Fast And Furious movies? I bet they didn’t and that song blows.
“Resurrected” is next and sounds a bit like “Not Dead Yet” in a lot of ways. The song has some modern political commentary, at least that is how I take it. But, also has a big old middle finger held up by the Skid Row boys. “No one can bring us down or push us underground! We’re back where we should be! We’re Resurrected!” Welcome back, Skid Row. Where’ve ya been? “Nowhere Fast” is next and I think it is the first song I don’t find I dig as much. The first 5 or so songs are damn near perfection and this one just feels like it doesn’t quite flow in the same way. “When The Lights Come On” gets us back on track. If you loved that self-titled album from 1989, this one’s for you. Grooving guitars with a little rock rock vibe and Erik‘s voice screams New Jersey. I know he’s from Sweden! But, you can’t listen to this track and not think, “Wow, that is how Jon Bon Jovi would deliver a vocal performance before he started singing through his nose and writing dance hits.”
I’ve got a problem with “Tear It Down” on the album, mother fucker! Why? Because they cut out the lyric “mother fucker” at least on my CD! The line is changed to now be “Nobody is Ever” instead of “No Mother Fucker!” Did I get the Walmart censored version or something? I still wonder what girl in the Buckcherry song “Crazy Bitch” does so good because my Walmart copy cuts the damn lyric out! Anyway, the song is bad ass. Gang vocals, powerful lyrics.”Big brother’s watching! He’s everywhere! But, does he realize revolution’s in the air?” With censorship, cancel culture, and all that bull going around to where you can’t have a free thought unless it is in lockstep with what “they” want you to think, that lyric is mind blowing! I love it! And, I love this song. But, give me back my mother fucker!
“October’s Song” is next. If you dig “In A Darkened Room” or maybe “Wasted Time”, this song is for you. A more slow song with darker lyrics, I think it was a necessary addition to the album. The lyrics are heavy as I can kind of hear it having to do with losing someone close to you, perhaps a parent. But, the overall messaging isn’t one of sadness but of positivity. I find myself going back to this track often because there’s something there… Something powerful there… Something real. I like it a whole lot. “World On Fire” is last and is a solid way to end the album. Another fast paced rocker, this sounds like something that could’ve fit on one of the United World Rebellion albums. A little bit of punk and a lot of power metal here but not in the cosplay way I talked about earlier…
A couple parting thoughts. One is that there is no way ZP Theart could’ve sang this album. If he recorded vocals for it, I can easily see any producer saying, “Um, so, who else ya got?” He’s not capable of selling these songs. Sebastian Bach would’ve been interesting to hear try these songs. Though I’m sure pride would never allow him to, I would love to hear him try and do a song like “Hell Or High Water” or “Not Dead Yet”. I’m not suggesting a 50 something year old dude would nail it the way a 34, 35 year old dude can. I’m just saying that I believe Rachel Bolan and Snake Sabo write songs for Sebastian‘s voice with the exception of Thickskin, which was written for Johnny‘s voice and that is why Thickskin worked and why, in spite of some really good songs, their other albums and EPs did not. This is why I own nothing by Sixx:A.M.. Nikki Sixx writes for Vince Neil‘s voice and the guy he’s got sings like he’s in a post grunge band and can’t pull the songs off. Does that statement piss you off? You know why it does? Because I’m telling you what you know and won’t admit.
This album is fantastic but needed a ballad or two. I know a lot of these guys want to rock and want to do ballads but if you hear Skid Row on the radio, what songs are played? “18 And Life” and “I Remember You”. I think one or two ballads, if any were real, would have opened up the reach of the record to a different audience. For some reason, I kept thinking of “Ghost”, “See You Around”, or “This is Killing Me” from the Solinger days as songs that would’ve almost been perfect if heard on this album. Those are all either slow songs or ballads depending on your definition. But, that’s just me.
Final thought! Erik is an inspirational story. From performing “18 And Life” on Swedish Idol to getting noticed while battling cancer and eventually ending up fronting his favorite band? What an amazing story. And, what an amazing frontman and vocalist he is. Make no mistake. Scotti Hill, Snake, and Rachel are the heart of Skid Row. As long as any of those three are with the band, it will have a heartbeat. But, Erik‘s given them new life, a fresh start, and a new wave of popularity that I hope leads to big things within reason.
And now, really, my final thought. SKID ROW ARE BACK!
01. Hell Or High Water
02. The Gang’s All Here
03. Not Dead Yet
04. Time Bomb
06. Nowhere Fast
07. When The Lights Go Down
08. Tear It Down
09. October’s Song
10. World On Fire
Erik Grönwall – lead vocals
Rachel Bolan – bass, backing vocals
Snake Sabo – guitar, backing vocals
Scotti Hill – guitar, backing vocals
Rob Hammersmith – drums
Ryan Spencer Cook – additional backing vocals
Paul Taylor – additional backing vocals
Produced, engineered and mixed by Nick Raskulinecz
Assistant engineer: Nathan Yarborough
Mastered by Eike Freese
Skid Row‘s “The Gang’s All Here” fan video:
Skid Row‘s “Tear It Down” video:
Skid Row‘s “Time Bomb” video: