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White Lion - All You Need Is Rock N’ Roll - The Complete Albums 1985-1991

The debut album, Fight To Survive, from US melodic rock outfit White Lion almost never was. The 1985 effort being released by indie label Grand Slam after Elektra Records first picked the band up, let them record the album and then, promptly dropped them again. Such was the way back in the mid-80s as every label looked to continue to ride the rock gravy train into the charts. However, with White Lion it proved that Elektra lost their nerve way too early on a band that would go on to have huge success both at home and abroad. Admittedly all of that followed on after Fight To Survive, but the scene was clearly set on this debut album where Danish singer (and former teen star in his homeland) Mike Tramp and guitarist Vito Bratta both shone brightly as the Eddie Van Halen inspired talents of the latter meshed to near perfection with the vocal gymnastics of his band-mate. “Broken Heart” is how to open an album, its slow build growing into a serious stomper of melodic rock. There’s no doubt that even this early Tramp’s echoing vocals are a deal breaker of love ‘em or loathe ‘em proportions but if you’re onside then the finger tapping solo from Bratta seals the deal. Flanked on the promo-shots for the album by the impressive rhythm duo of bassist James Lomenzo (who would go on to work with Black Label Society and Megadeth among many others) and drummer Greg D’Angelo, it was actually Felix Robinson (bass) of Angel fame and Nicky Capozzi (drums) who laid down the recordings. And a fine job they did too, with the title track a brooding pulsation of hooks and beats, while “All Burn In Hell” proves an irresistible sing along. Add in the socially aware (an aspect White Lion held onto in the face of party rock) and swirlingly atmospheric “El Salvador” and what possessed Elektra to pass on Fight To Survive remains a mystery.

With their debut gaining huge acclaim and plenty notice in Europe, Atlantic Records stepped in to snap up the band and their payback was immediate. White Lion exploding properly onto the scene with the release of their Pride album and especially its “Wait” single, where its perfect blend of acoustic interludes and forceful riff fuelled expulsions rocketed into the Billboard top 10. Catchy, memorable, yet not as throwaway as much of the MHR scene, it was no wonder that this track had the impact it did, even if the Michael Wagener production even now feels harsh. It’s a theme across this album and I must admit that over the years it’s a factor that has caused Pride to slip slightly in my affections. Although it still holds a strong place in my heart from the hundreds of spins both single and album received at time of release. This record, however, wasn’t a one trick cat, “Hungry” another insistent album opener that shows off Bratta’s fret expertise and then some. However, as before, this band’s ability to frame those talents round big choruses and arrangements that hinted at the depth and authenticity of their influences (Zeppelin being a main one) meant that the more obvious attack was tempered by some serious rock n’ roll credentials. This album, while boisterous and bullish - just check out the enigmatic “Lady Of The Valley”, forceful Zep meets Halen of “All You Need Is Rock n’ Roll” and anthemic “All Join Our Hands” - is possibly best known for its ballad, “When The Children Cry”, which again finds White Lion taking a deeper look at the world and its problems in the most melancholy of fashions.

Pride made a huge impact on my 14 year old musical world, and so maybe inevitably its 1989 follow up, Big Game (with its politically satyrical cover) didn’t quite live up to expectations. Possibly opening with the “Wait” like “Goin’ Home Tonight” didn’t help matters, whereas “Dirty Woman” wastes little time in its quite blatant Van Halen homage, something “Little Fighter” is hardly shy of either. Good though those trio are, they do lack for a real identity, Bratta’s over reliance on his obvious guitar hero’s sound mixed with the feel that the band and Wagener were trying to push Pride’s genie back in the bottle lessening the impact, although the results maybe aren’t quite so shrill and Mike Tramp’s voice not so draped in booming echoes. “Broken Home” mixes things up a little, a semi-acoustic meander offering nice variation, before “Baby Be Mine” uses guitar sustain and layering to great effect as it offers an almost Queen like moment of restraint to make a bold statement that on occasion explodes into strutting 70s rock bombast. There’s no point denying that “Let’s Get Crazy” and its fret dancing and double kick barrage would trade in its high school education to be Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher” but “Don’t Say Its Over” offers a breezy slice of pop nouse that most of us didn’t expect. A faithful cover of Golden Earring’s “Radar Love”, while good fun, adds little to proceedings, before “Cry For Freedom” once again uses the now expected White Lion trick of closing things out on a slower, more introspectively lyrical note (and this time some Richie Blackmore like licks). Big Game has, in all honesty, aged better than my 16 year old self ever anticipated but even now, some 31 years after its release, to me it feels like a compromise album where the band clearly wanted to both grow and show their roots, while still retaining the core sound of what had helped them hit the big time. Still, the album climbed to number 19 in the US album charts, while its singles all fared reasonably well.

However, by 1991 the times they were a-changing. Out was the party rock that White Lion were rightly and wrongly perceived as being, and in came the shoe-gaze of grunge. White Lion continued on dauntless, releasing Mane Attraction and while the album would almost break the top 30 in the UK, its failure to even dent the top 60 in America signalled trouble. And very much a shame that was, because Mane Attraction found a band growing up, maturing and beginning to find a sound that did manage to combine the big chorused 80s rock they made their name with to a more confidently brash 70s exterior. The reworking of their own debut album track “Broken Heart” is a great example of where White Lion now found themselves, Bratta still a fret-master but now one that didn’t need to shove that fact down your throat, while the confident infusion of keyboards introduced a depth into the band’s sound that had possibly been missing up to that point - although the Ritchie Zito production helps too. “Love Don’t Come Easy” might sounds uncomfortably like Deacon Blue covering U2 but it is catchy, however, from there on in the slow and easy “You’re All I Need”, near 7 minute “Warsong”, which could almost be Black Sabbath in its intent, if not quite its execution, and more expected “Out With The Boys”, provide some real rocking credentials. And controversial though this thought may be, this least celebrated of White Lion albums may just be the best surprise package of this five disc set.

Five discs? I hear you ask… Well, yes, because those lovely folks over at HNE/Cherry Red have also packed in a live disc that captures the audio from a previously VHS only concert release into this neat boxset. Recorded at The Ritz, New York, in 1988, the main 13 song set captures the band hurtling through Pride in its entirety, as well as adding three debut album tracks to a set that possesses real fire and spirit. As with many bands from the era, White Lion were much heavier live, Bratta seemingly much more comfortable in a looser setting that allowed him to spring forth and both control the songs and then go a little fret-crazy as his band mates took on the job of holding it all together. Sound wise things are a little rough around the edges but that maybe aids proceedings as they become remarkably - and breathlessly - energetic. While a further three ‘live in rehearsal’ tracks from the same era add a little more intrigue.

Post Mane Attraction White Lion started to disintegrate, Lomenzo and D’Angelo departing, before Tramp and Bratta, who had soldiered on with replacements onboard, eventually decided to fold the band. Tramp initially formed the much more hard hitting (and career highlight in my opinion) Freak Of Nature before focussing on a solo career that continues on to this day, while Vito Bratta - who truth be told was never a very natural looking rock star, who even in his own band’s publicity shots looked like he’d rather be anywhere else - promptly retired from the music business, never to be seen again. And so adamant was he that White Lion should cease to be, that on the two occasions Tramp has released music under that name since their folding, the guitarist has quickly shut things down through legal proceedings.

In all honesty I’m not sure that White Lion’s four album legacy has aged quite as well as some bands from that late 80s/early 90s scene and yet the nostalgia value and clear talents on display on Fight To Survive and Pride are hard to resist. Big Game still feels like a slight misstep to me, while Mane Attraction remains this bands’s surprise package. Some single edits and extended versions are included across this set, but in essence the main bonus here will be the audio live material and while that show only covers half the band’s catalogue it does so in amazing style. It would be incredible to see an unexpected return from Vito Bratta with Mike Tramp alongside him, but that simply ain’t going to happen. Hence we should simply celebrate what they left behind for us. All You Need Is Rock N’ Roll? - who can argue with that?

Track Listing
Disc One Fight To Survive (1985)
1. Broken Heart
2. Cherokee
3. Fight To Survive
4. Where Do We Run
5. In The City
6. All The Fallen Men
7. All Burn In Hell
8. Kid Of 1000 Faces
9. El Salvador
10. The Road To Valhalla

Disc Two Pride (1987)
1. Hungry
2. Lonely Nights
3. Don’t Give Up
4. Sweet Little Loving
5. Lady Of The Valley
6. Wait
7. All You Need Is Rock N Roll
8. Tell Me
9. All Join Our Hands
10. When The Children Cry
Bonus Tracks
11. Wait (Extended Remix)
12. When The Children Cry (Edit)
13. All You Need Is Rock N Roll (Lp Version With Intro Edit)
14. All You Need Is Rock N Roll (Short Version)
15. Tell Me (Edit)

Disc Three Big Game (1989)
1. Goin’ Home Tonight
2. Dirty Woman
3. Little Fighter
4. Broken Home
5. Baby Be Mine
6. Living On The Edge
7. Let’s Get Crazy
8. Don’t Say It’s Over
9. If My Mind Is Evil
10. Radar Love
11. Cry For Freedom
Bonus Track
12. Cry For Freedom (Edit)

Disc Four Mane Attraction (1991)
1. Lights And Thunder
2. Broken Heart
3. Leave Me Alone
4. Love Don’t Come Easy
5. You’re All I Need
6. It’s Over
7. Warsong
8. She’s Got Everything
9. Till Death Do Us Part
10. Out With The Boys
11. Blue Monday
12. Farewell To You
Bonus Track
13. Lights & Thunder (Edit)

Disc Five Live: Ritz �" New York (1988)
1. Hungry
2. Don’t Give Up
3. Lonely Nights
4. Sweet Little Loving
5. Broken Heart
6. Fight To Survive
7. Tell Me
8. All Join Our Hands
9. Wait
10. Lady Of The Valley
11. The Road To Valhalla
12. All You Need Is Rock N Roll
13. When The Children Cry
14. Little Fighter (Live In Rehearsal 1991)
15. When The Children Cry (Live In Rehearsal 1991)
16. Don’t Give Up (Live In Rehearsal 1991)

Added: August 10th 2020
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: White Lion @ Cherry Red
Hits: 313
Language: english

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» Reader Comments:

White Lion - All You Need Is Rock N’ Roll - The Complete Albums 1985-1991
Posted by Ian johnson on 2020-08-12 00:33:32
My Score:

I once wrote a one word review for the Big Game album, it simply said BOLLOCKS!. I stand by that and this box set could have been a while lot better without this album 😁

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