For years, Mike Tramp said he had moved on and White Lion was something from the past. He said there'd never be a White Lion reunion no matter what. He also declared that Freak of Nature was the best band of his life, but they wouldn't reform either. And if they did, it would only happen with the same lineup.
Now, here is a new album titled Return of the Pride released under the White Lion moniker. The only original member of the band is Mike Tramp himself. Judging by the title, the music is supposed to be a step back in time, but sadly, this is not the case here. The album has absolutely nothing in common with the real White Lion we all know. Rather, about half of the songs seem like they were leftovers from Tramp's solo material while the rest, though certainly trying to recapture the original White Lion magic, fall short off the mark, due to the absence of Vito Bratta's songwriting.
The music presented here simply does not deliver the classic White Lion sound. It simply is not a natural progression. The production is awfully flat at times, rendering some of these pieces unlistenable. Even the tracks that were written to resurrect the old days seem to suffer from this, as Mike Tramp's production is raw and in your face. In that respect, the CD recalls his 1999 effort Remembering White Lion -- at least then, he said he wasn't trying to recapture the sound. Well, what about this album? It doesn't possess better production either. It's more like White Lion's pre-Fight to Survive demos, particularly in the guitar department.
On a positive note, the album offers two great epic-length pieces which are both among Tramp's finest songs since Freak of Nature. It's great he went back to his darker and heavier approach, even for two cuts. The opening number "Sangre De Cristo" ("Blood of Christ") starts off with creepy keyboards and constantly transitions between smooth acoustic parts to grinding heavy passages. The fast riffing here is akin to Freak of Nature's "Turn the Other Way", while the guitar theme planted underneath Tramp's vocalization during the heavy verses recalls Iced Earth. Also, Troy Patrick Farrell's blistering drumming is awesome as are the background vocals that lift the chorus.
Likewise, "Battle at Little Big Horn" sees Tramp venturing into his Freak of Nature mood. It begins with a stomping bass line that slightly recalls "Fight to Survive" off of Remembering White Lion and lyrically deals with Custer's Last Stand. Complete with some of Tramp's most heart-wrenching delivery and killer gang vocals, the song also boasts a nice guitar solo that is reminiscent of the late Savatage guitarist Criss Oliva (think "Hounds" or "Ghost in the Ruins").
Other than these, there are several mid-tempo rockers which have a lot more common with Tramp's solo material, particularly Capricorn. "Dream" starts off with a wonderful vocal melody, but save for the edgy guitar work in places, it would feel home on his solo CD's. Similarly, "I Will" and "Never Let You Go" are the distant cousins of "Have You Ever" from Capricorn. The former is a lyrically intense song written about his son and the latter is a similar ballad right down to the piano melody. Sorry, but adding in edgy guitar parts and a ten-second solo will not qualify these tracks as new White Lion numbers.
The one piece that could be likened to White Lion may be "Set Me Free", which follows a similar pattern as "Broken Heart". It kicks in slowly with emotional vocals, then picks up pace with the addition of power chords and a melodious guitar solo. Unfortunately, listening to it you will immediately notice how Jamie Law has tried to emulate the classic Vito Bratta sound, and failed terribly. He'd be better off going for his own style in a different band.
Songs like "Live Your Life", "Finally See the Light" and "Let Me Be Me" are so simple and straightforward that one can't help but wonder why Tramp even included them on this disc. Maybe they needed to get the CD out and Tramp just sang some unfinished tunes. With their overtly excessive and somewhat irritating choruses, these tunes have nothing worthwhile to offer. On "Finally See the Light", perhaps in hopes of giving off a Big Game vibe, the band delve into a freestyle jam session, primarily driven by Claus Langeskov's bass solo and Farrell's drumming, but honestly, the song lacks direction.
My European copy has a song called "Take Me Home", a cool ballad that Tramp must have written for a solo album. That said, it is thousand times better than trying to churn out half-finished "new" White Lion tracks. Largely acoustic, it features some of his most honest delivery and even a sweet electric solo.
As mentioned above, not all of this album is a failure. On the contrary, there is some really good material here, but I just wish Mike Tramp had given this band its own name rather than trying to squeeze out a few bucks from old fans who might have been out of the loop. Not everyone will know that Vito Bratta, James Lomenzo and Greg D'Angelo did not play on this disc, and thus, they might end up terribly disappointed. If Tramp doesn't want people to compare his current band to White Lion, then he should drop the moniker first.
Bottom line, this is not a White Lion album because there can never be a White Lion album unless Vito Bratta has written the songs and played the guitars on. This is more of a Tramp solo album with two good pieces, a few average midtempo rockers, and some truly dismal cuts -- all delivered with sub-standard production values. Had Tramp sat and refined his sound, and actually given these guys a chance, then the result might have been a lot more satisfying. It's a real shame cause his vocals, while different from the old days (and rightly so), are truly amazing on some of these songs.
I really wish this CD wasn't such a disappointment. I really do. It's just that this is Mike Tramp, not White Lion. And it should be marketed this way. I'm inclined to believe there is some deceptive advertisement going on here.
1. Sangre De Cristo
3. Live Your Life
4. Set Me Free
5. I Will
6. Battle at Little Big Horn
7. Never Let You Go
8. Gonna Do It My Way
9. Finally See the Light
10. Let Me Be Me
11. Take Me Home (European bonus track)