Steel Panther, Lower the Bar
Review by Erik D. Harshman
I’ve always said this about a Steel Panther album: you’ll laugh, you’ll thrash… and you’ll learn the truth about life and love.
Well… Sometimes you’ll get the truth… Other times you’ll just get hyperbolic songs about partying, sex and metal, filled with equal amounts of (we hope) fake narcissism and self-deprecation.
One thing you can say about Steel Panther: they are consistent… consistent and balanced.
Two other observations I’ve made about Steel Panther in my less than two yeas of being a fan of theirs: 1.) Unlike most comedy-metal (like, say, Psychostick) the joke never seems to get old with them (more on this later), and 2.) Like the 80’s hair metal glam bands that they both emulate and (I think) make fun of, they are really a band that was made to have a “Best of” album.
On the first point, comedy-metal has always struck me as a little odd. Comedy music in general, actually. I remember receiving the first Adam Sandler album (They’re All Gonna Laugh at You… still trying to figure out if he was making a reference to the book or movie Carrie) as a Christmas gift and listening to it over and over and over (I was 13… gimme a break). The jokes got old after about the second time. In 2010 a friend of mine burned me the new Psychostick album. I took it on a roadtrip with me and the jokes got old by the time I returned. This is the same reason why I don’t own many comedy movies in my DVD library: jokes get old. Even stand up comedians recycle material. But for some reason, Steel Panther’s humor seems to hold up after repeat listens (for me, anyhow). It could be the truth that they’re spitting, it could be the (not surprising) intelligent wit behind the comedy. It could also be that the music is so damn catchy; Panther are actually pretty stellar musicians and their production values only goes up with each new album. While so many 80’s glam hair metal bands were unintentionally funny, Panther is genuinely hilarious. And while some 80’s hair metal bands could play their instruments, Panther actually can. It’s like you’re listening to legitimate metal that just happens to be hilarious… And it is hilarious. If Mark Twain were alive and liked partying, hair metal and sexual vulgarity… he might be in Steel Panther.
But then there’s the downside… See, I judge most albums by the amount of tracks I burn from the CD onto my iTunes. Most band’s CDs I get from the library (yeah, I’m that guy… incidentally this is a method I’ve been criticized for… by internet trolls); you have to be one of my uber-favorite bands for me to love you enough to buy your album digitally from iTunes or Amazon on the day it comes out. Panther can muster about 2-4 songs per albums, but that’s about it. See? They were made to have a “Best of” album that hobbles together these 2-4 songs per album (and since they have 4 albums… they’re just about due). To emphasize my point, let me ask: if you were to name any song beyond the 2-4 radio hits off each Motley Crue album (say anything beyond the title track and “Looks That Kill” off Shout at the Devil), could you do it?
Didn’t think so.
Can you name me a Poison song besides the radio hits (which douche bags butcher at karaoke night constantly)? A song besides “Talk Dirty To Me”, “Unskinny Bop”, “Nothin’ But a Good Time” or “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”… ?
Didn’t think so.
And since my reviews nearly always entail a story about my history with my band, here’s my story for Steel Panther (it’s a short one, as I said: I’ve only been a fan for a little under two years): in late 2015 I checked out all of Panther’s three albums from the library (in anticipation of their December performance in St. Louis: they were the headliners for a local radio station’s, KSHE95, annual “Hair Ball”… get it?). I then proceeded to make a “Best of” playlist in my iTunes for Panther. When I went and saw them live (which, incidentally, was a exceptionally fun time and had me blaring my “Best of” playlist for them for days afterward) they played every single song on my “Best of” playlist… and a few others that probably only the diehards knew.
Even Steel Panther knows which songs on each album are worthy (insert clip of Wayne and Garth kneeling and throwing their hands up at Alice Cooper) and which are filler.
Which brings us to Lower the Bar…
As I said before, the 2-4 (in this case, only three) songs that stuck out for me (i.e. the three songs I’m going to add to my Steel Panther “Best of” iTunes playlist) are: “Poontang Boomerang”, “That’s When You Came In” and “Wasted Too Much Time”.
The album opens with “Goin’ In the Back Door”. Pretty uninspiring, obvious and a little adolescent (even for Panther). There just wasn’t anything about it that grabbed me, lyrically or musically… But I did smirk when I recalled the song “Backdoor Lover” by the fictional (and hyperbolic) pop band DuJour off 2001’s Josie and the Pussycats.
“Anything Goes” follows suit with the track before it. A song about having no party limitations and being omnisexual… Been there, done that. It could be a close cousin to “Party Like Tomorrow is the End of the World”, but that song had resonance… this one, sadly, does not.
In fact, this album bears closer resemblance to All You Can Eat than either Feel the Steel or Balls Out (as it should be expected, as Eat came just before this album… pun intended).
Then we get to the good stuff: “Poontang Boomerang” is classic Panther. The wit (and truth) contained within the song is invaluable and will stand the test of time (and repeat listens). And the music is about as groovy, catchy and heavy as it gets.
“That’s When You Came In” is the best, raunchiest ballad that Mr. Big (or Skid Row) never wrote. It even borders on sweet. Sure, there’s the obvious play on words with the chorus, but the song has an upswing that reminds me of “If You Really Really Love Me” and “Community Property”.
“Wong Side of the Tracks (Out in Beverly Hills)” is arguably the most humorless and uncreative track on the record. Pure filler. Don’t know why it was even included. Yeeeeesh!
“Now the Fun Starts” is one of those songs like “Major Rager” by Dead To Fall: about a party gone out of control (think the musical equivalent of Project X or Office Christmas Party). It’s a bit eerie in its musical construction, but the lyrics, well, are nothing new. Again, like “Party Like Tomorrow is the End of the World”, we’ve been there and done that. No new ground to cover with limitless partying like it’s 1985. Ya need some new material here, Panther. Please!
“Pussy Ain’t Free” can be witty at times, adolescent at others (which could be said of most of Panther’s body of work). The amount of truth to the lyrics is sadly cancelled out by the lack of creativity in the music and the chorus. It’s sad that this opportunity was so sorely missed. Panther could have had a new anthem with this one.
“Wasted Too Much Time” is a song every man in the world will sing at the top of his lungs and know exactly what it is about! Again, it’s a ballad in the spirit of every 80’s hair metal band that wrote a ballad (and let’s face it, they all did!). But this ballad is bitter and vengeful. Very cathartic to listen to and (thankfully) the music is awesome to boot.
“I Got What You Want”… Remember when I said they filled their songs with self-deprecation? Case and point here. Sadly, the song represents another missed opportunity; a song that feels rushed to make an EP into an album. Could be great with just a little more musical ingenuity and flare.
“Walk of Shame”, now here’s a rarity on this album: a song with meaning, humor and original lyrical content. However… the music is wholly uninteresting to me and failed to hook me (pun intended).
And the cover of Cheap Trick’s “She’s Tight” is catchy (and no one can miss the humor of the obvious pun), but (like the original) it failed to make the desired impression on me. It was an upbeat and positive note to end the album on, however.
All in all, Lower the Bar is a Steel Panther album. Period. A mixture of wildly mediocre filler and truth-filled comedy-metal brilliance. I don’t want it to seem like I don’t like Steel Panther. I do… I just wish they’d come out with that damn “Best of” CD… or, you know, a CD with more than just 3-4 songs.
Recommendations: Warrant, Slaughter, Poison, Motley Crue, Quiet Riot, Ratt, Tenacious D, Tuff, L.A. Guns, Def Leppard
Rating: ** ½ out of 5 stars