By all rights, Steel Panther shouldn’t have lasted as long as they have. While their 2009 debut Feel The Steel was inundated with acclaim for being a seamless parody of a band like Mötley Crüe, amplifying the most profane and chauvinistic impulses of hair-metal, it can feel like much of their career has been driven off that inertia, particularly when 2011’s Balls Out and 2014’s All You Can Eat failed to hit the mark. But even so, the amount of good will that Steel Panther have received has clearly been enough for them to keep going, and subsequently they’ve become a legitimate driving force in hair-metal revivalism, as well as a hugely successful act in their own right. And yet, regardless of what anyone might argue, it’s all been under the shadow of that debut album, with everything else that follows serving to keep the wheels spinning more than anything else. Need proof? Just look at Lower The Bar, their fourth album that shows they’re yet to evolve beyond what they were producing on their first.
By that reasoning though, a lot of what was good about Steel Panther remains on Lower The Bar, namely the instrumentation and presentation which has always been the band’s strongest suit. Satchel’s guitar work is, as always, the highlight, largely sticking to the same sort of wailing glam-metal as previous on tracks like Goin’ In The Backdoor and Poontang Boomerang, but even stepping into new territory at points like the sunken, deep guitars of Now The Fun Starts. Even so, it’s nothing groundbreaking, but then again, Steel Panther’s mere existence as a parody band dispels this notion entirely, though even when compared to the acts they’re parodying, they have so much more energy and drive that makes this album exponentially more enjoyable. Obviously there’s the vibe of classic Mötley Crüe in the instrumentation, but Michael Starr’s vocals are frequently comparable to a huskier Steven Tyler, swelling with personality and charisma while still managing to hit those explosive moments of falsettos. As easy as it is to sneer about a band like this for being ‘dated’, Steel Panther are at least attempting to galvanise a sound that’s little more than a throwback these days, and for as frequently questionable as the lyrics can be, Lower The Bar hits the low-intelligence, big chorus quota with consummate ease.
But those lyrics… Look, to criticise Steel Panther for being crass is missing the point, but there at least needs to be some substance behind that for it to work. Instead, Lower The Bar chooses to live down to its title too often, and as such, the joke really begins to wear thin. On this album, it feels as though Steel Panther are trying to provoke and shock more than anything else – just listen to the horrendous Anything Goes for evidence of that – and as such, it feels strangely mean-spirited, with uncalled-for jabs at Charlie Sheen and Caitlyn Jenner, a Freudian slip gay joke on I Got What You Want that wasn’t funny when Eminem did the same thing in 2004 on Just Lose It and still isn’t now, and Walk Of Shame devolving into a cringeworthy extended joke about having sex with bassist Lexxi’s mother. Often, it feels like these moments overshadow any desire for actual songs, and makes this album feel a lot cheaper than it should. The reason why That’s When You Came In and Wrong Side Of The Tracks (Out In Beverly Hills) are amongst the best songs here is because they’re actually well-written songs that still have their fair share of vulgar jokes (especially the former), but they aren’t used as the basis of the song.
Ultimately, it feels like Lower The Bar is an attempt to rectify Steel Panther’s waning quality by reaching the peak of their overblown, parodic intentions, but one that neglects any latent intelligence that was present on the band’s best material. This isn’t going to rub any longtime Steel Panther fans the wrong way, and ignoring some of the worst offenders means that this can be an enjoyable glam-metal album at a time when they’re as rare as hen’s teeth. But that’s easier said than done in all honesty, particularly when the band themselves seemingly want to make it as difficult as possible.
For fans of: Aerosmith, Warrant, Ninja Sex Party
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Lower The Bar’ by Steel Panther is out now on Kobalt Records.