When a band who has built a reputation based on extremely raunchy lyrics and over the top stage personae suddenly steps away from the shock value and the theatrics, and concentrates on more accessible songs, it’s always tempting to criticize. Take Norway’s Turbonegro, for instance, who have been tweaking their sound for the better part of a decade now. By taking the greasepaint of their fellow countrymen Immortal and Dimmu Borgir, adding a strong punk influence, a healthy dose of glam metal, and some of the most ridiculously hilarious, vulgar, flamboyantly homoerotic subject matter we’ve ever heard, Turbonegro have built a large cult following, thanks largely to their two great late ‘90s albums Ass Cobra and Apocalypse Dudes, not to mention such uproarious songs as “I Got Erection” “The Midnight NAMBLA”, and “Rendezvous With Anus”. 1996’s Ass Cobra is regarded by many as a punk classic, while 1998’s Apocalypse Dudes caters more to the metal crowd. 2003’s slickly produced comeback album Scandinavian Leather had the band in fine, albeit slightly toned down form, and now, the band’s newest release continues to move closer and closer toward the middle of the road.
Sure, Party Animals eases up on the vulgarity, but seriously, how many gay jokes does one need? While people may rip the band for abandoning their shtick on the new album, they’re forgetting just how good a rock ‘n’ roll band these guys are. The leap in songwriting quality from Ass Cobra to Apocalypse Dudes was astounding, the band marrying latter-day Ramones melodies with a strong glitter rock element, and the new album, produced by former Redd Kross member (and White Stripes producer) Steve McDonald, models itself after Apocalypse Dudes, a much more streamlined effort compared to the demented grandeur of Scandinavian Leather, McDonald’s melodic, bubblegum punk influence obviously rubbing off on the band.
The songs are no different than anything Turbonegro has done in the past, but they’re energetic enough to win us over. The propulsive “All My Friends Are Dead” and “Final Warning” revisits the metal-tinged punk fury of “Selfdestructo Bust”, while the metallic groove and sing-along chorus of “City of Satan” has a good larf at the expense of ‘80s cheeseballers Manowar. While flamboyant lead singer Hank von Helvete appears finished with singing songs about hobbit motherfuckers and princes of the rodeo, he still has plenty of racy fun, this time in more of a phallocentric, cock rock sort of way, declaring at one point, “If I ran for election/ Would you support my erection?”
Like on the two previous Turbonegro albums, the longer the disc goes on, the more lead guitarist Euroboy emerges as the true star in this band. Possessing some of the flashiest glam metal chops we’ve heard since the mid-‘80s, his licks keep the album from sinking into empty self-parody. His soloing highlights the energetic “Wasted Again”, sounding equal parts Mick Ronson and Slash, his New York Dolls style chords on “High on the Crime” are interrupted by a fabulous riff blatantly copped from Keith Richards (or, to a lesser degree, The Soundtrack to Our Lives), and “Stay Free” hearkens back to the trashier element of late ‘80s L.A. band Faster Pussycat. It’s the terrific, absurdly titled “Blow Me (Like the Wind)” that’s the real winner here, as the main riff is punctuated by an ingeniously slinky melody that, when combined with von Helvete’s audacious vocals, comes off as an absolutely brilliant imitation of Scandinavian glam legends Hanoi Rocks.
If there’s one thing on Party Animals that works against the band, it’s that the music does tread perilously close to generic hard rock, but even a dud like “If You See Kaye” is bolstered by the usual tight performance by the sexed-up sextet. It won’t win back the indie crowd, who seem to only want to enjoy this kind of music on an ironic level, but it will please the vast contingent of fans known as the Turbojugend, and considering just how modern rock itself seems to be in a bit of a down period these days, this album is a welcome remedy. The hipster bands want to tell us to clap our hands and say yeah, but Turbonegro say it, and actually sound like they mean it.