Enjoy this first of two White Lion reviews. Stay tuned for the second in a couple days!
I’ve had some fierce arguments with some rock fans about this album. Regardless of its flaws, I steadfastly defend it and especially the talents of one Vito Bratta, the best guitarist to never become a guitar hero. After the breakup of White Lion in 1991, Bratta retreated from public life and music completely. Some have argued to me, “If he was such a talent, he’d still be around.” Such talk is ignorant of the facts. Bratta spent many years as a caregiver to ill parents, and whatever decisions he made have to be respected.
I mentioned that this album is flawed, so I’m going to get that part out of the way first. There are two things about this album that suck. One is the production, by the normally awesome Michael Wagener (engineered by Canadian “Gggarth” Richardson). It’s really muddy, echoey, and annoying. It is indicative of the times.
The second thing that drives me nuts are the lyrics. I know Mike Tramp is Danish and English is his second language, but there were three guys from New York (Staten Island and Brooklyn) in the band that could have helped. As Exhibit A, I present you “Lady of the Valley”:
Lady of the valley
Can you hear me cry
In the stillness of the night
I have lost my brother
In the fights of the war
And my heart has broken down
I always stumble over that “In the fights of the war” line. That’s one of the “serious” songs, something that White Lion tackled frequently (improving over the years). For their flaws I’ll at least respect Mike Tramp’s willingness to present a personal point of view on specific issues (“Little Fighter”, “Cry For Freedom”, “Warsong”, “El Salvador”). Unfortunately Pride is loaded with songs about young girls and what Mike Tramp would like to do with them. Below, Exhibit B:
Keep your engine running high
When you take my love inside
But hold the trigger on my loaded gun (“Hungry”)
Little miss Dee’s got a dirty mind
All around the boys she’s one of a kind
If you wanna good time you can take her home
Cause everyone knows she is good in bed (“Sweet Little Loving”)
I’ll stop there.
Musically, and performance-wise, Pride is a joy to listen to. What an untapped well of talent Vito Bratta is. In the guitar magazines, he was noted for having captured some of the magic of Eddie Van Halen, and I agree with that. Bratta has definitely mastered the Van Halen book of rock. His riffs are much like Van Halen’s, with one guitar playing the rhythm and flicking in and out with tricky little licks. It sounds difficult as hell. “Hungry” is the most Van Halen-like. The difference is that Bratta sounds like a much more schooled player. Everything sounds meticulously planned and written. When he takes a solo, it’s a combination of Van Halen and neoclassical discipline. And every song is absolutely loaded with fills and tricks. Pride is very busy guitar-wise, in a good way.
“Hungry” is a great song, a dark Dokken-esque opener. Also similar to Dokken is the second track, the mid-tempo “Lonely Nights”. It’s another strong track, and I find Mike Tramp’s raspy voice similar to Jon Bon Jovi’s from time to time. Bratta executes a fluttery solo, and then it’s on to the next one, “Don’t Give Up”. Again, I find the lyrics tedious. I like positivity, but I don’t find, “Don’t give up, even when it’s tough,” to be very profound. Thankfully this uptempo banger is another winner musically. Once again I struggle to keep up with Bratta’s stunning fretwork.
“Lady of the Valley” is pretty impressive. It’s the “epic” I suppose, 6 1/2 minutes in length. The riff is choppy and smoking, and the rhythm section of James LoMenzo and Greg D’Angelo is spot-in. Then Bratta gets his echoey acoustic guitar out and the song mutates. An anthemic chorus tops a great song.
Side Two of the album was packed with singles: the hits “Wait”, “Tell Me”, and “When the Chrildren Cry”. “Wait” and “Tell Me” are both songs that Bon Jovi would have given their nuts to write. Tramp’s raspy vocals are absolutely perfect, as was his blonde mane, and the girls went wild. “When the Children Cry” was and still is an impressive acoustic performance. Even in 1987 I was impressed that White Lion chose to forgo drums and backing instrumentation. This simple, quiet song is the template for what Extreme would do three years later with “More Than Words”. Bratta was a guitar player able to pull off such an arrangement without sacrificing integrity.
The album is rounded out by “All Join Our Hands” and “All You Need Is Rock N Roll”, two odes to the greatest music ever invented. “All You Need Is Rock N Roll” is quite cool, beginning with what sounds like a drunken acoustic jam, and ending with with some killer bluesy playing from everyone. Both songs are great. I have always felt that the album tracks were as strong as the singles; like an album of 10 singles.
Shame about the sound and the lyrics, though.