Growing up in the 1980’s, there were a lot of new bands coming out that we latched onto pretty quickly. White Lion was one. My buddy Bob probably liked them better than I did, but I was a fan too. Back in those days, I was the guy buying all the rock magazines, while he was starting out in college. I’d tell him all the latest rock news, what albums were coming out, and so on.
One afternoon we were chatting, and I had something pretty major to tell him. I had read a White Lion interview in Circus magazine, and it revealed something neither of us knew before: Pride was not the first White Lion album! They had done a previous, independent (and rare) record called Fight to Survive that we didn’t know existed. Even back then, Bob and I were collectors, so we sought that album with great vigor.
It took years for him to find it on cassette, and then several more for me to get it on CD. Now I have it, so let’s talk about it.
The opener is “Broken Heart”, which was re-recorded in ’91 for Mane Attraction. Perhaps this early version, sans keyboards, is the better of the two. Regardless, this had hit single written all over it even back then. The chorus kills and even though it has ballady verses, it also has enough balls to pump the fist in the air. “Cherokee” is another one with a killer chorus. The songwriting here isn’t perfect, or polished. It has some clunky moments, but it definitely had something. Unfortunately, the title track is a lame-o Van Halen rip off, trying to be something like “Mean Street” or something, but missing the mark. The lyrics about shields and swords are out of place on an album with a song like “Broken Heart”. Vito Bratta is ripping off Randy Rhoads rather than Eddie Van Halen on the solo, but he had really yet to evolve into the player he became.
“Where Do We Run” picks up on one of the albums themes: great choruses (and guitar solos) that don’t have a great song around them. However, “In the City” has nothing much of anything going for it: it’s a real flaccid side closer. Side two’s opener “All the Fallen Men” is much better, sounding something like a Dokken single. This song is a standout. The rhythm section of James LoMenzo and Greg D’Angelo had already established a good groove together. Mike Tramp’s lyrics are not profound (nor would they ever be) but he’s trying.
“All Burn in Hell” is one of those choruses without a song. “Kid of 1000 Faces” is a song without a chorus. “El Salvadore” opens with a really cool classical guitar/eletric guitar duo. This at least has an original sound, or at least for 1985 it was. And the song itself? Another great chorus just begging for a good song, a memorable riff — anything! White Lion were really good at writing song fragments. Finally, the piano-based ballad “Road to Valhalla” is one of the cheesiest, unconvincing “serious” ballads I have ever heard in my life. Mike Tramp’s flat vocals don’t help the matter much, but this song is so cookie-cutter that it sounds as if taken from a handbook called How to Re-Write “Home Sweet Home” in Three Simple Steps.
Fight To Survive has a couple great songs, and several brilliant fragments. If they’d tightened it up and put out five as an EP, we’d be on to something. Unfortunately, Fight To Survive is only worth: