When a press release uses a phrase like “[we] play music that’s as ridiculous as it is awesome”, it’s enough to strike dread in the heart of the potential listener. After all, if it’s not awesome, then it’s just ridiculous…and if it’s just ridiculous, it’s then bordering on being a novelty – and novelty is not for everyone. Luckily, on this international debut release, aside from a truly terrible choice of name, there’s nothing novelty about Pittsburgh band Gene The Werewolf. While not really awesome either, the five man band does a great job pulling various elements from classic rock’s past, yielding an album which is surprising enjoyable. Actually, despite all the things they think they are, most of the time on this release, what they actually sound like is a KISS tribute band, specialising in tunes from the ‘Dressed To Kill’ era. With that in mind, if you hate KISS, there’s (almost) nothing for you here. If you’re a KISS fan but hate people who spend half their time desperately wanna be KISS, there’s (almost) nothing for you here.
Never were the KISS influences more obvious than on parts ‘I’ve Got The Love’ when frontman Drew Donegan really channels his inner Paul Stanley, so much so, he could probably pull off being in a tribute band (assuming he’s not already tried that for a career prior to forming GTW). The falsetto ‘oohs’ set the dials for fun, while the hard rock drumming and glammy guitar chords rock out like it’s the mid 70s all over again. It’s not until the chorus hits that this tune offers anything truly brilliant, however…and for that chorus GTW impersonate their heroes as best as they can muster. The hook may be trashy, but it’s fairly instant; although this is good enough, it’s the emergence of Drew’s near-perfect Paul Stanley impersonation which leaves the biggest overall impression. There are similar Stanley-esque leanings during parts of the feel-good ‘Superhero’, although any obvious KISS influences get offset by some rather lovely new wave keyboards set high in the mix. Here, a few hair metal edges meet with an almost Cheap Trick level of confidence that, once again, shows this band off as great musicians in the “classic rock” sense.
When the KISS obsession is at its lowest ebb, there are gentle nods to late 70s AC/DC – though any potential influence never comes with the sledgehammer intent of Aussie rockers Airborne. ‘I Only Wanna Rock N Roll’ mixes three chords worthy of Angus Young with a simple hook that the fledgling Poison may have killed for. It’s totally old school – right down to relying on enormous whoahs for half of its impact – but often, the simpler the better. By the track’s end, when things beef up a little and the gang vocals really hit home, it’s not quite so AC/DC influenced anymore, but rather more in the glam rock field – which is clearly where these guys feel most musically at home. Perhaps better, ‘Rock N Roll Animal’ follows a similar tack, only with a guitar riff that is in danger of lapsing into AC/DC’s own ‘It’s a Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock N Roll)’. It may be largely borrowed, but that really doesn’t stop the professionalism of GTW’s own musicianship shining through – the guitar leads which busily fill the last few bars of this particular homage to classic rock are first rate.
As for the best of the rest, ‘Light My Fire’ features yet another great chorus, some Def Leppard-esque harmonies and the obligatory nod to KISS, while ‘Heart of Steel’ sounds like classic power pop in places, but is pushed back into the classic rock sphere thanks to a full compliment of 80s glam metal guitars. Perhaps better still, ‘Ruffneck Woman’ takes another obvious KISS influence, mixes it with a couple of other key notes from classic rock’s glory years and comes up with yet another predictable yet enjoyable winner. Despite adding nothing new to the Gene The Werewolf repertoire (or indeed, absolutely anything previously unheard within the much-loved glam rock, hair metal or classic rock subgenres) one thing is guaranteed: like everything else on ‘Rock N Roll Animal’, GTW play this with the kind of huge self-belief their music demands of them.
The KISS-isms may be far too obvious at times – right down to the name Gene in the name, a choice that is certainly no coincidence – but at least with Gene The Werewolf, you don’t have to live with the threat of Mr. Simmons delivering thinly veiled references to his penis. Although Gene The Werewolf are short on original sounding thrills, purely and simply, their various homages result in a decent record. Overall, it’s more enjoyable – and far less crass – than the stupidly over-rated Steel Panther, while retaining a similar vibe of good-time trashiness. Though this album is no contender for “genre classic” status (due its being little more than systematic pillaging from actual genre classics), the band’s claim of wanting to offer music of a “ridiculous” nature could have turned out far, far worse.