Skid Row, ‘The Gang’s All Here': Album Review
The specter of Sebastian Bach has loomed over Skid Row ever since they fired the golden-voiced singer in 1996. He's there in the band's set lists, which largely comprise its first two multiplatinum, Bach-led albums that made mincemeat out of his replacements for decades. He's there in both parties' continual press barbs and nagging questions about their refusal to bury the hatchet and rake in cash hand-over-fist on a reunion tour. He's even there in spirit on the cover of the band's new album, The Gang's All Here, an unsubtle nod to the five leather-clad night-stalkers who graced the front of Skid Row's 1989 self-titled debut.
There's a different, conspicuously shorter haircut on the cover this time around, just right of center. It belongs to Erik Gronwall, the former singer of Swedish rock band H.E.A.T. and 2009 Swedish Idol winner (he auditioned with — you can't make this up — Skid Row's "18 and Life"). The 34-year-old Gronwall caught Skid Row's eye when they toured Europe with H.E.A.T. several years ago, and he was front of mind when former singer ZP Theart got the boot earlier this year. Gronwall met his new bandmates four days before making his triumphant live debut with Skid Row in Las Vegas in early 2022, powering through a nostalgic, brutally demanding set with ease and panache. He brings the same confidence and firepower to The Gang's All Here, an impressive return to form that could finally liberate Skid Row from the ghost of their classic-era singer.
That's only possible because the rest of the band is firing on all cylinders. Dave "The Snake" Sabo and Scotti Hill remain one of hard rock's most exciting and underrated guitar duos, offering a bounty of nimble, catchy riffs and squealing solos. Bassist Rachel Bolan and drummer Rob Hammersmith lay down thunderous, midtempo grooves on "Hell or High Water" and serve slinky, back-alley boogie on "When the Lights Come On" and the cowbell-inflected title track. Veteran producer Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Alice in Chains, Rush, Trivium) gives the album a beefy, modern-metal crunch that's befitting of Skid Row, who always wrote smarter, heavier songs than the poofy-haired pretty boys with whom they were often associated. For proof, check out the blistering album closer "World on Fire," which delivers a proper thrashing with its pile-driving riffs and melodic lead guitar lines.
The Gang's All Here makes several references, both musical and lyrical, to Skid Row's past. The swaggering "Hell or High Water" is a spiritual successor to Slave to the Grind's lead single "Monkey Business," and the title track mentions "tricky little Vicky," who was first seen walking along South Street in Skid Row's "Rattlesnake Shake." These throwbacks make fronting Skid Row in 2022 an even taller order, but Gronwall rises to the occasion on every song, cutting through the tumult with his crystalline, vibrato-heavy roar. Every time it sounds like he can't possibly sing any higher, Gromwall digs down and unleashes another, even more piercing scream. It's the closest any Skid Row singer has ever gotten to the soaring, melismatic vocal runs on "I Remember You" or "Livin' on a Chain Gang."
Put simply: Gronwall can sing his ass off. So it's a crying shame that for the bulk of The Gang's All Here, he gets saddled with some of the most embarrassingly cliched lyrics you're likely to hear on a record this year. The self-empowerment platitudes sound like bar-band first drafts, and the tough-guy posturing is hard to take seriously when most of the band is eligible for AARP benefits. You could fill in the chorus to "Time Bomb" — "I'm a ticking time bomb / Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, boom!" — before you hear it. This can't possibly be the same band that once wrote, "You'll see the sickly hands of time / Will write your final rhyme / And end a memory." (But it could be the same band that wrote "Get the Fuck Out.") Lyrical faux pas aside, The Gang's All Here marks an exciting new chapter in Skid Row's story. For the first time in nearly 30 years, they've got a singer who can fill Bach's shoes, allowing them to embrace their past while paving their future. It almost sounds like the Skid Row you remember — hopefully they give Gromwall more to work with next time.