In a way, Lower the Bar is the perfect title for the new Steel Panther album. You see, whether consciously or not, that’s what they’ve done on two consecutive albums now, following the two relatively lights-out records (Feel the Steel and Balls Out) that broke them out. Album No. 5 is still unmistakably a Steel Panther record — and, to its credit, one that boasts a couple of absolute panty-dropping tunes — but something’s just amiss this time out.
Normally, Steel Panther derives its brand of entertainment equally from two distinct components. On one side, there’s the music — the kind of concise, pop-oriented “metal” that the Poisons, Ratts and other glam bands made famous back in the ’80s. (Even down to singer Michael Starr’s David Lee Roth-esque howls.) It’s dated, it’s a little cheesy, but at its best, it’s also catchy as all hell. And then, on the other side, come the jokes — the over-the-top spoofing of the [somehow even more] over-the-top, “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” lifestyles those bands had back in the day.
That combination is how we got, for example, an upbeat, Mr. Big-esque rocker called “It Won’t Suck Itself,” and later, a pristine, infectious power ballad that just so happened to be titled “Bukkake Tears.” It’s how Steel Panther operates, and it’s generally paid off pretty well for them. The trouble is, on Lower the Bar, the balance has been tipped off-kilter; there’s the same amount of crass humor as always, but not enough catchiness in their songs to balance everything out.
That’s especially disappointing given how well the album introduces itself. The opening trio of tunes is, frankly, as strong a three-pack as the band’s ever given us. “Goin’ in the Backdoor” kicks things off with a memorable verse lead from guitarist Satchel — one you’ll be hard-pressed not to start humming in your leisure time — and the momentum carries the band right through the “Cherry Pie”-esque choruses of “Poontang Boomerang.” (Yes.)
Sadly, these three are just about as good as it gets on Lower the Bar. The majority of songs that follow feel like half-cocked retreads of past Steel Panther tunes — which, when you consider that the band is itself a retread of an entire era, feels particularly exhausting. Then, there’s “Now the Fun Starts,” which, to be fair, does not feel like a retread, but does trudge along at a snail’s pace and give way to a droning, repetitive chorus — at which point, the fun stops completely. And I’m not sure who thought it’d be a good idea to a. cover Cheap Trick, or b. place said cover at the very end of the album, but “She’s Tight” just doesn’t work. At all.
The rest of Lower the Bar has its moments, (“Pussy Ain’t Free,” “I Got What You Want”) but generally speaking, the band never quite replicates the success of those first three tracks. Which…fine. Steel Panther putting out a subpar album isn’t the end of the world. It just feels like a shame in light of how well this thing starts. (And since this is their second album running that feels like a step backward.) Perhaps joke glam metal’s reaching the same nadir real glam metal did, way back when?
Keep it heavy,
Lower the Bar is available now on Open E Music. For more information on Steel Panther, visit the band’s official website.