Sometimes we get so caught up in what’s considered “metal” or not we forget how little genre tags and labels mean when it comes to how music makes you feel. I’ll admit to getting caught up in discussions over distinctions between metalcore and NWOAHM, how far the “post-” label can go before metal get thrown out all together…but when I take a breath, close my eyes and open my ears, in the end all I want is loud guitars that crunch, a voice that soars, and tight, tight songs. I know when I take off the black t-shirts and corpsepaint, what I really want is something fun. I want Just the Hits (1981-1985), and if they’re performed by Moonlight Desires?
All the better.
It’s easy to put Moonlight Desires in the same category as a group like Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, who made a career out of converting popular tunes from various eras into a slick, pop-punk format. But there’s something about how Moonlight Desires move past trend, particularly in their song selection and emphasis on arrangement, that rises above feeling like an attempt to cash in on nostalgia. Founded by Trevor Ziebarth, who created the Canadian comedy series Sons of Butcher, if there’s a comparison to draw it’s to Brenden Small, whose Metalocalypse integrated kickass songs that had the sheen of parody but upon closer inspection shows a true love of the music. Ziebarth had a similar trajectory, taking the animated Sons of Butcher out on the road as a real band and specializing in hard rock covers of 80s pop ballad classics. Debut album Frankie Goes to Hamilton was a raw, fresh affair, released independently and filled with sharp, harmonized takes on classics like “Head Over Heels,” “Oh Sherrie,” and “Always Something There To Remind Me.” It must have worked on more than just me, because Just the Hits (1981-1985) boasts a more polished production and has a wider reach across all the major streaming platforms, along with a fresh remaster of Frankie Goes to Hamilton.
Younger folks reading this: do the songs hit you differently than they do an old fart like me who remember when these songs came out? I’ve seen a lot of references to “Sunglasses and Night” and “Hungry Like the Wolf” which are omnipresent in our culture, but what sticks out are the slightly less well known hits, like Steve Winwood’s “Valerie” with its glue-like chorus I remember singing as a kid every time it came on the radio. Song selection is everything for a project like this, and Valerie” along with “Young Turks” and “Promises Promises” drive home the care and love the band have for the material.
From a musical perceptive you’re getting slick, driving hard rock/pop that doesn’t stray from the original arrangements, instead serving to illustrate how damn good these songs are. “Young Turks” has a great forward momentum and then you hit that chorus with its signature melody and it just pops. Likewise “Valerie” (I love me some Steve Winwood) – the keyboards replaced by chunky guitars, you get a better sense of the work the bass is doing until that chorus hits and nothing else matters as somewhere a fan blows, ruffling your hair like you’re driving a convertible and singing into the sun. Even when they do diverge, it’s in the interest of showing the strength of the song, as in the crushing version of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “The Power of Love,” a far cry from the more sparse, cinematic feel of the original.
Everything on Just the Hits (1981-1985) is incredibly tight, the hard rock stripping the songs of everything but their essence. Even if you’re not familiar with the original tracks, you’re going to get these songs inside you pretty quick. Sometimes you just need a break from the heavy and need a little bit of the hard. Make what innuendos you want from the preceding statement: I’ll be over here rocking in a shower of glitter with a smile on my face a mile wide.