Album review – Vandenberg’s Moonkings – Mk II
By STEVE MASCORD
CLASSIC rock is full of familiar tropes – and familiarity can lead to the illusion of cliché.
Dutch guitarist Adrian Vandenberg is a former member of Whitesnake, whose principal David Coverdale was in Deep Purple.
Deep Purple designate their different line-ups as Mk I, II, III etc. This is the second album from Vandenberg’s MoonKings project and he’s called it Mk II.
And Mk II is full of more basic hallmarks of hard rock: a soaring vocalist in Jan Hoving, showy, acrobatic playing, solos, songs about angels in black and fires, handling the heat and what doesn’t kill you making you stronger.
For listeners who find these structures too confining, nothing I say in this review will convince you to take Mk II seriously.
So I guess we’ll leave you here.
Anyone hanging around? OK. Here’s another modern trope-cum-cliché: in 1988 this album would have comfortably gone gold.
While the first Moonkings album boasted one stand-out track, Adrian himself chose three songs other than the alternative-universe hit on this one (“What Doesn’t Kill You”) when I had him on my podcast and each would have got airplay back when radio was worth listening to.
If the 64-year-old sees this as a solo project, he’s pretty good at hiding his intentions – the focus here is the songs and Vandenberg himself is happy to play a subservient role to them.
Actually, if anything this is a bass-heavy album with Sem Christoffel’s playing driving the whole album.
“Tightrope” is a riffy opener that starts off like AC/DC’s “Walk All Over You” and then chugs along sleazily, “Reputation” takes that tack even further, “Angel In Black” is prime cut Whitesnake with a big chorus and “The Fire” – with its lilting intro and Coverdale-perfect vocals – borders on the spectacular.
But we start to get a real impression of Mk II’s admirable refusal to acknowledge the last three decades with the cinematic “Walk Away” – in my opinion a better song that 1987‘s “Is This Love”.
Back into the bass-driven funk rock, then, for “All Or Nothing”. You know how some songs are “muso songs”, bound to impress for their chops? This is one of those.
The album’s highlight, however, is undoubtedly “What Doesn’t Kill You”. This is the sort of composition that used to get people yachts and private jets – arena perfection from the strings to the keys to the best chorus this side of “Livin’ On A Prayer” to the actual sentiment expressed which was one of the under-appreciated attractions of this form of music in the first place.
This song is a gleaming sliver of what we grew up on … or what saved us from ever really growing up.
We got back to Whitesnake’s sleazier moments for “Ready For The Taking”, “New Day” is the requisite wind-in-the-hair, top-down breezy anthem. “It ain’t easy trying to live free when you’re playing by the rules,” croons Jan.
Yes middle aged rockers actually play by the rules. That’s why they’re not dead.
“Hard Way” borrows a little from The Who and a cover of One Republic’s “Love Runs Out” is done so well, and originally, that I rather embarrassingly reviewed it as an MoonKings song in an earlier draft of this review.
Back to the pulsy bass-driven groove of “If You Can’t Handle The Heat” – full of jamming – to finish things off. If Mk II has a flaw, it’s that there might be one too many of these sorts of songs.
A dutch Whitesnake? Orangesnake? If the real Whitesnake puts out a record as good as this in the coming months, David Coverdale should be thrilled.