White Lion – All You Need Is Rock N Roll: The Complete Albums 1985-1991 (HNE Recordings)
June 21, 1987 was a red hot date for hair metal.
Two of the best rock and roll records of the decade were released on the very same day.
Guns N Roses dropped the career-defining Appetite For Destruction.
But the better bet as a future global smash was White Lion’s Pride.
And for a while it seemed as if the latter would, indeed, grab all the glory.
It’s no secret that the world took a while to wake up to Axl and co.
In the meantime, Mike Tramp and Vito Bratta were reinventing Van Halen.
Van Halen Reinvented?
Tramp was Dave Lee Roth to fretboard genius Bratta’s Eddie Van Halen.
And if the two never really gelled off stage then when the lights went up the sparks would fly.
Theirs was a nuanced partnership founded on sugar sweet melodies and truly remarkable riffs.
Plenty of well-placed judges were prepared to put their necks on the line where Bratta was concerned.
For a while in the late 80s he was publicly lauded as a vicarious Van Halen upgrade.
And the comparison was fully justified.
If Bratta passed you by first time around — or you simply don’t believe anyone could match fast Eddie — then check out Wait.
The MTV-busting ballad was the breakthrough hit White Lion craved.
And a sublime guitar solo sizzled with fret-melting intent.
All You Need Is Rock N Roll: The Complete Albums 1985-1991 features an extended mix of Wait and it’s here where you’ll encounter Bratta at his brash best.
You will be.
Your next stop should be the sensational opening salvo on the band’s fourth and final long player.
Lights And Thunder, from 1991’s Mane Attraction, sees Bratta ditch Van Halen for Jimmy Page.
And he’s just as comfortable laying down Led Zep-styled riffs hewn straight from 70s rock.
In fact Tramp’s ridiculously talented sidekick has — or had — it all.
Did White Lion Waste Their Chance?
It’s every White Lion fan’s enduring frustration that the band’s narrative inevitably returns to Bratta’s disappearance from the rock scene.
Delve deep into this career-spanning set and one thing becomes clear.
White Lion should be roaring towards the 2020s as proud survivors of grunge’s mid 90s cull.
The classy quartet should have 15 or more albums under their belts.
And the Tramp-Bratta axis should be up front and central at festivals worldwide.
That it was all over within a decade is a crying shame.
But a combination of record company apathy and internal indifference ripped the heart out of this fabulous beast of a band.
And a painful parting of the ways — after Mane Attraction bombed — became an awkward standoff that spanned the decades.
But rock’s history is awash with such tales.
Pride Before A Fall
Why couldn’t White Lion roar back like so many of their hair metal peers?
Well Bratta cared for his sick mother before suffering a serious hand injury.
And Tramp returned with a rebooted version of White Lion in 2008 which, by all accounts, irked his former band mate.
Farewell To You, the poignant set-closer at the conclusion of Mane Attraction always hinted at some kind of hiatus.
But almost 30 years down the line and four albums is all the classic line-up of White Lion have to show for their combined talents.
Then again, three of those records just happen to be genre classics.
White Lion Fight To Survive…And Win
Debut Fight To Survive soundtracks four starry-eyed hopefuls scrapping for their big break.
Broken Heart (later re-recorded for Mane Attraction) is an exciting introduction to Tramp’s charisma and Bratta’s brilliance.
Cherokee is considerably better than Europe’s guilty pleasure ballad of the same name.
And The Road To Valhalla reveals White Lion’s depth and ambition even as the band chased that breakout FM radio hit.
On reflection, Fight To Survive might have been too much, too soon.
Elektra shelved it before release fearing the necessary earworm was absent.
And it was only when White Lion had the rights returned that they were able to release their debut through indie label Grand Slamm.
For a band bedevilled by bad luck and even worse timing that false start provided a rare moment of optimism.
White Lion’s Pride And Joy
Finally Tramp found a home with Atlantic Records.
And White Lion hit their stride with Pride.
There’s no weak link on an album that brings Bratta’s talent to the fore — Wait is just the start.
Lady Of The Valley is a guitarist’s dream and this six minute-plus epic is astonishing.
All You Need Is Rock N Roll is the complete opposite – short, sweet, basic and brilliant.
Then there’s Hungry, Tell Me and All Join Our Hands.
But the standout on a truly stunning record is Tramp’s politically inspired ballad When The Children Cry.
Across five CDs this career retrospective features four versions of White Lion’s top three hit and another four wouldn’t go amiss. It’s that good.
Big Game But White Lion Lose
Big Game followed two years later but it failed to recreate the vibe or capture the magic of its lauded predecessor.
A cover of the Golden Earring classic Radar Love was shoehorned into a disparate collection of average rockers.
And if Little Fighter and Cry For Freedom rank as two of White Lion’s better 80s efforts then this was mostly filler and a lack of killer.
Tramp appeared tired and Bratta was treading water.
But those who felt Big Game was the sound of a band on the wane couldn’t have been more wrong.
Mane Attraction A Main Event
Mane Attraction was another main event in the annals of hair metal.
Released at a time when grunge was on the charge — and Tramp was drifting further apart from Bratta — it’s a triumph in the face of adversity.
Bold songwriting and edgy melodies spawned the likes of Love Don’t Come East, You’re All I Need (not a Crüe cover) and Warsong.
Professionally, if not personally, Tramp and Bratta were still able to create something very special together.
Disappointingly an edit of Lights & Thunder is the only bonus track on this Mane Attraction reissue. Revisiting Warsong, at least, would have been a welcome addition.
White Lion Live It Up
Disc five captures White Lion at their commercial and creative peak as a 13-song live set from New York’s The Ritz sizzles from start to finish.
UK fans caught a version of the same tour with Icon and Pretty Boy Floyd in support of the mane men.
And there’s no better opportunity to enjoy Wait, When The Children Cry and more at their emotive best.
White Lion might have gone from birth to extinction within 10 colourful years.
But for a while, at least, all you needed was Tramp and Bratta’s rock n roll.