As the lead singer of Skid Row, Sebastian Bach was one of the most insufferable frontmen in hair metal. Too pretty for his own good, he wielded his good looks as a weapon without quite realizing how arrogant his strut seemed, especially when paired with his band's comparatively benign roar. Skid Row's success came just at the end of hair metal's reign. Where other bands either gave up or started whining about grunge, Bach kept Skid Row going -- not many noticed, but they turned out a surprisingly aggressive record called Subhuman Race in 1995, and when that didn't catch on, the band disappeared, but Sebastian did not. He started working hard, grabbing gigs wherever he could, whether it meant jamming with alt-rockers in the Last Hard Men, or singing on-stage as Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Sooner rather than later, television came calling and he scored a regular role on The Gilmore Girls, performing as an old rock & roller who was as much a true believer as he was a hard case. Bach was surprisingly charming on the show and that turned into his new public persona, which he hauled through several VH1 reality shows, where he was friendly enough to suggest that when he finally got around to releasing a high-profile record again, it might be some kind of nostalgia grab, something soft and hazy to please aging hair metal fans.
There's no doubt that the subsequent record, 2007's Angel Down, is a throwback to the '80s, but it's hardly some warm, fuzzy trip through memory lane: instead, it's Bach knocking out a record how they used to in the good old days. The only thing is, Sebastian Bach never made a record as fierce and fun as Angel Down back in the pre-Nirvana days. This is heavier and hookier than anything he's done before, so good that Bach is confident to bring in rock & roll recluse number one Axl Rose for three songs, confident that the overdue return of Axl will not overshadow what he's accomplished here. Amazingly, it doesn't. Sure, those three songs are the cuts that grab attention first, as it's been so long since Rose has been heard backed by a band this lean and sleazy, but once that shock wears off, another one sets in: Bach and Rose are good duet partners, spurring each other on in a cover of Aerosmith's "Back in the Saddle Again" and the ridiculous "(Love Is) A Bitchslap," a song that knows how silly it is but doesn't care because the band doesn't play it for jokes. And that's Angel Down in a nutshell: it celebrates all the excesses of '80s metal, from the oversized riffs to the Queen-esque closer, "Falling Into You," but it does so without irony but also without being self-serious. Bach takes the music seriously but not himself and he wears such humility well, yet that wouldn't matter if the music itself wasn't the hardest, heaviest, and best he's ever made. It's not just a comeback; Angel Down is an album that justifies all those endless hours he's spent on reality TV, as he's the only musician to parlay all that time into music that sounds more fun and vital than he made when he was at the top of the charts.