The landlocked alpine nation of Austria is an unlikely place to birth a first-rate sleaze rock band, it being mostly the province of black metallers, dark new wave goths (“Gruftis”) and other underground critters hell bent on musical peculiarities to mirror their country’s cultural idiosyncrasies (trust me, I live here). But Bad Habits, the sophomore album from Austrian sleaze rockers Mädhouse, is a (bad?) breath of fresh hungover air on the local scene and, quite potentially, beyond. This prospect would be quite the feat considering the historical difficulty Austrian rock bands experience breaking out of habitual environs. However, Mädhouse – who signed to Greek label Rock Of Angels Records (ROAR) for the release of Bad Habits – appear to have a real shot with this album, which is a marked improvement on their debut Money Talks Bullshit Walks in the songwriting department and has a definitive transatlantic appeal.
While the band bills itself as “snotty street rock meets catchy melodies in the style of their heroes from the early days like Mötley Crüe, Skid Row, Poison and Def Leppard” and unabashedly stand for “Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll” (at last!), the one band Mädhouse most resembles is Ratt. More specifically, a perfect cross between the gnarly multi-platinum debut Out Of The Cellar and sleek, radio-engineered Detonator-era Ratt, not least due to the proximity of singer Tommy Lovelace’s voice to that of rather unique Ratt frontman Stephen Pearcy (brilliantly described by one musician as “Dave Mustaine trying to carry a washing machine up a flight of stairs”). Mädhouse also offer the same concoction of pop sensibility and sleazy sexual guitar virtuosity perfected by the LA glamsters back in their heyday.
“Dangerous, But Worth The Risk”. Album opener “Bang Bang” smacks you in the face like a pissed-off girlfriend after you’ve said something particularly stupid to defend equally stupid behaviour, and comfortably sets the tone for the rest of album. First single “Sick Of It All” is a standout cut; definitive earworm candy forged from the iron crotch of top-notch hard rock hit songwriting, transforming the cultured streets of Vienna into sleazy LA back alleys. “First Lick Then Stick” veers into Steel Panther territory, but if you can’t laugh at this somewhat cruder version of the same lessons cunning linguist Ian Gillan once proscribed, then you’re better off down the bingo hall.
Second single “I Walk The Ponygirl” references a weird sexual practice even yours truly wasn’t aware of (look it up) with an addictive hook and a video that makes no bone about not giving a flying hail Mary that it’s not 1984 anymore (even though it is, in other ways). Revving up the tempo, “Itch To Scratch” cannot be anything other than a directly intended tribute to Ratt, and wouldn’t have been out of place on the latter’s Detonator album (which, naturally, features a song called “Scratch That Itch”). But “Atomic Love” is where Mädhouse really start to lay claim to being as good as their influences. With that classic night prowling-music pounding bass and licentious guitar, the main riff is reminiscent of Extreme’s Pornografitti era, only to culminate in a chorus which would do Faster Pussycat proud and soloing to demonstrate guitarist Mikky Stixx’s (real name, promise!) inherited prowess. “Rodeo” may ‘not be their first’, but its high-octane conjuring of cowgirls (reverse or otherwise) is a delightful, well, romp.
Strangely, the title track is probably the weakest and least interesting track on the album, while “Live It Up” is also mostly unremarkable, creating a bit of an unfortunate mid-album slump, though the song’s middle eight and solos are still delicious. But obligatory album ballad “Pure Oxytocin” soon puts things straight with its lush, layered harmonies, and while it isn’t quite as original as “Tears Like Rain” (yes, really!) on the previous album, this is the kind of material Pearcy-understudy Tommy Lovelace was born to sing.
Unfortunately, “Fake It Till You Make It” lives up to its name a little too accurately, but this is soon put right again by “Metal Creed”, featuring leads that would make Warren DeMartini tremble and a prominent cowbell without which the creed of sleaze wouldn’t succeed (it’s sufficiently ‘metal’, too). “Say Nothing At All” is the statutory waggish laid-back track on the album with a chorus and structure that are a clear homage to post-Pyromania Def Leppard. Overall, the sequencing is well-thought out, the album closing out with “Tourette Brunette” (a title Steel Panther will be green with envy over), and “Love To Hate”, which achieves that charming stereotypical genre balance between faux-doubt and outsized ego and closes out the album as it began – with a bang and some stellar playing to stiffen Friday night’s hairspray into next week.
While the album could have benefitted from an edit or two down to maybe 10-12 songs for even tighter cohesion, the production is outstanding, and more than a few of these songs could have been major hits in a different time. Either way, this is certainly an effort that can compete with well-received post 2000’s efforts from the likes of Crashdïet, Reckless Love, or Santa Cruz, and Austria at long last inscribes itself on the Sleaze Rock firmament of the known galaxy. If America ever wakes up to what once made it great again (not likely, but you never know), it’ll find a lot to like here. Maybe Steel Panther should take Mädhouse out on tour?!
Keep it up, gäng – there’s a market demand for this, and it’s, uh, growing. 9/10
Mädhouse’s Bad Habits was released on April 23rd, 2021, via Rock Of Angels Records.