Throughout my lifetime as a Clevelander, Michael Stanley has been a musical pillar in my life. As long as I’ve been listening to rock music, Michael Stanley has been one of those artists that’s been a fixture for me. I’ve easily seen him perform 30 times, including all 10 of the sold out shows at the Front Row Theatre and the infamous party in the parking lot outside of old Cleveland Stadium. When I got my first walkman in 1982, the first three tapes that came with it were Genesis – GENESIS, Pat Benatar – GET NERVOUS and Michael Stanley Band – MSB. In so many ways, Stanley has been a better version of Bruce Springsteen for me – a storyteller with stories that I could more directly relate to along the way. “Thank God for the man who puts the white lines on the highway”. Indeed.
Stanley may have never made the splash outside of Cleveland that Springsteen did, but I’d argue that he’s been far more consistent than the Boss musically – especially in this stage of their respective careers where it’s starting to wind down. Listening to THE HANG, it’s absolutely stunning that Stanley has waited until now to put forth his most heartfelt, passionate and pain filled album to date.
To be very clear here, THE HANG isn’t ever going to be mistaken as a fun time anthemic rocker. There are no “He Can’t Love You” moments here. There’s not a “My Town” to be found. THE HANG is, simply, the most perfect musical description of time moving on and leaving a path of pain in its midst. It’s really not surprising, as Stanley has been through a great deal of personal tragedy in the last year, including his wife’s long battle with cancer that she recently lost. In a press release, Stanley tried to put into perspective how much loss he felt, but listening to THE HANG makes it a lot clearer. You can literally feel the emotion coming out of Stanley as he sings the chorus through songs like “Breaking Down”. Every time that your not around / everything is breaking down / You are the reason to be / someone to hold onto me. These lyrics were clearly written from the heart, and almost certainly came with tears and a punch or two of a wall in the studio. On “Fait Accompli”, Stanley brings it down more, as this piano ballad literally explores the emptiness he’s feeling coming home to an empty place each night. This song is, without question, the deepest song of Stanley’s entire career.
While the mood is overwhelmingly somber on THE HANG, this album does what so many of Stanley’s albums have always done. In many circumstances, the songs just paint the emotional landscape that so many of us share here in Northeastern Ohio. We’ve all had that day where nothing goes right around here, which seems almost taken right from our memory and put into song on “Down In The Suck”. With the way the world has gone to Hell in the last few years, we’ve all reminisced about how things were better “Back In The Day”. In short, THE HANG just touches the nerve; it’s a finger on the pulse of Northeastern Ohio and, specifically, on one of its favorite sons.
PITRIFF RATING – 93/100 - Unlike a lot of Michael Stanley’s albums, THE HANG isn’t going to lift you up a bunch. It’s the most serious album of his career, and I’d argue one of the very best. By far it’s the best thing he’s done in two decades. Whether it was a purposeful purging of the pain of his last year or just coincidental, Stanley has brilliantly drawn a picture of a very tough year. I’m sure almost anyone can relate to most of this release in some way or another.