AOR Roundup: Snowfall + Fair Warning + Laneslide + Summers + Now + Covered Call + Amaze Me

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Reviews by Brian McGowan

A whole raft of AOR albums have been floated out into the public domain in the last month or so. What will sink, what will swim and what should be held under? Let’s dive in and have a look at 7 (fairly) recent releases.

  • Snowfall – Cold Silence
  • Fair Warning – Sundancer
  • Laneslide – Flying High
  • Summers – 364
  • NOW – Bohemian Kingdom
  • Covered Call – Impact
  • Amaze Me – Guilty As Sin

 

Snowfall – Cold Silence

Escape Music

Fronted by rising star Lee Small – who truly is a more than accomplished vocalist – Scandi band Snowfall show a few glimpses of promise, even if the production and engineering on this release do them no favours. The opening track, ‘Don’t Drive Me Home‘, is the album’s standout by a considerable margin, but the rest of the recording, a few notable exceptions aside, is bulked up with formula filler. It’s lowest common denominator melodic rock, leaning on your affinity with the genre to make an emotional connection. Small’s vocal resemblance to David Coverdale has been well documented and you get the impression the band trade on that a little too often. That said, ‘Citadel Of Hope’ and ‘Wolfs Lair’ strike an attractive Coverdale/Sykes pose, their air of familiarity forming a welcome distraction from the blandness that surrounds them.

Snowfall 20134 out of 10

Track listing:

  1. Don’t Drive Me Home Tonight
  2. Citadel Of Pope
  3. House Of Prayer
  4. Heaven’s Not Up There
  5. Jack Of
  6. Wolf’s Lair
  7. I Won’t Be Lonely Anymore
  8. Stampede
  9. Oscillate
  10. Alexandria
  11. The Vesper Bell
  12. The Choosen Few

 

Fair Warning – Sundancer

SPV/Steamhammer

The seventh studio album from one of the melodic rock genre’s genuine giants, the title suggests an artistic connection with their second release, Rainmaker, but there isn’t. Where that 1995 album was awash with memorable melodies and sweetly sinuous hooks, like so much of the band’s recent output, Sundancer treads water. It’s littered with recycled riffs and underwhelming retreads, populated with anonymous verses and hackneyed hooks, all tarnished attempts to regain the traction lost by a recent run of mediocre albums. Only on three tracks – the acoustic jangle and head nodding percussive thump of ‘Pride’; ‘Touch My Soul’, where dancing strings add zing and zest to an otherwise plodding plot; and on the undeniably heavier, yet head turningly Beatle-esque ‘Send Me A Dream’, where shallow sentiments are substituted by a more adventurous musical and lyrical palate and an outstanding sense of drama – does the real Fair Warning show through. Where once there were towering hooks, and a trademark grandeur and depth, we now find Fair Warning struggling to forge their own signature.

Fair Warning - Sundancer4 out of 10

Track listing:

  1. Troubled Love
  2. Keep It In The Dark
  3. Real Love
  4. Hit And Run
  5. Man In The Mirror
  6. Natural High
  7. Jealous Heart
  8. Touch My Soul
  9. Send Me A Dream
  10. Pride
  11. Get Real
  12. How Does It Feel
  13. Living On The Streets
  14. Cool

 

Laneslide – Flying High

Avenue Of Allies

More Npower Championship than Premier League, this “supergroup” features Bruno Kraler (Brunorock), Bobby Altvater (Affair) and Frank Vestry (Danger Danger), plus a few other ‘names’ recognisable to aficionados of the genre. Although the album credits suggest each song was written by a committee, they are uniformly strong (apart from one unforgivable dip in quality – the substandard ’River Of Love’, the worst song that Whitesnake never wrote). Typical of the genre, it’s a front-loaded album. The first three tracks, ‘Flying High’, ‘Hangin Out Here’ and ‘You Can make It’ – especially ‘Hangin…’ – are the picks, ensuring maximum and immediate impact. And although nothing else quite reaches that peak, other songs, like the very Harry Chapin-like ‘Dancing Girls’ and a cover of Laura Brannigan’s ‘Self Control’ add a sense of complexity and sophistication that’s aimed at but never quite achieved elsewhere. Overall, a play-off place is more likely than outright promotion.

Laneslide 20136.5 out of 10

Track listing:

  1. Flying High
  2. Hangin’ Out Here
  3. You Can Make It
  4. River Of Love
  5. Dancing Girls
  6. Understand
  7. Self Control
  8. Look The Other Way
  9. Your Fight
  10. Washed Away

 

Summers – 364

Independent

Joe Elliott’s mid Atlantic vocal mannerisms, Mutt’s ‘bgvs as lead vocal’ stylisms, huge feelgood choruses etc etc. They’re all here. But to say that Summers’ music is suspended in Hysteria aspic is to underestimate their ability. In fact, arguably 364 is a triumph of pastiche over parody, with just enough of their own identity (and a slice of Bon Jovi’s) spun into the music’s DNA. While there are no killer cuts here, a central core of tracks – ‘Sometimes’, ‘Steal Away’ and ‘Lets Make Love’ – are apparently (and exquisitely) assembled from a wide selection of spare parts leftover from Def Leppard, Autograph and Blue Tears recording sessions, making them the album‘s picks by a mile. Clearly, there’s no real sense of original thinking, but you can’t help being impressed by what Brit-band Summers have achieved here with 364.

Summers - 3646 out of 10

Track listing:

  1. Shot In The Dark
  2. Superhero
  3. Girls
  4. Too Late
  5. Sometimes
  6. Steal Away
  7. Let’s Make Love
  8. Billy
  9. Let’s Go RoundTold You So
  10. Terminator
  11. Rock Machine (A Song For Phil)

 

N.O.W. – Bohemian Kingdom

Escape Music

Like Snowfall, N.O.W. have chosen their vocalist well. Ex-Magdalen and sometime-Unruly Child singer, Philip Bardowell is the hired gun here, headhunted by Brazilian mainman Alex Mendonca to front his band for the second time. And together they ensure that this follow up album fulfils the promise shown on the debut.

It’s hard to go wrong with classy songs sung by a classy vocalist. Bohemian Kingdom simply shines when surrounded by the mediocrity of so much of today’s melodic rock. There’s a raw sense of urgency to ‘I Feel Divine’ and ‘Strong Enough’, recalling the excitement of early album Foreigner, when they were forging career defining rock music, bridging the gap between the seventies hard stuff and the softer elements ushered in by the eighties (disappointingly, neither is climaxed with a gospel choir). Rather than fall victim to the lazy sentimentality that pervades the genre, the lyrics seem to explore real emotions, giving the music a grown up resonance. And that’s a notion reinforced by Mendonca’s arrangements and production. Both show inventiveness and imagination, with fills and frills often coming at you from unexpected angles, keeping you on the edge of your seat, holding your attention. ‘Leon’s Going Soft’ and ‘No One Can Feel It’s Over’ are maybe the standout tracks, direct, accessible, hook-heavy – and both carry a punchy emotional impact. Bohemian Kingdom. An object lesson in how to do it and get it right.

Now - Bohemian8 out of 10

Track Listing:

  1. I’m Alive
  2. I Feel Divine
  3. Dont Go Now
  4. Strong Enough
  5. Mary Ann
  6. Tonight Is the Night
  7. Bohemian Kingdom
  8. Leon’s Going Soft
  9. Cassie’s Dream
  10. No One Can Feel It’s Over

 

Covered Call – Impact

AOR Heaven

A band with a classy taste in vocalists, where once it was Thomas Wikstrom (Talk Of The Town/Brazen Abbott), CC are now fronted by the magnificent Goran Edman (Steet Talk/ Glory). And when their sound approximates that of the late, great Norwegian band Hush, they sound like contenders. When they don’t, they sound a very ordinary melodic rock band. Thus ‘Lorraine’ , ‘Look Into Your Mind’ and a cover of the old Saxon song, ’Hold On’ are the standout tracks, with Edman in blistering form. Elsewhere, while songs like ‘Make A Wish’ and ’Wake Up’ have drive and purpose, they lack that overwhelming sense of urgency and melody that is the hallmark of great AOR. Close but no cigar.

Covered Call - Impact6 out of 10

Track listing:

  1. Lorraine
  2. When The Lights Are Out
  3. Think About All Times
  4. Look Into Your Mind
  5. Hold On
  6. Make A Wish
  7. Nothing Lasts Forever
  8. Wake Up
  9. When I’m Gone
  10. Live It Up
  11. Last Goodbye

 

Amaze Me – Guilty As Sin

AOR Heaven

Fourth album from the not-very-prolific Swedish AORsters, Peter Broman and Conny Lind. Broman writes, plays the instruments and produces. Lind sings. Judging by this new release, it’s the perfect arrangement. Broman, well known for his work writing jingles for the entertainment industry, has filled the album with naggingly familiar tunes, teased out from deceptively simple melody lines and chord progressions, worked up into Technicolor melodic rock. And he’s done a persuasive job of matching production style with musical substance, beefing up the duo’s sound into something that was once quaintly called “radio friendly”.

It’s mixed and mastered by AOR’s very own Renaissance man Martin Kronlund, who’s accentuated Broman’s poppy, soft rock approach, giving it bite when needed, playing to the past without sounding cliched or derivative. Such an approach suggests complete confidence in both the material and the delivery. That confidence is fully justified by singularly good melodic rock tracks like ‘Everybody’, ‘Lost In A Dream’ and ‘With Or Without You‘, none of which bow totally to convention, yet are instantly recognisable as emblematic of an era. They may have been condemned in the past for their anaemic arrangements and bland productions, but with Guilty As Sin they just might confound the critics.

Amaze Me - Guilty As Sin7.5 out of 10

Track listing:

  1. Everybody
  2. Lost In A Dream
  3. Can’t Stop Loving You,
  4. Save Me,
  5. Endless Love,
  6. With Or Without You,
  7. The Pain,
  8. Guilty As Sin
  9. On The Run,
  10. Dying To Be Loved,
  11. Love Is Blind,
  12. On Fire