Fair Warning – The Box (Go! / Live And More / 4 / Brother’s Keeper / Aura)

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Review by Brian McGowan

SPV Records

Release date: 16 June 2014

Fair Warning LogoBack in 1992, the year Nirvana’s Nevermind stormed the charts, naming yourself after a Van Halen album didn’t seem like the wisest move a new band could make. But for fans of the genre, Fair Warning’s self titled debut, produced by Terry Thomas cohort, Rafe McKenna was unarguably one of the great melodic rock debuts. McKenna’s production gave the recording a satisfyingly grandiose sound, a bit clunky at times, primarily tailored – it would seem – for the US market. The follow up, Rainmaker, was produced by the band, giving it more of a stripped back sound, with spit, grit and polish combined in the mix, anchoring some finely crafted melodies to solid ground. This beautiful boxset contains the band’s next five albums.


Go! (1997)

Go! is the first in the set’s chronology. It was the band’s third album and the second they had produced themselves. Lyrically and melodically strong, it’s an inward looking affair, mainlining on emotion, with its bloodstream awash with dreamy, yearning, declamatory observations, both personal and otherwise. The band’s real strength, as with any quality rock band, is in the songs. Ule Ritgen’s and Helge Engelke’s writing styles dovetailed perfectly. Each has a flair for a memorable melody and an inviting hook, and Go is brimful of both. The classy opening trio, ‘Angels Of Heaven’, ‘Save Me’ and ‘All On Your Own’ are a dazzling example of audience seduction. All coated with a veneer of grandeur. Heads turn and hearts beat faster. It cemented the band’s position in Europe and made further inroads in Japan.

Fair Warning Go8 out of 10

Track Listing:

  1. Angels Of Heaven
  2. Save Me
  3. All On Your Own
  4. I’ll Be There
  5. Man On The Moon
  6. Without You
  7. Follow My Heart
  8. Rivers Of Love
  9. Somewhere
  10. Eyes Of A Stranger
  11. Sailing Home
  12. The Way You Want It
  13. The Love Song

 


Live And More (1998)

Second album in this set, Live And More was designed to maintain the band’s high profile in Japan. A potboiler. In the event, that night in Tokyo, the band were tighter than a timelock. The performances, led by a formidable onslaught of endlessly melodic axework, were concise and punchy, and featured some athletic live vocals from Tommy Heart. The focus, obviously was on Go, but the band cherry picked tracks from the first two albums – most notably, ‘Desert Song’ and ‘Burning Heart’ – to provide a little variety. The …And More is 3 previously unreleased tracks, the pick of which is unarguably the modestly majestic ‘Meant To Be’, stringswept, unsentimental, but sweetly romantic.

Fair Warning Live and More7 out of 10

Track Listing:

  1. Angels Of Heaven
  2. I’ll Be There
  3. Man On The Moon
  4. Don’t Give Up
  5. Desert Song
  6. We Used To Be Friends
  7. Follow My Heart
  8. Come On
  9. Save Me
  10. Burning Heart
  11. Get A Little Closer
  12. Stars And The Moon
  13. Like A Rock
  14. Meant To Be
  15. Out Of The Night

 


4 (2000)

Third is 4. And this is the band really hitting their stride. It’s still shaped and formed primarily for the Japanese market – traditions die hard in a country with no melodic rock history – but it throttles back on the chest swelling self belief, and Engelke and Ritgen introduce a little more melodic variation, creating a subtlety not seen before. There’s an unforced naturalness to openers, ‘Heart On The Run’ and ‘Through The Fire’, like they’re taking the first tentative steps in the creation of a revised musical manifesto for the new Millenium. And they seem to gain in confidence as the album unfolds.

The constructive artiness of ‘Tell Me I’m Wrong’ sees them step out of their comfort zone, one small step etc etc, and the passionate, articulate rock of the breezily insistent ‘Dream’ demonstrates just what an accomplished rock band they have become. Even the showpiece track, ‘I Fight’ is framed in a less frantic, measured manner, using a finely crafted keyboard riff to underline the sentiments in the lyrics. The album peaks with ‘Time Will Tell’, all shuffling rhythms and pizzicato strings. As producers they hadn’t really proved to have a particularly light touch previously. But this track…and several others…show how vim and verve can be coupled with agility and charm, in the hands of a skilful studio practitioner.

Fair Warning 49 out of 10

Track Listing:

  1. Heart On The Run
  2. Through The Fire
  3. Break Free
  4. Forever
  5. Tell Me I’m Wrong
  6. Dream
  7. I Fight
  8. Time Will Tell
  9. Eyes Of Love
  10. Find My Way
  11. Night Falls
  12. Wait
  13. For The Young

 


Brother’s Keeper (2006)

Brother’s Keeper came five years later. The band had split, with Helge Engelke pursuing his indulgent, “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth overdoing” philosophy with Dreamtide, and Tommy Heart following his hard rock dream with Soul Doctor. Now, suitably chastened by a lack of commercial success, they were back together. And yet, it’s apparent that their heart really isn’t in Brother’s Keeper. It lacks sparkle and it lacks vigour. You can hear the low background hum of the recycling plant on most of these tracks, with a couple of exceptions…’Generation Jedi’ – in all its jumbled cultural-commentary glory – is an exceptional track, cleverly tweaking the tried and tested formula. As is ‘Once Bitten, Twice Shy’, a refreshingly stripped back rock song with attitude. But those two are about it.

Fair Warning Brothers Keeper6 out of 10

Track Listing:

  1. Don’t Keep Me Waiting
  2. Generation Jedi
  3. All Of My Love
  4. Rainbow Eyes
  5. Push Me On
  6. Wasted Time
  7. The Cry
  8. The Way
  9. Once Bitten Twice Shy
  10. Tell Me Lies
  11. In The Dark
  12. All I Wanna Do

 


Aura (2009)

Fifth and final album in this package is Aura, released 3 years later. It’s a whole division better. A Premier League title contender to Brother’s Keeper‘s mid table Championship plodder. The songwriting is strong again, production solid, showing frequent glimpses of the imaginative moments displayed on 4, from the Scandi-pop bounce of ‘Here Comes The Heartache’, to the grown up rock of the balladic ‘Holding On’; from ‘Hey Girl’s deceptively simple, yet satisfyingly emphatic old-fashioned romanticism to ‘It Takes More’, a cautionary, haunting tale married to an evocative melody. If nothing else, Aura confirmed that the melodic hard rock torch, held high by Fair Warning since 1992, was still in good hands.

Fair Warning Aura8 out of 10

Track Listing:

  1. Fighting For Your Life
  2. Here Comes The Heartache
  3. Hey Girl
  4. Don’t Count On Me
  5. Falling
  6. Holding On
  7. Walking On Smiles
  8. Someday
  9. It Takes More
  10. As Snow White
  11. Station To Station
  12. Falling reprise

 

Kudos to SPV for putting together such a fine package. For fans of the band it’s the ultimate overdose. For others it’s a splendid – and reasonably priced – place to start.