Review by Brian McGowan
More melodic rock has found its way onto MR Towers and so our very own Brian McGowan has donned his bestest banada and squeezed into his spandex to prepare himself for five new releases:
- From Sweden’s Grand Design comes Thrill Of The Night
- Americam glam giants Cinderella bring us another compilation, Stripped
- Sweden’s 220 Volt comes album number six, Walking In Starlight
- Tony Niva brings us Magnitude, Incremental IV
- And Chicago, from, um, Chicago, bring us their 23rd studio album XXXVI, Now
Grand Design – Thrill Of The Night
Release date: 26 September 2014
In the world inhabited by AOR and melodic rock fans, very good Def Leppard ripoffs get the utmost respect. The band’s distinctively polished, precision calibrated hard rock is so deeply ingrained in the psyches of their fans that they need only hear an approximation of their idols’ sound to send them into raptures. Others find it hard to see the point.
On their third album now, Sweden’s aptly named Grand Design clearly have a well-thumbed copy of the DL blueprint sitting before them each time they enter the studio. And to be fair, they’re quite happy to own up to that, which tends to defuse any angry accusations. And again, they have successfully crafted an album of songs that often hit the target, sometimes with laser guided accuracy, as on ‘The Rush Is Gone’ and ‘The Greatest Love Of All’. Both choruses are attractive pastiches of DL’s “backing vocals as lead”, one of Mutt’s master strokes, each with deep fried harmonies and a naggingly familiar hook.
But the real revelation on Thrill Of The Night is the fact that it is punctuated by tracks that show there is much more to this band band than homage. ’10 out of 10′ is not a world beater, but shows a handsome identity emerging from the gloss; ‘You’re The Only One’ suggests the band could follow Paul Laine’s footsteps into country rock, and ‘U Got Me Good’ is a different-class melodic rock song, one that effortlessly captures and indeed amplifies the sound of an era. One that resonates even now.
7 out of 10
- U Got Me Good
- Rawk’n’Roll Heart Attack (yes, they really do spell it that way)
- The Rush Is Gone
- 10 Outta 10 (yes, they really do spell it that way)
- The Rush Has Gone
- The Greatest Love Of All
- Rip Iddup (yes, they really do etc etc)
- Get Up N Love Someone
- You’re The Only One
- Who’s Gonna Rock You Tonite (etc etc)
- Thrill Of The Nite
Cinderella – Stripped
Release date: 9 July 2014
Cinderella‘s last studio album, Still Climbing (1994) had the whiff of contractual obligation about it. It was an inauspicious parting shot for such a great rock/metal band. Mainman Tom Keifer had written two world class, pop metal monsters, ‘Shake Me’ and ‘Nobody’s Fool’ for the debut album(1986), then fate pulled a dirty trick and condemned Glamrock to a quick and early death.
The band spent the next few years trying to rebuild, culminating in 1990’s splendid ‘Heartbreak Station’, a critical hit but a commercial near miss. Yet, from four studio albums a rather fine – and enduring – body of work emerges. One day, you surmise, Keifer will be regarded as one of the most talented songwriters of his generation. There have been innumerable live albums from the band trying to fill the void this last 20 years… usually from the Key Club gig, released in different guises. Stripped is really no different. It is not, as the title suggests, an acoustic album. What it does is serve as a reminder of how the good stuff sounded…and particularly how Keifer turned a match of blues and glam into an artform, delivered with gravitas and bravado.
From the sheer energy of ‘Gypsy Road’ to the unashamed sentimentality of ‘Heartbreak Station’, from the evocative ‘Don’t Know What You Got’ to the honky tonkin, rock’n’rollin ‘Shelter’, this stuff shines and at times it’s truly dazzling. Anyone who doesn’t know this band, shame on you. Buy Stripped and buy it now.
8 out of 10
- The More Things Change
- Push Push
- Gypsy Road
- Fallin Apart At The Seams
- Heartbreak Station
- The Last Mile
- Shelter Me
- Coming Home
- Hot And Bothered
- Nobody’s Fool
- Somebody Save Me
- Shake Me
- Don’t Know What You Got
- Sick For The Cure (bonus track)
- Make Your Own Way (bonus track)
220 Volt – Walking In Starlight
Release date: 26 September 2014
The title track, a tunefully thunderous lightning strike of Power Metal, opens the album with vigour and not a little style. But a downhill slide into mediocrity immediately follows, where the chugging, faux Sabbath metal of ‘Broken Promises’ and ‘Blind’ sit side by side with tired road songs like ‘Alive’ and uninspired efforts to resurrect the past, like ‘Stranded’. So many of the tracks here run into each other like they haven’t noticed the lights have changed. It’s one long identity parade of substandard, lookalike radio rock songs from the Eighties. And you just can’t pick out one from the other.
4 out of 10
- Walking In Starlight
- System Overload
- Broken Promises
- Get Me Out
- The Waiting
- Through The Wastelands
- Burning Heart
- Take A Good Look
- One Good Reason
- Guiding Light
Niva – Magnitude, Incremental IV
Release date: 29 August 2014
This is ex-Swedish Erotica and Oxygen vocalist Tony Niva’s fourth foray into the allegedly resurgent AOR market, leading the band, Niva. The band’s energies are clearly focused on songcraft, a yearning re-creation of more innocent times, where style frequently triumped over substance. And to that extent they have succeeded. They’re mining a narrow seam of course, and the motherlode’s long since been exhausted, but a few minor melodic rock nuggets see the light.
Like ‘Magnitude’ and ‘Don’t You Know’, where the band have seized the formula and nailed it to the mast with a flourish of major chords and high pitched harmonies. But a sense of sameness creeps in around the halfway mark, triggering a timely lift from the Abba-esque, lighter waving ballad, ‘Travel Back In Time’ giving it the forward momentum needed to resume its journey, pushing through familiar territory, landmarking it with the gorgeous pop rush of ‘Play The Game’ and undeniably heavier closer, ‘Coming Back’.
The album can sound overly fabricated at times – an exercise in nostalgia, rather than an explosion of popular art, but if your idea of great Melodic Rock is TNT’s Intuition or any of Treat’s early stuff, then Magnitude I4 is for you.
6 out of 10
- Don’t You Know
- Better Just Forgotten
- The Reason Why
- Travel Back In Time
- Play The Game
- Only You
- Lost And Found
- All By Myself
- Coming Back To You
Chicago – XXXVI, Now
Release date: 4 July 2014
This is the band at one with themselves and the rest of the world. Relaxed, totally comfortable in their skin, totally in control in the studio. They’ve still got something big to say occasionally, but it’s generally unspecific, distant, uncontroversial. One version of how the Peace And Love generation sounds in 2014. Like, Now.
The horns, back in the foreground, sound refreshed, punching above their weight once again. It makes ‘All Will Be Revealed’ and ‘Free At Last’ swing and sway, drifting dreamily off into brass section heaven. ‘America’s groove impresses much more than the banality of the track’s patriotic lyrics, but that’s a gripe you can ignore when ‘Something’s Coming’ kicks in, emphatically demonstrating that the band’s jazz rock mojo has (re)visited itself on them with a (lovingly applied) vengeance.
All that said, they left the most interesting tracks to the end. The politically charged ‘Naked In The Garden Of Allah’, a lyrical reflection on Middle East turmoil, is also musically challenging, relatively speaking. The Eastern instrumentation and psychedelic stylings suggest they are trying to get back to a totally different garden indeed. Irritatingly catchy closing track ‘Another Trippy Day’ compounds the disorientation, mixing funk and brass… a million miles away from the band’s soft rock heyday… leaving us gasping for more. And you can’t say better than that.
8 out of 10
- More Will Be Revealed
- Crazy Happy
- Free At Last
- Love Lives On
- Something’s Coming
- Watching All The Colours
- Nice Girl
- Naked In The Garden Of Allah
- Another Trippy Day