Recorded back in 1989, and due for a bigtime record release under the moniker Sweet Revenge, the music industry shuffled in its tracks, and scratched its backside long enough for the deal to go sour. Years later, a poor sounding bootlegged version surfaced. This here’s a remastered compilation courtesy of Robin George, and unlike his previous Ace In My Hand collection from Cherry Red Records, offers more substantial background material on how it all came about in the accompanying booklet, from the guitarist himself.
Produced, largely written by George, who also plays most instruments, initially the intention was for this to be a solo album. Then, a chance meeting with Glenn Hughes, during what frankly were dark outsider days for the former Deep Purple bass player, resulted in an invitation to supply guest vocals, that subsequently extended much further.
It’s an intriguing look behind rock’s eroding cliff face back then, some of its personalities and the Wolverhampton music scene in general. George heaps immense praise on the casual versatility of Hughes’ vocal talents while also offering tempered confirmations on the drink and drug dependencies the man was intermittently facing. It’s a sobering read, and as these things should be; still leaves you asking a few more questions you hope one day will be answered.
On Purple’s dissolution, Hughes’ debut solo album, Play Me Out, came and went, as did brief collaborations with Gary Moore, Pat Thrall, and Tony Iommi – that at least resulted in a Black Sabbath album by name, while internationally his vocal contributions on the Phenomena albums made somebody millions. By the end of the eighties though, there were too many missed opportunities. It took the next decade for a slow gradual clawing back of his credibility and it’s interesting now listening to Overcome how much it bridges his own third and fourth solo albums, From Now On and Feel respectively, and so in hindsight how important George was in that being achieved.
George makes a passing comment about these being versions of the songs recorded with himself playing all instruments. The main exception a latter recording of ‘Haunted’ that features drummer Dave Holland, keyboard player Terry Rowley, and of course Glenn Hughes on vocals, thus it being a veritable Trapeze reunion. The missing component there being band leader/guitarist Mel Galley, and yet George mentions other recordings that Galley did play on. Tantalising fish bait for the curious.
The music itself varies between AOR/melodic hard rock, a couple a little short of being pomp rock and some funky chart-chasing sounds also. While it all needed to be taken a couple of steps further to be truly good, you can see why it was being taken seriously by major players, and there’s still much good listenability on the thirteen tracks featured.
Opening with the hopeful ‘Flying’; Hughes sings fanciful poetical lyrics where love is underlined, with a particularly emotive roar near the end, powered throughout by brusque power chords and a pithy heraldic synthesiser melody. A fine introduction to the album, acting as something of a thematic overture. It would have been interesting to hear it develop beyond this structure, into more pomp rocking areas incorporating extravagant solos beyond accepted comfort zones.
‘Overcome’ may well turn hardened rock fans away, but it’s a great track, that while clinking away in a soul funk way on guitar also has a rockier drive going underneath. That said, its modern take on the sounds of Philadelphia is ever present too, and while the arrangements reminiscent of those Quincy Jones brought to play with Michael Jackson in the 80s, Hughes spits out his vocals in a manner more akin to Terence Trent D’Arby.
‘I Want’ follows on in a similar fashion, slighter and with more of a pop rock blend, both tracks could have been handed over to some young face-of-the-moment to deface appropriately and make a mark in the singles market and similarly so the keyboard-led ballad ‘Haunted’ – A tad predictable first time round, save for George delivering a tasty guitar solo, on subsequent listens the bottom-end drumming and evocative whispery backing vocals add impact. ‘Number One’ rocks out with power chords up in the mix, whirring and churning away, licks being cranking out in the song’s dying embers. ‘Sweet Revenge’ turns up the funk dial, a riff two steps removed from Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’ were it to be performed by the Average White Band, and again in the last few bars you hear George gearing up to put on a Hendrix-styled performance only for it to end. Soul chinking ‘The American Way’, while initially coming across as championing the macho bravado of that nation, might in fact be intimating the reality quite the contrary with its references to the need for guns and the like.
Those with copies of George’s Ace In My Hand, will be familiar with ‘Machine’. There a kind of Gary Numan-like number, here Hughes giving it full throttle on vocals and yet the dispassionate AI intentions coming across. Still not a favourite, mind. ‘Steal My Heart’ draws your attention though, Thunder-go-pomp rock one minute, rock waltzing upbeat Hollywood film theme music the next.
The ominous intent of ‘Haunted’ alongside the cyberpunk bleeps of ‘Machine’ greet the listener of ‘Things Have Gotta Change’ in its opening bars. Progressing, it does not become dystopian in theme, albeit there’s a sense of trepidation and mystery musically as Hughes sings of how a love relationship must change for it to survive. ‘Don’t Come Crying’ reveals the result of not doing so, with no sympathy given; a lovely widescreen big rocker that goes off in several linked thematical directions, the pairing works really strongly here. Then, again, the table is turned with the thoughtful ‘Loving You’, George strumming acoustic over Hughes’ voice. Lovers of those Mr Big and Extreme acoustic hit ballads need to check this one out. Sometimes, simplicity works best. Bristling with electricity final number ‘War Dance’ blends distorted rock guitars, skewered funk and electronica in a curiously rewarding manner. The plaintively dry “war dance” chant contrasted with Hughes’ over the top top line delivery an added joy.
Overall, perhaps too polite in places but you can see the potential of where the original recordings could have gone. The joins where the two performers come together is most interesting to the music fan, Hughes interpreting lyrics you can tell are not his own in some places, while George bends and moulds the songs to adapt for something that will marry the pair of them musically, yet also thinking beyond constraints with a taste of potential ELO grandeur one minute, contemporary chart sounds the next.
It’s great that this album has finally seen the light of day. It’s also a shame George and Hughes weren’t able to continue working together; to my mind the record industry was looking for new faces to front MTV video-land and beyond, and in a parallel universe they could be downplaying it and writing and producing hit songs for others to this day, despite both having more talent in their own little pinkies.
- Reviewed by Paul H Birch.
- Overcome is released via Cherry Red Records on 24th November 2023.
- Robin George Official Website / Glenn Hughes Official Website
- I Want
- Haunted (featuring Trapeze’s Dave Holland, Mel Galley & Terry Rowley)
- Number One
- Sweet Revenge
- The American Way
- Steal My Heart
- Things Have Gotta Change
- Don’t Come Crying
- Loving You
- War Dance