Tuesday, August 11, 2015

LOVEWAR "Soak Your Brain"

(c) 1993 Word Music

  1. Soak Your Brain
  2. Golden Rule
  3. Take Me
  4. Welling Up
  5. Space And Time
  6. You Win
  7. Keep Your Hands Off My Stuff
  8. In The Sea
  9. Just The Same
  10. You Are Not Alone
Tim Bushong--Lead Vocals, Guitar
Greg Purlee--Drums, Backing Vocals
Rick Armstrong--Bass, Backing Vocals

Every now and then, I like to go back and review something considerably older.  There are a couple of reasons.  The first is to see how the music has held up over the years; to see if I still enjoy...or despise...something now as much as I did when I first started listening to it.  Secondly, of course, since this is a review site, I like to expose the readers to as much music as possible, so they can make their own decisions about a band or album.

2015 marks the 22nd anniversary of the release of Soak Your Brain from Indiana-based rockers, Lovewar.  I remember buying this album when it first came out and not really knowing what to make of it.  I was really starting to get into thrash and speed metal at the time, and Lovewar is...well, definitely NOT thrash or speed metal.  As a result, I traded my cassette (remember those?) off, only to re-acquire it just a couple of years later, this time on CD.  Soak Your Brain is one re-acquisition I am definitely glad I made, as I have enjoyed this album considerably for twenty-plus years now.

It's funny to me now, because I remember Lovewar was labeled as the Christian answer to Pearl Jam or Nirvana, as grunge was dominating everything by the time this album was being pushed by their label, and it seems like EVERY band was supposed to be the "answer" to this grunge thing that was taking over the music industry.  Thing is...Lovewar sounds NOTHING like Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden, or any of those bands.  Not even remotely!  

Lovewar is a three piece melodic hard rock band very much in the vein of Extreme, with hints of Mr,. Big, King's X, Galactic Cowboys, and eventual label-mates, Guardian, thrown into the mix.  Tight vocal harmonies, big, guitar hooks, intricate bass rhythms, and strong song crafting are the key elements of this band, with catchy melodies sticking in your head for days and insightful lyrics requiring a degree of thought not necessary for "mosquito/libido" ramblings from Seattle's favorite sons.

The album starts off with the funky title-track, "Soak Your Brain", and immediately the Extreme comparisons should become obvious.  Slightly dischordant guitars and thumping drums kick the track off before the funky bass line bumps its way in and gets the song off to a bouncing start.  Bushong's mid-tenor vocals are perfectly complimented by the harmonizing of Purlee and Armstrong on the catchy chorus, which also gives the band a bit of the Fire And Love-era Guardian feel I mentioned, as well.  The same can be said of "Golden Rule" which incorporates several sparse musical moments during the verses with some subtle effects used on Bushong's vocals, before ramping the energy up into the chorus.  "Take Me" again finds the band mining similar territory, spinning off a bouncy, fun track with a throbbing bass line, strong harmonies, and simple yet catchy guitars.

"Welling Up" slows things down a bit, although we still don't hit what I would consider to be ballad territory.  No, "Welling Up" is more in a bluesy vein than true balladry, but it is still a solid track that really shows the musical scope of the band.  One thing that strikes me here is how similar the harmony vocals sound to Enuff Z'Nuff when that band is on top of their game.  Really good stuff working on this song.

"Space and Time" and "You Win" both pick the pace back up with solid rockers, and "Keep Your Hands Off My Stuff" may be my favorite track of the album, with a funky bass line, some of the edgier guitars on the album, and very reminiscent of the type of music Extreme released on Pornograffitti a few years earlier.  Having been a fan of that album when it came out, I was very happy to hear this song...and this entire album, to be honest.

"In The Sea" starts off with a slow, plodding guitar riff, but it is mere trickery, as again, this is not a ballad at all and is more of the same upper-mid-tempo music that Mr. Big and Extreme were using to such good effect.  This is the longest song on the album, surpassing the six minute mark, which is odd to me as it never feels like it drags although it does have an EXCELLENT, extended guitar solo from Bushong running from about 2:32 until 3:28 or so.  There is also a slight Middle Eastern influence to the last ten or fifteen seconds of the solo, which is pretty cool buried in the middle of this song.  Good, good stuff here.

"Just The Same" is probably the hardest hitting song on the record, at least as far as the intro guitar riffs go, but it still never hits "metal" territory, and has a pretty jangly guitar line throughout the verse sections.  The album closes with "You Are Not Alone", yet another rocker featuring a really nice guitar solo, more of those killer harmonies, and funkified bass work.

Produced by brothers John and Dino Elefante of Kansas fame, the sound is bright and polished, but not a sugar-coated as some other Elefante material, which is a very good thing here as the music is interesting and unique and doesn't get glossed over.  The album packaging is a relatively simple 8 page booklet with full lyrics, thank you's, credits, and a single band picture.

Due to the uniqueness of the style...face it, there weren't a lot of bands doing the hard rock/funk fusion that Extreme, and to an extent Kings X and Galactic Cowboys did...and the excellent musicianship of these three men, Lovewar's Soak Your Brain is an album that I still turn to on a fairly regular basis.  To these ears, the album and style don't come across as dated because it is unique enough that it was never overdone or overplayed, so it sounds fresh every time I spin it.  Personally, I would say that Lovewar was every bit as talented as their counterparts, both musically and vocally.  I think the Christian label may have hurt them as far as marketing goes, but even then, there is no chapter-and-verse Biblical quoting going on here, just strong, positive, uplifting lyrics about human relationships and social ideas.  

Long out of print, this album can generally be found for under $5.00 on eBay, Amazon, and other on-line sources, so reach out and grab this great piece of music.  I am confident you will enjoy what you hear.

Rating:  This one holds up well over the years, and remains crankable.  25 years later, Soak Your Brain is still a solid 7.5 in my book.

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