Saturday, October 28, 2017

FEAR NOT "Fear Not: 25th Anniversary Edition"

(c) 2017 Roxx Records

  1. Give It Up
  2. We Have A God
  3. Mr. Compromise
  4. Till The End Of My Days
  5. Suicide Sunshine
  6. Money Money
  7. Easy Come Easy Go
  8. There Is Love
  9. Mad World
  10. Take Hold
  11. You Got Love (Bonus)
  12. Love Is Alright (Bonus)**
Larry Worley--Lead Vocals, Backing Vocals, Guitars**, Bass**
Chris Howell--Guitars, Backing Vocals
Rod Romero--Bass, Backing Vocals
Gary Hanson--Drums, Backing Vocals

Additional Musicians 

Dino Elefante--Backing Vocals on 1-10
JK Northrup--All instruments on 11
Stan Mayo--Drums on 12

It's been nearly 25 years since Fear Not's only album was released, so Roxx Records felt the time was right to dust it off, give it a bit of a facelift (both in looks and sound), and repackage the album with two additional recordings featuring Larry Worley on vocals.  Originally released in 1993 on Word Records/Pakaderm Records, Fear Not's only album is something of a collector's item, particularly for those who not only seek out Christian hard rock, but ANY 80s/early 90s hard rock of seriously high quality.  Often compared to bands like Skid Row, largely due to a similarity between Worley's vocal style and that of Sebastian Bach, as well as the hard, crunchy guitars of Chris Howell, Fear Not performed a high energy, edgy type of hard rock that would have been huge had it been released about 4 years earlier.  Unfortunately, much like just about EVERYONE from the 80s/early 90s hard rock scene, Fear Not was swept away in the grunge tsunami, and there was never a follow-up to this excellent release.
Original 1993 album cover,

Not only has the music been given a remastering job, the cover artwork has also been updated.  Doing away with the "floweriness" of the original, and changing the style of the band's logo, artist Scott Waters has give the album an appearance that is more in line with the band's sound.  I never understood why the original looked like something out of a hippie's dream, and I have to say that I think the new look is a definite upgrade!

All of the original songs from the album are included here, with stand-out cuts being the hard rocking "Give It Up", "We Have A God", and "Mad World", which I always felt was one of the strongest tracks on this record, but never got the attention it likely deserved being so near to the end of the record.  Worley and Co. sound particularly Skid-dish here, and there are some BIG drums and a solid bass line to go along with the punchy vocals and Howell's ever-present strong axe presence.  "Mr. Compromise" could also fall into this same relative description, and it has always been near the top of my faves list from the band.  I have also always felt "Till The End Of My Days" was never given the attention it deserved, as it is a truly top-notch power ballad with a great hook, insanely catchy chorus, and a huge, lighters-in-the-air solo from Howell that should have been all over radio and MTV!  Ambiguous enough in its lyrics to not "scare off" non-Christians, "Till The End Of My Days" could've been the slow dance of so many proms, homecomings and weddings all those years ago had it come out just a smidgen earlier.  Seriously, it is strong enough that it more than holds its own with the "I Remember You's" and "I'll Be There For You's" of the fact, I prefer it to both of those songs.  Of course, for many people the big "hit" of the record was the mid-tempo rocker, "Suicide Sunshine", which has never sounded better than it does here, what with the sonic upgrades in the remastering provided by Rob Colwell.  Led in by a guitar line that is very reminiscent of the intro to "We All Die Young" by the fictitious band, Steel Dragon, from the movie Rock Star., "Suicide Sunshine" has such an infectious chorus, some nice, stacked backing vocals, and just a killer, killer drum sound that its a shame more people didn't get the chance to hear it back in the day.   The original album's closer, "Take Hold" is still a really cool acoustic number, as well, although I will admit that with the two new tracks tagged onto this reissue, it sounds a bit out of place now.  Still, a great song is a great song, and I'm glad that the tracking wasn't altered just to move this to its original closing slot.

As I mentioned, also included here are two new songs, although neither features the full Fear Not line-up.  The first track, "You Got Love" actually appeared on the Liberty N Justice digital album, Life Songs, and features JK Northrup on all the instruments, including a really cool guitar solo about mid-way through the track.  I loved this song when I first heard it on the LnJ release, and I am extremely glad that it is included here, as well.   "Love Is Alright" is a new song that is exclusive to this 25th Anniversary collection, which is pretty cool.  Worley not only tackles the vocals here, he is also the "band" on this track, with the exception of drums, which were provided by Stan Mayo.  This track is a bit rawer, a bit grittier than anything else on the record, and it has a bit of a demo feel to it, to be honest, but it gives the track a bit of a "live in the studio" feel, which is kinda cool.  Slightly more modern in its take, "Love Is Alright" is a nice way to show that Worley, if not Fear Not in its entirety, is still making music and moving forward.

I do wonder a bit why the remake of "We Have A God" from Liberty N Justice's 4-All...The Best Of LnJ, wasn't included, unless it was due to issues getting the other artists on the track to allow it to be used here.  On the other hand, the song is already here in its original form, so perhaps its simply a matter of repetition and redundancy.  Just the way my brain works, folks...

Mine is a digital preview copy, so I do not know what the inserts will look like (other than the cover), but I will update this review when I get my physical copy.  However, I am certain that, like other Roxx Records products, this will be a top-notch release with a full booklet with photos, lyrics, credits, etc.   

Rating:  The original was an 8 in my book, and things have only gotten better.  Crank this nice package up to an 8.5, and save yourself some cash by tracking this new release down.  With a print run of just 500, it's likely going to be as hard...or find as the original!

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Friday, October 20, 2017

ROMEO RIOT "Sing It Loud"

(c) 2017 Kivel Records

  1. Room To Run
  2. Streets Of Babylon
  3. Sing It Loud
  4. Twist Of Fate
  5. What If We Were Wrong
  6. Same
  7. Cry
  8. I Want To Try
  9. Every Now And Then
  10. Best Nights Of Our Lives
Mark Giovi--Lead & Backing Vocals
Scott Miller--Lead Guitars
Erik Johnson--Rhythm Guitars, Drums, Backing Vocals
Ty Sims--Bass, Backing Vocals
Jace Pawlak--Keys, Piano, Backing Vocals

When I was a kid, I had this idea in my head that record labels were like big families.  I honestly thought that all the artists knew each other, hung out, called each other on the phone, went out and partied together, etc.  I just figured it was some big office building with recording studios in the basement, and a bunch of band members standing around chatting, waiting for their turn to get in there and jam.  I get it, I was a naive kid from the middle of Nebraska, and I had ZERO idea of how the music industry worked, but these were honestly my thoughts.  In fact, I was pretty bummed the first few times I got to meet a band or two and asked them about the guys in another band and they told me they had never met!  "But...but you guys hang out at '________ Records' together, right?"  It was just so weird to me that all these guys who had so much in common weren't at least friends, if not a sort of family.

That mentality that I had as a kid is part of what makes Romeo Riot so cool to me, because these guys, while all in different bands, ARE friends and ARE part of a record label family, the family at Kivel Records.  It seems to me every band that is on that label works on each other's records, write songs together, play out together when they are able, and have fun together.  THAT is what my vision of a record label was as a kid! 

For those who have not had the pleasure of hearing...or hearing about...Romeo Riot yet, the band is made up of Mark Giovi (formerly of FarCry), Scott Miller (Tango Down), Ty Sims and Erik Johnson (Bombay Black), and Jace Pawlak, all of whom are currently members of the Kivel Records family.  More importantly, all are talented musicians who happen to be friends and had a vision for something they wanted to try to do together.  Every note of every song on the debut Romeo Riot record, Sing It Loud, is played by the guys listed in the outside musicians required with this talent pool.  On top of it, Sims mixed and produced the record, making Sing It Loud a completely in-house offering, which is a pretty amazing and cool thing.  (On a side note, even the cover model has Kivel Records ties, as her sister graced the cover of LaValle's Dear Sanity, which is another Kivel release!)

The album starts off in fine fashion, as a guitar roars to life on an upbeat melodic rocker that quickly brings in the rest of the band and the rich tenor of vocalist Mark Giovi.  Supported by Pawlak's keys and a solid bass line from Sims, the song has a nice hook and excellent backing vocals...two constant themes on this record...all giving way to a scorching solo from Miller that is just a tease of the work he puts on display throughout the record.  

The title track had me fooled, as with a name like "Sing It Loud", I was expecting a real barn-burner.  Instead, however, we are treated to a cool, mid-tempo track that is introduced with a simple keyboard tone and bass-and-tom drums underneath Giovi's smooth vocals which are half-spoken, half-sung on the verses.  By the time the rest of the band joins in, the tempo picks up slightly, building to a perfectly executed blending of the backing vocals echoing Giovi's "sing it loud" perfectly, then supporting the rest of the chorus structure in a way that is SORELY missed in today's music scene.  Nobody does backing vocals like this now, and that is a damn shame!

Surprise of the record?  That's easy.  If the guys had called me up and said, "Arttie, who do you think we should cover on this record," I could have listed artists and bands all day and all night long and I would have NEVER come up with their choice!  I'll be 100% candid here in that I was jamming along to the track the first time I heard it, not really paying attention to the lyrics, and then...BAM!...that chorus hit and triggered something from my early teen years, and all of a sudden my mind blasted, "NO THEY DID NOT JUST DO THAT!"  A laugh broke free from my throat and I hit repeat so that I could catch what was being sang, and sure enough, this was the same song that was one of the last hits from one of my first early-teen crushes!  This is Olivia Newton-John!  OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN!  No, they don't strap themselves into spandex workout gear and get all sweaty with "Physical", but they do a pretty cool, really fun take on her 1983/84 hit, "Twist Of Fate", managing to keep some of the pop sensibilities of the track while beefing up the guitars...and toning down the synthesizers...slightly altering the arrangement to turn it into something more modern and more their own.  I'm not sure whose idea this was or where the inspiration came from, but it is a definite curve ball that somehow still manages to work well within the context of what the rest of the record is about. 

"What If We Were Wrong" is the first true ballad of the record, and it is a big, lighters in the air, arms swaying back and forth moment for Sing It Loud.  This is the kind of melodic ballad that was being put out by bands like Unruly Child, The Storm and Bad English back in the day, bridging that gap between the big hair metal power ballads and the more melodic Top 40 rock ballads being released by Journey or Loverboy, for example.  Giovi's emotional vocals really anchor the track here, and Miller's guitar practically weeps on the intro, dripping with emotion, and then delivers a smooth, powerful solo between chorus sections.  Some nice piano from Pawlak supplies a nice support structure for the track, as well, and I feel certain that this song could be huge in certain markets if radio still played this type of music from new artists.  Really, really good stuff here.

"Same" is one of the most driving, pure rock tracks on the record, and it is a really, really good song.  Some nice, hard-charging guitars and machine gun drumming set the tone and pace, and Giovi adds an edge to his voice that is not particularly evident anywhere else here.  Miller's tone is a bit more metallic on the solo, as well.  A really, really good track to end the first half/start off the second half of the record, and one that leans a bit more toward the Bombay Black/Tango Down style of rocker than most of the others here.  Easily one of my favorite tracks on a record filled with good songs.

I guess if I had to pick my other favorites, I would probably turn to one of three tracks, all from the second half of the record.  "Cry" comes immediately to mind, with Giovi's vocals taking on a bit of a Jon Bon Jovi sound and style on the verse sections of this bright and bouncy, hooky, mid-tempo number that has, to my ear, the catchiest, sing along chorus on a record chock full of catchy choruses!  Just enough keys/piano from Pawlak help to set the tone, along with Johnson's rhythm guitar and Sims' bass.  Miller's solo here is short, but sweet, and the backing vocals are pristine.  Truly great stuff here.  

My second pick would be the last of the slower songs here, "Every Now And Then".  I love the positive vibe of the opening verse, with Giovi singing "I'm a lucky man to live the life that I have lived, I spend most of my moments in the sun..." that bleeds into his wistful memories of a lost love that he thinks of "every now and then".  The bridge here is a cool one, also, with some introspection from Giovi about how his life turned out and what could have been...and which would have been better.  Once again, the emotion that Miller is able to wring out of the six strings of his guitar simply amazes me, as the main riff coming out of the chorus sections is just heart-wrenching, and the solo, while energetic, doesn't betray the overall feel and vibe of the track, and the outro work he does under the last few runs of the repetitive chorus is truly brilliant to me.  I think this song best showcases his talent on this particular album.

The album closer would be my third choice for potential best song, and it really brings the album to a powerful close.  Starting off something like a Loverboy rocker, both musically and lyrically, the song is uptempo and bright from start to finish, containing a chorus that bears more than a passing resemblance to David Lee Roth's "Yankee Rose" (trust me, you'll hear it!) that is both EXTREMELY catchy and singable, begging for fist pumping and head banging to be incorporated when played in a live setting.  Once again, Miller lets his guitar take over in the middle section, running the frets seemingly effortlessly in an 80s-inspired solo that is maddeningly-too-short, then he exits the song with a blazing outro that leaves the listener breathlessly begging for more once they realize that Sing It Loud had come to a close.   

If I had one complaint, it might be that there are occasionally a bit too many keys for my tastes, but that is only on a song or two, and even then it isn't a big deal, as there is so much going on with Miller's leads and Johnson's rhythm guitar that my attention is easily drawn back to the harder edges of the songs.  For people who love the heavier keyboard usage of a lot of the melodic rock/AOR bands out there, this isn't even going to cause you to blink.  In either case, there is virtually nothing to complain about here, as Romeo Riot is the absolute real deal with a powerhouse lineup of talented musicians and songwriters who are at the top of their game here. 

Sims does a masterful job mixing and producing the record, allowing the overall feel and sound to be one that belongs to a single, unified band, rather than trying to make Romeo Riot sound like parts of several bands assembled on a bunch of songs.  Never did I feel like I was listening to left over Pawlak tracks, or cutting room songs from Bombay Black or Tango Down.  This project is Romeo Riot and it feels like its own entity, which is about as big of a compliment as I can give it.  I think it would have been easy to get too heavy handed in the rock sections, or too airy in the ballad sections, making the record sound like something completely different and one that lacked cohesion.  Hats off to Sims for giving the band their own sound and feel in the production booth.

Erik Johnson has confirmed that the band will be playing shows in the new year, so if they are even remotely in your neck of the woods, you would be doing yourself a HUGE favor to track them down and get to hear the band up close and personal.  

No question that as of this writing, Sing It Loud is a Top 17 for 2017.  The question is just how high in that Top 17 of '17 it will finish!

Rating: Unquestionably a cranker, here....turn this up to 9!

Friday, October 13, 2017

BABYLON A.D. "Revelation Highway"

(c) 2017 Frontiers Records

  1. Crash And Burn
  2. Fool On Fire
  3. One Million Miles
  4. Tears
  5. She Likes To Give It
  6. Rags To Riches
  7. Last Time For Love
  8. I'm No Good For You
  9. Saturday Night
  10. Don't Tell Me Tonight
Derek Davis--Lead Vocals, Keys, Acoustic Guitar
Ron Freschi--Guitars, Vocals
John Mathews--Guitars, Vocals
Robb Reid--Bass, Vocals
James Pacheco--Drums, Pecussion

This history of the 80s/early 90s hard rock scene is littered with bands that had brief, shining moments, only to fade as rapidly as they seemingly arrived, falling off the face of the musical landscape for totally random reasons.  Labels folded.  Bands broke up or members left.  Radio wouldn't play a particular song by a particular band.  MTV didn't think the band had "the look".  But none of these things really explain the rapid ascent, and even more rapid descent of Babylon A.D.  Hitting the scene in 1987, the band was signed to Arista Records by the legendary Clive Davis, and their debut album was out approximately 18 months later.  Three singles from that self-titled debut album hit number one at metal radio.  Their certified gold album spent nearly 40 weeks on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart.  Multiple videos graced the airwaves at MTV.  The band was rolling right out of the gate, and I LOVED them!  I wore out two copies of that debut album before I finally scored a CD of it, and I still have the original today.  In fact, if pushed to list the best albums of the 80's "hair era", I would definitely put this album in the top 10; I think that highly of it.  "Bang Go The Bells", "When The Hammer Swings Down", "The Kid Goes Wild", "Desperate", and a few others from this record are among some of my favorite songs from the era, even to this day.  

A second album, Nothing Sacred, was released in 1992, and two more singles charted on metal radio.  Touring grew the band's fan base, and Babylon A.D. looked poised for the big time, but I wasn't as enamored with this record as the debut.  There were still a few good tracks, but the sophomore jinx seemed to have bitten the band as I didn't feel like the album was as focused or as complete.  Still, I figured that they would shake it off and return bigger than ever with album number three.  But then, the one factor that no band had any control over, that no label could foresee, that no management team could head off took over and killed the promising careers of the Babylon A.D.'s of the world; grunge and hard alternative rock wiped the rock n roll landscape clean, leaving only a handful of the biggest bands to stagger around on life support for several years, trying to recapture what was lost. 

Babylon A.D. wasn't big enough to try to survive the fallout, like a Bon Jovi or Poison, and hadn't really built up the foreign following of a band like Firehouse or Mr. Big, to be able to try to make a go at it there.  Relegated to small labels, the band released a live album in 1999, and then finally that third studio album in 2000, but American Blitzkrieg wasn't what people were listening to at the time, and quite honestly, the band had shed so much of their previous style and sound that many long-time fans, myself included, found little to truly enjoy on the album.  A cool demo compilation, In The Beginning popped up in 2008, which featured several really good songs that showed how the band got to that debut album stage, and then in 2014, Lost Sessions/Fresno, CA 93a 4 song EP of previously unreleased material was released, and the three new, post-Nothing Sacred tracks seemed to point to the band going back to that debut sound had then been given the chance to make a record in 1993.  Another live album was released, and I had hope that a new Babylon A.D. record might not be too far off.

That leads us to 2017 and that new album finally will see the light of day.  Revelation Highway is an album of "new" Babylon A.D. material on the king of all band resurrection labels, Frontiers Records.  I say "new" material, because several of these songs are not actually new, but re-recordings of demo material found on In The Beginning.  "Tears", "She Likes To Give It", "Last Time For Love", and "I'm No Good For You" are all old songs given new life here, and the band sounds like it has not missed a beat in the 30 years since they were originally signed.  

Of the six new tracks here, all are top notch songs, with no filler cuts added just to round things out to an even ten songs.  Album bookends, opener "Crash And Burn" and closer, "Don't Tell Me Tonight" might be the best of the bunch.  "Crash And Burn" kickstarts the record with blistering, chunky metallic rhythm guitars and pounding drums as it charges down the "open road" that Davis sings about, before a screaming solo from Freschi drops in between chorus sections to liven things up even more, if that's possible.  "Don't Tell Me Tonight" features some of the best, flashiest, screamingest guitar work on the record, along with excellent backing vocals, and a simple, sing-along chorus (think Night Ranger's "Don't Tell Me You Love Me" simple) that will have listeners wailing along instantly.  "Fool On Fire" sounds like it should have been on that debut record and is the track where Davis sounds the most like time has stood still for him.  The more I hear it, the more I feel like it could have been the track that followed "Desperate" on that first album, as it just has a tone and quality that seems to flow right off that record and bleeds into this one.  One listen by anyone familiar with the debut and I am sure they will instantly agree.  While those three tracks could have possibly charted a couple more metal hits for Babylon A.D. back in 1990 or 91, "One Million Miles" is the song here that would have likely had crossover radio and MTV appeal back in the day.  Although not a ballad, this track is highly melodic and filled with some great vocal work, both lead and backing, making "One Million Miles" a melodic rocker that features some cool-yet-more-subtle guitar work, especially in the solo section, that would have likely served the band well on radio, especially with its female fan base.

All five of the original band members are here for Revelation Highway, which adds even more to the overall greatness of this record.  No one sounds as if they have lost anything to my ears.  The guitars are edgy yet melodic, with blazing solos and chunky rhythm sections, Davis' voice, while perhaps a touch lower in register than previously, still has grit, power, and range, and there is a tightness to the band that can only be attained through years of playing together.  I'm not a huge fan of the production on this record, at least on a couple of tracks, but I am hopeful that this is more of an issue for me with this digital preview copy, and that the CD itself will add a bit more brightness to the feel of a few tracks here.  Even with the slight flatness of the tone in a couple of places, I can't help but find myself instantly whisked back to 1989 when I play Revelation Highway, but absolutely in a 100% good way.  The nostalgia comes from the familiarity of the band, not from the songs sounding old, tired, or dated, as this is a lively record from start to finish, with no cobwebs or dust bunnies cluttering up the overall feel.  Easily the best "comeback" record from an 80s/90s band I have heard so far this year, Revelation Highway is in no danger of leaving rotation for me anytime soon.  I absolutely love this record, minor production flaws notwithstanding.  

Rating:  Crankable in the extreme!  Turn this sucker UP to 9!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

**RETRO REVIEW** FOREIGNER "Agent Provocateur"

(c) 1984 Atlantic Records

  1. Tooth And Nail
  2. That Was Yesterday
  3. I Want To Know What Love Is
  4. Growing Up The Hard Way
  5. Reaction To Action
  6. Stranger In My Own House
  7. A Love In Vain
  8. Down On Love
  9. Two Different Worlds
  10. She's Too Tough
Lou Gramm--Lead Vocals, Percussion
Mick Jones--Guitars, Keyboards, Backing Vocals
Rick Wills--Bass, Backing Vocals
Dennis Elliott--Drums

Many 70s bands who found great success with what we now refer to as "classic guitar rock" struggled to find their way through the 80s, as an infusion of heavy keyboard usage and New Wave musical approaches forced their way onto the "rock" scene.  Foreigner definitely fit the first category, as there were few bands who enjoyed more success, as their first eight singles all charted Top 20, a feat no rock band had managed...since the Beatles!  In fact, it would be difficult to find a band that had more success from 1977 to 1981 than Foreigner, as all four albums released during that time frame would chart Top 5, with the album 4 becoming the band's first Number One album.  But then the band started to tweak their sound, causing internal strife between Gramm and Jones.  Gramm wanted the band to continue down the harder-edged radio rock sound that had served the band so well in the past, while Jones began to insert more and more keyboards (and less and less guitars) into the sound.  By the time 1984 rolled around, many fans felt the band no longer resembled the band that had dominated the rock scene just a handful of years prior.

It's interesting to me that 1984 seemed to be a turning point for the band, because I have long drawn a parallel between Foreigner and another 1970s hard rock band that had found solid success, only to begin tinkering with their sound.  That band would be Van Halen and their appropriately titled album, 1984.  Think about the similarities here:

  • Both albums featured the biggest crossover hit of each band's career at that point. ("I Want To Know What Love Is" for Foreigner, and "Jump" for Van Halen....both hit #1 on the charts)
  • Both "I Want To Know..." and "Jump" featured heavy focus on keyboards and a significant reduction in the amount of guitar use.
  • Both albums featured secondary hits that were keyboard-based quasi-ballads ("That Was Yesterday" for Foreigner, "I'll Wait" for Van Halen)
  • Both albums found success with the lone hard guitar track that was released ("Reaction To Action" hit #44 for Foreigner, "Panama" for Van Halen hit #13)
  • Both albums caused internal issues between the two key components of each band
  • Both bands found their lead singers leaving to do solo records (Lou Gramm to do Ready Or Not, David Lee Roth to do Eat 'Em And Smile) after the tours for the 1984 releases

Some eerie stuff there, huh? No, just me?  Okay, anyway...

While Agent Provocateur may not be the strongest album in the band's fact, many people consider it to be the weakest of the Gramm-fronted albums...I don't think it is as bad as it was made out to be.  Even now, more than 30 years after it was released, I think there are several tracks that stand up pretty well with the rest of the band's best material.  Notably, I think "That Was Yesterday" is truly the best track on this record and is one that I still routinely return to when I throw in a "best of" package or have access to a jukebox.  I simply love that song.  I also think the lead track on the album, the harder-edged "Tooth And Nail", is an excellent track that would have been even better if it hadn't been for the electronic drum effects.  "Down On Love" and "Stranger In My Own House" are both above average tracks, and "Growing Up The Hard Way" had the potential to be a really good song if not for the wimpy keyboards used in places a searing guitar lick or soaring solo would have proven to be a much better choice.  "Reaction To Action" is a solid rocker that garnered some radio success, as I mentioned above, even though it isn't overly memorable or inspiring lyrically, and it's hard to argue with success, as "I Want To Know What Love Is" remains the band's sole number one hit in its 40 year career.  But there is simply too much filler material, and too much keyboard dreck here for even a vocal giant like Gramm to overcome.  Tracks like "Love In Vain", "She's Too Tough", and "Two Different Worlds" just come off as flat and uninspired, and "Growing Up The Hard Way" only manages to succeed to the level it does because of Gramm.  

As I mentioned above, Gramm would leave the band temporarily after Agent Provocateur to release his first solo record, which was far more in the vein of early Foreigner material than the vast majority of this record.  He would return for the next Foreigner record, Inside Information, only to leave again for another solo record, which was, once again, of superior quality.  The course the once-mighty Foreigner had charted for themselves was not one that Gramm felt he could continue with, although he did return one final time for the greatly underappreciated Mr. Moonlight album, before leaving the band once and for all, with Jones continuing on with what I can only consider to be a Foreigner tribute band, albeit one with a tremendous amount of talent surrounding him.

The production on Agent Provocateur is decidedly 80s, with heavy emphasis on synthesizers (four different men are credited with playing synth on the record), electric drums, and other electric elements.  The guitars are mixed too far in the back for my taste (when they are even allowed to show themselves), and the bass is not overly present, either.  Gramm is in excellent form throughout, however, which is one of the lone saving moments for this record.  All in all, this record isn't horrible, but it is far from the best the band has to offer.  Of course, this can be said of so many bands from the 70s who were trying to find their way through the early 80s.

Rating:  Rock this at 5.5, but if you've somehow never heard the record, you must seek it out for "That Was Yesterday" and the album cuts "Tooth And Nail" and "Down On Love".

OTHERWISE "Sleeping Lions"

(c) 2017 Century Media

  1. Angry Heart
  2. Sleeping Lions
  3. Suffer
  4. Nothing To Me
  5. Weapons
  6. Crocodile Tears
  7. Close To The Gods
  8. Dead In The Air
  9. Beautiful Monster
  10. Blaine
  11. Bloodline Lullaby
  12. Won't Stop (Bonus Track)
Adrian Patrick--Lead Vocals
Ryan Patrick--Guitars
Tony Carboney--Bass
Brian Medeiros--Drums

When last we checked in with the boys from Vegas, they had just debuted Carboney and Medeiros as members of the band....and had apparently forgotten to pay their electric bill, as they dropped an acoustic EP on us, called From The Roots, Vol. 1Since then, the guys have plugged their instruments back in, amped things back up, and they return with their first album of all new material since 2014.

The band comes charging hard right from the start, with lead single, "Angry Heart" which features some rather dark lyrics and equally dark guitar riffs, along with some really solid bass work from Carboney.  I feel like this song...and this album, really...features some of the best bass work to date from the band, and I can't help but feel that Mr. Carboney has really helped to shape the sound of the band in the short time he has been with Otherwise.  Not something that is often said about a bassist, I realize.  Anyway...  The title track is a pretty cool song that received a rather intriguing co-write (in my opinion), as the band called upon Korn's Jonathan Davis to lend some lyrical ideas.  As you might guess with Davis contributing, this is a pretty angry song, and there are hints of Korn-styled lyrical phrasing, but the song remains distinctly Otherwise, particularly as Adrian's vocals soar through the chorus, rising above the screams in the background.  I have always been a fan of Adrian's vocal, and he does nothing to diminish that on this record.  There is also a wickedly cool guitar solo leading into the last chorus here that shows Ryan to be his brother's equal, even if they utilize different instruments.

"Suffer" is a different type of track for Otherwise to tackle, as it is not really all that aggressive, and there is a distinct pop element to the uptempo number.  Taking a considerably more melodic slant than the opening two tracks, "Suffer" is actually very catchy, with an infectious chorus, and I would imagine this track will find itself being pushed as a single at some point.

"Nothing To Me" heads back into more aggressive territory, with some big drums and a hard-driving riff from Ryan that plows through a stop-start-stop-start rhythm coming out of the first chorus.  The edge slips back into Adrian's vocals here, and I keep finding myself coming back to this track as one of the best on the record.  Of course, the same can be said for the next track, "Weapons", with it's electronic effects bleeding into a piano intro that eventually gives way to a slightly discordant guitar, with the whole band jumping into an aggressive-yet-melodic track that has an easy chorus that Adrian can really cut loose on.  Again, a very easy track to fall in love with, and one that I can't help but feel will be pushed to radio in the near future.

Not content to stick with the tried and true, Otherwise mixes things up a bit with songs like "Crocodile Tears", which utilizes a distinct vocal pattern unlike anything else on the record, bordering on spoken-word styling on parts of the verses, with some powerful bass work and solid drums bolstering a heavy-but-not-fast chorus section.  Quirky and catchy at the same time, "Crocodile Tears" is another of my faves on this record.  On the other end of the spectrum, "Bloodline Lullaby" could be considered something of an "alt-metal power ballad", reminding me of similarly styled tracks that have worked so well for other bands in the past, with Skillet coming immediately to mind.  I don't recall Otherwise really testing the waters of this style of ballad, but it works here, especially with Adrian's command of the emotional elements at play here.  I feel like this could be the breakout song of the record if it is given any kind of push at all.

The packaging here is excellent, with a full, 20-page booklet, complete with all lyrics, writing and production credits, thank yous, and some pretty cool artwork, as well as a band photo and some artistically enhanced head shots of each member.  While it is a digipack, at least it isn't one of those crappy, flimsy slipcases that have become the norm for so many bands these days.  

Definitely the band's most complete album, and their most interesting, it might not have the big, stand-out tracks like "Soldiers" or "Darker Side Of The Moon", but I feel it is the album that is going to stick with listeners.  Intricate and detailed in places, blazing with anger in others, Sleeping Lions pretty much runs the gamut for the band musically, with hard, crunchy numbers and even a couple of mellower, more laid back moment.  Strong production, some interesting co-writes, and the best musical performance in the band's catalog make Sleeping Lions a mid-to-late year sleeper to crack many Top 10 lists.  

Rating:  Crankable, no question, let these Sleeping Lions roar at 7.5!