Friday, December 29, 2017

AUTOGRAPH "Get Off Your Ass"

(c) 2017 EMP Music Group

  1. Get Off Your Ass
  2. Every Generation
  3. All I Own
  4. You Are Us, We Are You
  5. Meet Me Halfway
  6. I Lost My Mind In America
  7. All Emotions
  8. Watch It Now
  9. Ready To Get Down
  10. Turn Up The Radio (Live)
Simon Daniels--Lead Vocals, Guitar
Steve Lynch--Lead Guitars, Vocals
Randy Rand--Bass, Vocals
Marc Weiland--Drums

So, Autograph....where do I start?  Basically one-hit wonders thanks to the success of their debut album, Sign In Please, and the crazy popularity "Turn Up The Radio, Autograph was a California-based 5-piece band that, despite a large amount of talent and a decent fanbase, never was able to fully turn the corner and become a radio/MTV mainstay like so many of their hairy brethren.  Sure, there were two more studio albums (That's The Stuff and Loud And Clear) and several other well-known songs, especially among fans of the hair metal genre, with my favorites being "Blondes In Black Cars", "Send Her To Me", "That's The Stuff", "Take No Prisoners", "She Never Looked That Good For Me", and the semi-obscure "Winning Is Everything", which was only released as part of the soundtrack for Youngblood (anyone remember that flick?).  They flirted with the charts a couple of times, but could never recapture the lightning in a bottle that "Turn Up The Radio" brought them.  As a result, the band left RCA Records after just three albums, and before the band would see their seventh anniversary as a unit, they would be completely disbanded.

When the calendar turned from the 1900s to the 2000s, a lot of 80s bands found themselves regrouping and finding various levels of success as nostalgia acts.  The members of Autograph likely saw this as a chance to give things one more go, especially since they already had most of their fourth album recorded and ready to go.  However, co-founder and original frontman, Steve Plunkett, didn't see eye-to-eye with guitarist and bassist, Steve Lynch and Randy Rand, and decided to strike out on his own with his version of the band, Autograph 2.0.  He released a collection called Missing Pieces which, it turns out, were most of the songs from that unreleased fourth album, but it didn't really capture the attention of old Autograph fans (and it wasn't really all that good, in my opinion).  2002 saw Plunkett release a new album, Buzz, with his version of the band, but again, the album didn't do anything and, quite frankly, also wasn't very good, and Plunkett reportedly left the touring and recording side of music to open his on publishing company.  

Meanwhile, rather than sitting on their hands, Rand and Lynch headed in another direction and picked up former Jailhouse frontman, Simon Daniels, and, reportedly with the blessings of Plunkett (who I imagine still owns at least some rights to the name) released an EP of their own in 2016, called Louder, which was more guitar-driven and punched harder than nearly anything the band had released previously....and featured none of the overly-present keyboards that ruined about half of the material on the band's first three albums for me.  While the new music didn't really capture the same style and sound of 80s Autograph, the music was pretty good and garnered some attention for the band.  So this year, with the new lineup firmly in place, the band re-released the Louder EP with a handful of new songs on this full-length effort, the first Autograph album since Plunkett's "Buzz" effort.

So, first what is new here?  The album is a perfect split of material from Louder and new material.  Even-numbered tracks 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 all come from the EP and appear here in the exact same form as they did on that recording.  That leaves the odd numbers, 1, 3, 5, 7, and 9 as new songs for this release.

The album starts off with a new song in the title track, "Get Off Your Ass", and immediately it is obvious this is not the Autograph of the 80s.  There are zero keyboards on this record (or at least none that play a prominent enough role that they are distinct in the mix), and Daniels has a much lower range than Plunkett did.  That being said, I would have to say that "Get Of Your Ass" may be one of the ten best tracks the band, in any version, has ever written and recorded.  Seriously.  Rocking hard straight out of the gates, the band sounds tight and punchy with a really good guitar tone from Lynch, and some solid drum work from newcomer, Weiland.  Tongue planted firmly in cheek, the lyrics are humorous while also delivering their point, and Daniels sounds right at home in the range he works at here.  Lynch launches into a really good solo about halfway through the track, and the new...dare I say improved...Autograph is off and running in a big way!

"All I Own" starts off with an unaccompanied Daniels working through the first verse on his own before the band comes crashing in on this power ballad-leaning number.  Rand's bass rings clear throughout the track, and again, Lynch's guitar work is top-notch.  The one problem I have with this track is that the drums are pretty loud in the mix, and when combined with Rand's bass, they really make the song sound rather plodding in places, particularly on the first verse section.  Still, it's not a horrible song at all, and again, Daniels sounds in fine form here, adding a bit of an edge to his bluesy vocals on the bridge section which leads right into another really good solo from the "other" Lynch from the 80s/90s hard rock world.  The backing vocals are tight here, as well, and overall this is another good effort from the returning Autograph, although not the best of the new bunch of songs.

Daniels starts off the next new track, "Meet Me Halfway", belting out the song's title just before the band breaks into a bouncy, shuffle-styled rocker that is my favorite track of all ten presented here.  I love the sass and attitude of this song, and the backing "na na na na" vocals work very, very well with the overall feel of this number.  Again, the drums are very solid, Rand brings the thump throughout the song, and Lynch absolutely dominates the solo he tackles here, sounding at times like he is tinkering with a slide guitar, although I don't think he actually is, and Daniels delivers vocally on a track that Plunkett likely never could have handled properly.  In fact, taken as a singularity, this song is a perfect example of the difference between versions of the band.  Had this been the old Autograph, there would have been an overabundance of keyboards (keytar, anyone???) thrown into the mix, and Plunkett would have turned the song in more of an AOR direction than what is presented here.  As it is, this is a foot-stomping rocker with bite and snarl, and the song is the better for it, in my estimation.

"All Emotions" had me thinking ballad with the title, but I couldn't have been more wrong.  This is an uptempo rocker with some nifty lyrical acrobatics employed by Daniels on the verse sections, as he rips through the lyrics in run-on sentence fashion while managing to get the rhymes to match up with the beat of the track despite it sounding like there may be too many words thrown in there.  Lynch lays out another solid solo here, although it isn't his best work on the record, and the bass of Rand is prominent in the mix, giving it a heavier-feeling bottom end than pretty much anything the band did in their storied past.

The last new track here is "Ready To Get Down", which teases at sounding more like classic Autograph at the start, with some distant, ringing guitar tones leading the way, before Daniels kicks off the first verse and Rand's bass pulses to life.  By the time we get to the chorus, all thoughts of Autograph 1.0 are gone, and we are treated to yet another lively, blues-tinged rocker with a catchy hook and one more really good, fret-tapping solo from Lynch who, in particular, sounds extremely energized with this reinvention of the band.  Daniels works slightly higher in his range here and handles it well, although I think the lower end of his vocals is where he does his best work.  All in all, a fifth new song that is a worthy addition to not only the record but also to the band's catalog.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the live version of "Turn Up The Radio" that is included here (and on the EP).  Rather than relying on the keyboards of the original, this new, live version feeds off the bass of Rand and the interplay between Daniels and the crowd.  I'm not 100% positive that there aren't some pre-recorded keys in the live mix here, but a lot of the keyboard work of the original is replaced by the second guitar that Daniels brings to the group.  Speaking of the new vocalist, kudos has to be given to him for not trying to sound like Plunkett, which would be virtually impossible to do as the two men have very little in common as far as style and range.  I know it is likely heresy to say this, but I actually prefer this live version to the classic at this point, as it sounds alive again, and not old and tired after 10,000 plays throughout the years.

Perhaps that alive feeling is the real crowning achievement for Get Off Your Ass.  The band sounds fresh, they sound like they are having fun, and they aren't trying to live off of past formulas for any success this album may or may not find.  This Autograph is doing things their own way, in spite of the well-known name attached to the band.  The new songs here meld perfectly with the carryovers from the EP, and the addition of the live rendition of the band's pinnacle moment ties the whole package together, bringing the past forward to meet the present.  Honestly, my expectations for Get Off Your Ass were decidedly low, so maybe my impression of this record skews a bit higher than it might otherwise, but I find myself really, REALLY liking this record more and more with each spin.  While likely not album of the year, Get Off Your Ass has to be in the running for comeback album of the year, and Autograph may be the surprise band of the year for me.  

Rating:  For me, its impossible not to crank Get Off Your Ass!  Give it an 8.

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