Tuesday, February 16, 2021

GUNNER "Back 4 More"

 

(c) 2020 Lion's Pride Music

  1. Back 4 More
  2. Faster Than Lightning
  3. Sunset Kiss
  4. Begging Love
  5. Searching For Victims
  6. Liar
  7. Dangerous Eyes
  8. Cold Nights
  9. Delilah
  10. Thrilling Dream
  11. Street Kid
  12. Stay Strong
Oscar Muguertegui--Vocals
Rodrigo Bugallo--Guitars
Marcos Prevalil--Keys
Sam Carabajal--Bass
Gustavo Jamie--Drums

Hailing from Buenos Aries, Argentina, Gunner is a retro-styled melodic rock band with a definite flair for all things 80s.  I mean, seriously, check out the cover of the album!  If I didn't know better, I'd swear I have that vinyl stashed in a box of stuff from high school in my garage somewhere.  But don't mistake these guys for being hair metal, because they are not.  Think more along the lines of the mid-80s, pre-Hollywood takeover days.  Think EARLY Dokken, EARLY Ratt, even hints of Y&T and Keel in places.  Lion would be a good comparison band, as well. Same with Icon.  Stuff I like to call "power rock"...not quite metal, but definitely punchier than hair metal.  The band has been together for over 15 years now, and this is not their first album, I am told, just their first for Lion's Pride Music.  And how does it fare?  I guess that all depends upon what you are looking for from these five South American rockers.

First off, the songs are actually pretty solid all the way through.  The majority of them remind me of the harder-edged material some bands would record to have placed on those classic 80s action flick movie soundtracks.  You know, killer guitar solos and hard-charging tempos and rhythms, usually wrapped around some inspiring chorus or something, but typically not radio single material.  That is pretty much every song here...and while some of them are excellent songs, a few wind up in the "fun but not really memorable" category.  

On the excellent side, we have tracks like "Searching For Victims", a big, brilliant 80s movie anthem if I ever heard one!  The guitars scream with a big, fret-running solo from the sensational Bugallo tearing a trench through the song, the drums are big and aggressive, the backing vocals are in great form, and the lead vocals from...well, I'm just going to call him Oscar rather than type out Muguertegui any number of times....are edgy and delivered with conviction.  Heck, even the song title has attitude!  "Faster Than Lightning" is another great, great action flick track!  Thundering drums, a massive...and LONG...guitar solo from the uber-talented Bugallo, big, gang "whoa-oh-oh" backing vocals, and a really solid lead vocal from Oscar.  "Sunset Kiss" is another excellent 80s flashback through and through, complete with the edgy radio-rock guitars and unmistakable keyboards that hearken back to the summer nights of my teenage years! And, as is really a trend on this record, Bugallo absolutely dominates with another smoking solo that absolutely nails the style and sound of the era.  This guy has MAJOR skills, folks!  His soloing abilities alone are worth hunting this record down! Check out the intro work on "Begging Love" for yet another example of that stunning skill, followed by some era-appropriate rhythm work and yet another top-shelf solo that finds Bugallo pulling out all the tricks!  And even when things slow down a bit, such as on the more mid-tempo romper "Liar", the band has plenty of heft in the right places, and the bass work from Carabajal really jumps out at the listener.  "Street Kid" takes us back to that action flick feel, with a really gritty guitar setting the tone right from the start, and I can see the song's titular down-on-his-luck character jumping rope or working a speed bag as he puts in his time to get his title shot!  Or maybe he was a loner and his Army dad was kidnapped and the kid has to find his inner-hero and hijack a helicopter so he can go rescue his father!  Yeah!  You can come up with your own scenario; Bugallo and his pals will provide the soundtrack for it, with another excellent solo, gang-shouted chorus vocals, and a solid rhythm section driving the song along perfectly.  "Stay Strong" closes the record in excellent fashion, with the mid-tempo rocker firing on cylinders musically, and the perfectly-titled (for an 80s action flick) track is definitely a top 3 or 4 song on the entire album.  "Cold Nights" is another slower track, definitely carrying a plodding tempo, but Carabajal's bass again gets to rumble and Bugallo is afforded the opportunity to showcase a different style of playing here than on the flash and fire solos of the up-tempo material.  

This is not a perfect record, however, but rarely does Back 4 More just completely blow it for me.  In a couple of spots, it's just one little thing that will hold a track back from being all it could be.  Maybe it's the vocals, maybe it's the mix, but something is a tiny bit off somewhere.  The opening track and title cut, "Back For More" is a perfect example.  The track starts with a muscle car's engine roaring to life, and the guitars come blazing out of the gates, but Oscar's vocals really sound strained to hit the higher end notes here, even pulling him a bit off-key in places, and his accent is really noticeable here.  The previously mentioned "Cold Nights", "Street Kid" and even the excellent "Searching For Victims" are also victims to this to varying degrees.  Again, they are far from ruined, but I wish the producer would have gotten another take or two on a couple of lines to strengthen what I think are some of the best tracks here.  I want to state for the record  that even when he is a bit off, Oscar's husky, lower-tenor is perfect for this band and the style of songs they present here, and he projects a power across the majority of these tracks that is a key element to them being pulled off as well as they are.      

There is one track on Back 4 More that NOTHING could save, not even flawless vocals from Oscar, or Bugallo delivering the most soaring guitar performance in the history of 80s power rock.  There is absolutely nothing that would save "Delilah".  Seriously, if there is one track that really shouldn't have been included, "Delilah" would get the axe...and I wouldn't sharpen that axe.  I would leave it dull so the song could feel every painful swing I took to rend it from this album's track list!  This track is so sugary, so stomach-churningly saccharine sounding, that my ears feel like they are dripping syrup by the time the five minute long ballad oozes to an end.  Again, this is one of those tracks where Oscar's vocals are just a bit off, and I think it comes from him just trying too hard to spread the frosting-thick emotion across the track.  There are too many tinkling keys and even Bugallo's solo can't save this song from the ooey-gooey mess that it creates for itself.  When I burned Back 4 More to CD so I could listen to in my truck during my work commute, I left this track completely off and I skip it every time it pops up on my computer.

"Dangerous Eyes" is a decent rocker, but for some reason it doesn't really connect with me the way most of the tracks do here.  The mix seems a bit muddy in the verse sections and Oscar is really hard to understand in places (more on this in a minute), which detracts from the overall feel of the song.  Additionally, the keyboard flourishes are too out front for me and they really draw the attention away from the overall feel of the song.  It's not a terrible song, I suppose, and Bugallo drops a nice solo on the listener, but this song is definitely one that I would have considered trimming if it was required for time constraint reasons.

The only other track I really don't care for all that much is "Thrilling Dream", which is almost TOO 80s for its own good.  Rather than an action flick track, this song reminds me of something that ends up on a Michael J. Fox movie soundtrack, like Secret Of My Success or something, as the "rock track" among a bunch of New Wave tunes.  The keys are too out front and too dominant for my liking, and the fact that a keyboard SOLO cuts into Bugallo's six-string time...well, little can be done to forgive that! 

Overall, this is a really enjoyable project for me, even after numerous listens, and even if there isn't anything new about it.  In fact, what you think of the record is going to largely depend upon how you feel about pure nostalgia trips, which is exactly what Back 4 More is.  There is literally nothing about this record that comes off as modern, from the performances to the writing style to the production.  And if that is what you are after, you are going to love this record!  But, if you are looking for retro-based music that incorporates the latest production tricks and styles, you will likely be a bit disappointed, even as you listen slack-jawed to the skill of these guys (particularly Bugallo).  

For me, it is really hard to not love what these guys are doing and the passion they obviously have for what they are doing.  There are a couple of minor missteps, and nothing here screams "hit single", either in 1985 or in present day 2021, but Gunner delivers exactly what I think they were after, which is well-executed, fun, bombastic mid-80s power rock that never drifts into the glammy or hairy side of the Hollywood hairspray scene.  

Rating:  I'd say Rock this to 6.5 every time you put it on, and minus a couple of tracks in the last half of the record, it may even become a crankable 7!  It's not perfect, but it is definitely fun!  I think I also will be seeking out Gunner's older material (I believe they were called Gunner Sixx at that time).

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