The rise of grunge in the early ’90s catalyzed the demise of many beloved (and equally bemoaned) glam ‘hairbands’. It was a time of bonehead lyrics, ridiculous guitar solos and even more ridiculous outfits, but it was also a time of big fat hooks, sticky melodies and boatloads of harmonies. The songs were “carefree rock” that, in most cases, were just plain fun to listen to. Like them or not, their popularity at the time cannot be denied.
As most of these million-selling artists were suddenly driven from the Billboard charts and shunned by their record labels, a small label called CMC International stepped up to become the afterlife for hairbands. This allowed a handful of them to continue releasing records through the ’90s, but many groups caved to musical fads; attempting to incorporate grunge and alternative rock at the expense of the sugary melodies and easy-to-understand lyrics that had earned them fans in the first place. By the end of the ’90s “big hair rock” was clearly dead and it seemed to have taken AOR with it.
So here we are, ten years on, and we’re seeing new labels like Italy’s Frontiers Records proudly releasing AOR and glam rock like it was still 1989. This is a real treat for those who miss the days of Slaughter, Poison and Warrant, and there is a niche of 30- and 40-somethings that will gladly shell over their cash to hear some new blood bring life back to this genre. Frontiers Records champions new bands that have taken up the glam baton, as well as “classic” bands that are still alive and kickin’, and for this week’s spotlight we delve into some of Frontiers’ latest releases from Keel, Jaded Heart, Wig Wam and Blanc Faces.
Ron Keel and his entourage are back with a record that sounds like the proper sequel to their breakthrough 1985 release, “The Right To Rock”. Twenty-five years later and Keel still delivers the goods with powerhouse twin guitars (courtesy of Marc Ferrari and Bryan Jay) and thundering bass and drums ( thanks to Geno Arce and Dwain Miller) Ron Keel sounds ready as ever with his characteristic growl omnipresent throughout the vocals. The boys have updated their sound a bit, but not to the point where it would alienate longtime fans.
“Streets Of Rock & Roll” kicks off with the title track, one of the strongest in the new bunch of twelve arena-ready rockers. Guitars come at you from all directions, swirling around one of the most infectious choruses Keel has ever written. Despite the slump to bonehead lyrics, “Push and Pull” is an enjoyable slice of sleaze rock in the finest late ’80s tradition. In stark contrast, the album gets a bit more serious with the excellent power ballad, “Does Anybody Believe,” and the record ends particularly strong with a great pair in “Hold Steady” and “Live”. “Live” is arguably the catchiest tune in the dozen, with riffs reminiscent of White Lion’s “Wait” – this one would have been all over the radio back in the day. In short, “Streets of Rock and Roll” is one of Keel’s best releases – ever.
(2) JADED HEART – “Perfect Insanity”
Germany’s Jaded Heart gravitate more towards the Heavy Metal end of the spectrum, but they compromise on melodies. No one can knock the musicianship, but it often feels like they go out of their way to avoid writing a good hook. So, it probably comes as no surprise that I just couldn’t get into this one. “Perfect Insanity” works well when you need to get your blood pumping, though, and seeing as these guys have been going strong since 1990, it can be said that they have mastered their craft. I would recommend this one for fans of heavier, less melodic bands like Dokken, Heaven and Hell and Queensryche. Fans of classic metal such as Judas Priest will also appreciate Jaded Heart.
I didn’t know what to expect from this band: they hail from Norway, look like a nightmarish cross between Marilyn Manson, Brad Paisley and Enuff Z’Nuff and, as if that wasn’t enough, they call themselves Glam (vocals), Teeny (guitars), Flash (bass), and Sporty (drums)! However, looks and goofy nicknames aside, these guys sound about as glam as glam can possibly get and so, if you crave the long lost days of fun-filled rock and roll with huge juicy hooks and radio-friendly riffs, Wig Wam is gonna make you grin like a kid in a candy store.
In the context of this genre, Wig Wam does a superb job. Glam sounds like a cross between Vince Neil and CJ Snare and you’ll almost want to chuckle with nostalgia at the opening gang chorus of “Do Ya Wanna Taste It”. The party is just beginning, and if track one failed to move you, the thumping “Walls Come Down” will surely lift you out of your chair. “Wild One” and “C’mon Everybody” represent another one-two punch of melodic rock perfect for rocking your joint and “C’mon Everybody” features a riff reminiscent of Motley Crue’s “Dr. Feelgood” and the groove won’t let you go. “From Here” is the power ballad of choice on this CD and “All You Wanted” and “Rocket Through My Heart” are a couple more highlights from this very impressive set of sweet hard rock tunes.
I would argue that if anyone can initiate a resurgence of ’80s pop metal, Wig Wam is up for the task: unbelievably catchy, upbeat, and ready to party,Wig Wam is a winner for good ol’ glam and roll.
(4) BLANC FACES – “Falling from the Moon”
Brothers Robbie and Brian La Blanc are Blanc Faces: a band that made a stunning impression on the AOR world with their self-titled debut in 2005. A throwback to ’80s melodic rock – big hooks, abundant harmonies, and straightforward lyrics that typically say either “I love you” or “You can do it” – the brothers make no apologies for their dated sound and style because they know it is exactly what their fans want. Fortunately, this is also the kind of music the brothers want to write and perform, so it’s truly a win-win situation for the band and fans alike.
“Falling from the Moon” begins with a rousing opener called “I Come Alive”, which easily could have been on a Rocky soundtrack at one point. I even think the La Blanc brothers must have raided Jim Peterik’s keyboard closet for this one. The melodies keep coming with the peppy title track and the driving devotional, “I Swear To You”. After a lackluster power ballad break, the boys come back with a couple of pleasant mid-tempo numbers called “It’s All About Love” and “Goodbye Summer Goodbye”. The mid-tempo pace continues for a couple more tracks, but rock kicks back in with “Like A Believer” and the CD closes strong with the electrifying sound of “I Will” and the epic ballad, “Fly”, performed in perfect stereotypical ’80s tradition.
Vocally these guys will knock your socks off. To my ears, the vocals are remarkably like those from Glass Tiger. My favorite cuts include “I Come Alive”, “I Swear To You”, and “I Will” – these were hard to select, though, given that the CD is an excellent listen from beginning to end. In short, “Falling from The Moon” is just about as good as the debut and is a terrific slice of AOR that fans will want to sink their teeth into. Like its predecessor, the production is immaculate and makes these strong songs even more of a thrill to hear.
For fans of: Survivor, Glass Tiger and Journey.
iPOD-worthy tracks: 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 9, 11, 12
Blanc Faces – more info and CD ordering at Frontiers Records.