Magnum – Chase The Dragon & The Eleventh Hour

Magnum – Chase The Dragon & The Eleventh Hour

Around the time of the NWOBHM, when I was starting to take an interest in rock music, Magnum were first arriving on the scene. These are Magnum’s 4th and 5th albums respectively, from 1982 and 1983. Chase The Dragon was the more commercially sucessful of the two, reaching number 17 in the British album charts. At the time the albums were released Radio 1’s Friday Rock Show was still on the go and featured songs from The Eleventh Hour in one of their sessions.

Magnum have now split up, without really achieving the sucess I had hoped they would. Magnum’s career peaked at later albums such as ‘On A Storyteller’s Night’ and ‘Wings Of Heaven’. If you are looking to buy one Magnum album for your collection, the aforementioned are a better bet than either Chase The Dragon or The Eleventh Hour. If you are only familiar with their later work, then the albums reviewed are an interesting insight into how their sound developed, especially as these albums can be picked up very cheaply now. I bought both these albums for a tenner.

Magnum have an distinctly English feel about them. At this stage of their career Magnum were still pomp rockers. Bearing in mind the release dates of the albums it’s hardly surprising if the best description is NWOBHM with pomp keyboards. As well as the more overly pomp tunes, we also see Magnum trying their hand at straight rock and almost AOR material. There is a slighly medieval feel to the music and lyrics that evoke visions of Jethro Tull (with the keyboards replacing the flute).

Of the two albums, I prefer The Eleventh Hour, despite the fact that Chase The Dragon contains the better known material such as Soldier Of The Line, The Spirit and Sacred Hour. This is the more consistent album of the two. Listening to the albums now, they do sound dated. I would love to hear them with a modern production job done on them. The other factor that dates them is that the playing times are in the 35 to 40 mins region, compared with the 50 plus mins we expect from modern releases.

If I had been reviewing these back when they were first released, I’d probably be giving them say 8 or 9. Now I only feel inclined to give Chase The Dragon a 6 and The Eleventh Hour a 7.

Ratings : Chase The Dragon 6, The Eleventh Hour 7.

FM – Indiscreet

FM – Indiscreet

Tracks :-

That Girl
Other Side Of Midnight
Love Lies Dying
I Belong To The Night
American Girls
Hot Wired
Face To Face
Frozen Heart
Heart Of The Matter
Love Lasts Forever

[American Girls (Live)]
{Say It Like It Is (Live)]
[American Girls (International)]

Playing Time : 57:01 m:s

Producer : FM & Dave King
Label : original release : Sony UK, re-release : BGO Records
Year : original : 1986, re-release : 1993

Given what happened last year (they split up) this feels more like a post mortem, rather than a review. It’s been a long time since I listened to any FM. FM seamed to be the perennial ‘UK hopefuls’. Going back to the start of their career, it’s interesting to see what promise they showed on this debut. Prior to being FM, some of the guys were in a band called Wildlife who put out an album with the help of a couple the musicians from Bad Company. I remember it being a promising album. The formation of FM showed them abandoning the blues rock of Wildlife for a more AOR formula.

This is actually the 3rd FM album that I’ve owned. Prior to the great HiFi and album theft of 1990, which virtually wiped out my record collection, I owned the ‘Tough It Out’ album. I quite liked TIO, so I must get round to replacing it someday. The other FM album I own is the more recent and disappointing ‘Takin’ It To The Streets’. From what I’ve read, the critics reckon it’s a toss up between TIO and Indiscreet as to which is their best album.

On first hearing this I was both impressed and confused. This is really an excellent album. So what happened ? I’m afraid history never was my strong point. Based upon this performance FM should have had a bright future ahead of them. This was released in 1986. I guess the guys missed the boat as far as the golden age of AOR is concerned in the early to mid eighties. Of course, AOR was always seen as an American artform. The fact that these guys were from the other side of the Atlantic must have gone against them.

Listening to this I can’t help thinking about bands like Survivor and Foreigner. This is from the days when Didge Digital was still in the band and in command of the keyboards. In fact’, that’s one of the things I like about the album – the keyboards. This is music to listen to whilst cruising down the highway. Perhaps this was the problem. Such an overtly American sound probably didn’t win them many fans at home. For example, the song ‘American Girls’ was obviously meant to break them in the American market. Maybe it was too obvious a tactic.

One criticism that could be levelled at this album is that much of it is a feels one paced, despite the fact there is actually a mixture of mid-tempo numbers and ballads. Most of the material does bop along at a steady pace, but when it’s as good as this I won’t complain. ‘Player of the match’ award must go the Steve Overland who’s vocals are the undoubted winner here.

Highlights include the opener That Girl, the heart melting Frozen Heart, I Belong To The Night and American Girls.

Rating : 8

The Corrs – Forgiven, Not Forgotten

The Corrs – Forgiven, Not Forgotten

Tracks :-

Erin Shore (instrumental)
Forgiven, Not Forgotten
Heaven Knows
Along With The Girls (instrumental)
Someday
Runaway
The Right Time
The Minstrel Boy (instrumental)
Toss The Feathers (instrumental)
Love To Love You
Secret Life
Carraroe Jog (instrumental)
Closer
Leave Me Alone
Erin Shore (instrumental)

Total Time : 48.43 m:s

Producer : David Foster
Label : 143 Records/Lava Records
Year : 1995

I deliberated a while before I finally decided that this album had a place on the Mood Swings pages. But as someone quite rightly pointed out I reviewed Metallica’s Load, which isn’t exactly melodic rock, so why not include a review of this one. I thought about it further and I realised that I had lost sight of the reason I called by web site Mood Swings in the first place. It was so that I could feature a variety of music.

When I was over visiting my sister last summer, she was raving about this band she had discovered called ‘The Corrs’. I didn’t get a chance to listen to the album at the time. I finally got to hear it when my mate John lent me the CD over Xmas.

When I first listened to it I was surprised to learn that I was already familiar with many of the tracks. Quite a few of them have been released as singles and received heavy airplay on the local radio station here in Belfast, Cool FM. In amongst the usual chart fodder, Cool like to play soft rock from the likes of Heart, Richard Marx, Tina Turner, Foreigner etc. So with The Corrs they get to play AOR with a traditional Irish twist.

In fact that last sentence just about sums up the album, maybe I should describe it as Celtic AOR. Of course, combining traditional music with rock and pop isn’t a new idea. Horslips pioneered the genre with their Celtic Rock. Acts like Clannad have been achieving success outside the bounds of the traditional folk market. Scottish acts such as Big Country and Runrig have been the most successful at penetrating the mainstream pop market.

The album is a mixture of songs and instrumentals. The instrumentals are spread throughout the album and act kind of like links between the songs. I have to say that I normally avoid traditional Irish music like the plague, but in this context the ‘electric reels’ work quite well.

However, it’s the tunes with vocals with hold my attention. Again their folk music upbringing shows through in the vocal tracks, with violins and tin whistles making appearances. It’s more a case of violin breaks than guitar breaks.

The title track sets the scene for the rest of the album. A mixture of pop, AOR and folk. Every time I hear ‘Heaven Knows’ Andrea Corr’s vocals remind me of the work of Maggie Reilly, who some of you might remember as the vocalist on Mike Oldfield’s Moonlight Shadow from a few years ago.

‘Someday’ kicks off with a slightly raunchier guitar sound. It’s the most riff driven song on the album. Runaway slows the pace down slightly . This is perhaps my favourite song on the album. It’s an excellent piece of pop, with a killer chorus.

‘The Right Time’ starts off with a display of vocal prowess. This time they have decided to blend in a bit of reggae. The song is driven along by a dominant bass line. Of course, the fiddle still makes an appearance. It’s a strange combination, but surprisingly it works. It’s funny because I can’t help thinking about Journeys recent attempt to diversify with a reggae song. The Corrs have managed to managed to give this a reggae backbeat but it’s still recognisable as a Corrs song.

‘Love To Love You’ is a straight pop song. This might not sound out of place on a Beautiful South album. The guitars are out for ‘Secret Life’ and ‘Leave Me Alone’, which aren’t a million miles away from the sort of stuff played by Roxette.

This isn’t going to appeal the majority of Mood Swing readers. I was surprised by how much I liked this one. If you enjoy a dose of pop every now and then this is worth checking out.

Rating : 7

Signal – Loud And Clear

Signal – Loud And Clear

This was my introduction to the voice of singer Mark Free. Whenever this was first released, it created quite a buzz and the words ‘ the next Foreigner’ were being mentioned in AOR circles. Obviously this didn’t happen & this was the only album they put out.

The Foreigner comparison is probably the best description that I can think of – provided we’re talking about the rockier moments and not the ballads that Foreigner are usually associated with by Joe Public.

I can’t really pick out one or two tracks because most of the tracks are excellent, with only a couple of weaker ones spoiling the show (for example ‘My Mistake’ definitely was). The album gets better as it goes along, and the second half contains the best material. The vinyl version of the album would definitely wear out on side two first. Mark Free is on excellent form. I’ve a couple of other albums featuring Mark Free in my collection, but this is the one I would recommend.

This album is widely regarded as one of the classic AOR albums. I’m not going to disagree with that. This is the sort of album that reminds you just how good AOR can sound. Almost an essential purchase for those of us who love bands like Journey, Survivor, and, of course, Foreigner.

Rating : 8

Jude Cole – Start The Car

Jude Cole – Start The Car

This was Jude Cole’s second LP. It features some impressive session & guest musicians – such as a couple of the guys from Toto & John Elefante. Therefore, the quality of the playing is excellent.

First up is the title track. It starts off all ZZ Top like and develops into a Southern Fried boogie type sound. It’s the rockiest moment on the album and, to a certain extent, feels rather out of place.

The rest of the album has a more laid back feel to it. I would describe the music as AOR with a country flavor (The male equivalent of Jamie Kyle ?). I don’t really have many other albums in my collection with which I can compare it directly. I guess, that if The Eagles and Richard Marx ever got together, then it might sound something like this.

The most country sounding track is the slightly Cajun ‘First Your Money (Then Your Clothes)’. ‘It Comes Around’ and ‘Just Another Night’ are two of the more uptempo numbers on offer. ‘Blame It On Fate’ has a funky bassline. My personal favorite is the hard luck ballad ‘A Place In The Line’.

If you’re looking for a change from the sugar sweet harmonies of the Storm or the intense progressions of Dream Theater, then check out this album.

Rating : 7

Harem Scarem – Mood Swings

Harem Scarem – Mood Swings

Harem Scarem have been around for quite a while now. Their first two albums were on my wanted list, but I never quite got around to buying them. The third album has just been released to a mixed reaction in the music press, following horror stories of ‘gone grunge’ circulating prior to the release. I figured that the band may have peaked and decided to check out the earlier albums instead of going for the new release.

If you’re reading this, then you’ll know that I’ve named my Web Site ‘Mood Swings’. This is the album that was permanently resident in my CD player whilst I was first setting up my web pages.

This album sees the band pursuing a heavier direction compared to the more commercial first album. This album reminds of the albums by Eye Witness and an Australian band called Empire. The sound is best described as guitar driven melodic hard rock.

The hard rockers are ‘Saviors Never Cry’, ‘No Juctice’, ‘Change Comes Around’, ‘Empty Promises’ and ‘Had Enough’. It’s got a couple more commercial, possibly even radio friendly, tracks like ‘Nothing Stranger Than Love’ and ‘Sentimental Boulevard’, which reminds me of Red Dawn. ‘Jealousy’ comes over all groovy, with a funk/jazz feel. It’s the sort of song I’d love to hear David Lee Roth do a cover version of. The instrumental ‘Mandy’ lets the guitarist show off. On ‘Just Like I Planned’ the instruments get a rest and the band get a chance to show just how good they are in the vocal department. It works well (Praise indeed, considering I’m no fan of Barber Shop Quartets).

I really like the production on this album. The music leaps out of the speakers, even at low volume. The vocals are upfront and don’t get lost in the mix. In this respect it reminds me of ‘Sahara’ by House Of Lords.

Rating : 9

Dream Theater – A Change Of Seasons

Dream Theater – A Change Of Seasons

Pressure from the fans, especially the Ytsejam ( the Dream Theater mailing list), lead to this being released to fill the gap between albums. A previous release by this band called ‘Images & Words’ is one my favorite albums. I also subscribe to the Ytsejam (I’m a lurker rather than an active participant). So now you know where I’m coming from on this one. This song was written for the ‘Images & Words’ album, but never made it onto that album. It had been played live and some ‘unofficial’ versions have been available.

This is the first album with the new keyboard player. The title song was updated from the version that was played live. The song clocks in at over 20 minutes and consists of a number of sections. Songs of this length have to be really special to hold your attention. For the most part ACOS succeeds. I find that I start to lose interest during the last couple of minutes. The lyrical content of the song is a thought provoking tale about a man and his son, dealing with the cyclic nature of life.

The rest of the album is taken up by cover versions recorded during a gig in Ronnie Scotts in London. This part of the CD is like a trip down memory lane, recalling some of my favorite performers. The song that I feel works best is the cover of ‘Perfect Strangers’, originally by Deep Purple. The Elton John covers are interesting, rather than entertaining. The Led Zeppelin covers fall into the same category. The medley at the end is quite good, but leaves you wanting longer performances of the individual songs (In the Flesh – Pink Floyd, Carry On Wayward Son – Kansas, Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen, Lovin,Touchin,Squeezin – Journey, Cruise Control – Dixie Dregs, Turn In On Again – Genesis).

Dream Theater aren’t going to win any new fans with this CD, but then again that wasn’t the intention. I always feel albums that are part studio and part live don’t quite work. I am, however, pleased to see a return to form by the band after the below par Awake album. If you want to check out Dream Theater for the first time then I recommend ‘Images & Words’.

Rating : 8

Tim Feehan – Full Contact

Tim Feehan – Full Contact

This yet another example of an artist releasing a new album and me buying previous work instead of the new material. Tim Feehan has been on my list of people worth investigation for quite a while, but up to now he had never made in onto my ‘must buy’ list. A feature in the latest AOR Classics magazine inspired me to finally check the guy out.

The first thing which hit me when listening to the album was how like Richard Marx, with possibly a bit of Rick Springfield thrown in, it sounds. It has the commercial rock feel to it which the aforementioned artists used to great effect in the 80s.

The album has that instant vibe to it. The first time you hear one the songs you’re already singing along to the chorus half way through the song. It’s the sort of music I would love to hear on the radio (Not much chance of that given the state of radio in NI). The songs all follow classic AOR formulas. I’m not sure that it will stand the test of time with me. I get the feeling that repeated listens will render me immune to it’s charms. I hope not.

The only criticism that I have is that the song ‘Stand’ is ruined by quirky vocals , which you might expect on a naff dance orientated track, popping up occasionally. It’s a real shame because the song is strong enough to stand (no pun intended) on it’s own without the gimmicks.

Nothing ground breaking on here, but you would be hard pushed to name a better album featuring this type of music.

Rating: 7

Frontline – Two Faced

Frontline – Two Faced

This was my introduction to Frontline. This the second album by the German band. Their debut album was released to critical acclaim.

This is a semi-acoustic album which features new songs plus a reworking of one of the songs from the debut album. The story is that this album is intended as a thank you to the fans and doesn’t represent a change in musical direction.

The album has quite an upbeat feel to it. I’ve been playing this in the car for quite a while. During a very rare spell of good weather (i.e. dry), this album has been the perfect album for traveling to and from work. I’m sure that if I lived in sunnier climes and had an open topped sport car, then this would have permanent residence in the CD autochanger or cassette deck.

The songs are hook-laden with great choruses. The singer is the real star of the album. Highlights are the infectious ‘Falling’, the simple but effective ‘It’s Not Over’, ‘Endless’ and ‘Trouble’ which ends the album in style.

This album would certainly encourage me to check out the electrified first album. The only reason that this doesn’t get a higher rating is that it is slightly one paced and is therefore best listened to a few songs at a time.

Rating : 7

Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow – Stranger In Us All

Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow – Stranger In Us All

Rainbow have been one of those bands that I’ve always been interested in. In fact, ‘Gates Of Babylon’ from the ‘Long Live Rock And Roll’ album would probably make into a list of my top 10 favorite songs. After his most recent departure from the Purple camp, Ritchie has resurrected the Rainbow name. The rest of the band are a group of musicians I’m not familiar with.

I haven’t played this album very much. Maybe it’s because I know that Ritchie is capable of doing so much better. Most of the tracks are competent enough songs of the type you expect from latter day Rainbow. If it wasn’t for the presence of the Man In Black himself this could be a Rainbow covers band trying to write Rainbow songs by numbers.

A couple of tracks do deserve a special mention. ‘Hunting Humans’ is the best song on the album. I would love to hear Cozy Powell playing drums on this one. At the other end of the scale is ‘Hall Of The Mountain King’, which is based upon the classical piece of music of the same name. This may have seemed like a good idea, but the result is almost laughable.

I really hate having to be so cruel to one of my heroes, but I expect this album to be relegated to the bargain bins very shortly. To make matters even worse for Ritchie, his former colleagues in Deep Purple have just released the best Purple album in a very long time, with Steve Morse on guitar.

Rating : 4