Monday, January 30, 2017

Andrew Ridgeley “Son Of Albert” (1990)

Sadly, December 25th of 2016 truly was the “Last Christmas” for George Michael. One of many pop icons who passed away that year, Michael was found dead in his Oxfordshire home on Christmas Day at the age of 53. As of this writing, the cause of his death has still not been officially determined. Michael was one of Britain’s biggest music stars, achieving tremendous success as a solo performer and as one-half of Wham!, an '80's pop duo he formed with his former schoolmate Andrew Ridgeley.

And what ever happened to Andrew Ridgeley? After the breakup of Wham! in 1986, Ridgeley recorded only one solo album, titled Son Of Albert, in 1990. The album was a flop, and Ridgeley left the music business shortly after. There were rumors about a possible Wham! reunion during the years just before Michael's passing, but it never happened.

The Son Of Albert album suggests that Ridgeley would rather have been part of Def Leppard or Poison. Its sound is very un-Wham!-like, having more in common with the type of ‘80’s pop-metal that was still popular that year. By turns, Ridgeley’s vocals resembled those of Joe Elliot and Bret Michaels, and the album’s guitar sound was big and loud. Despite the huge successes that Ridgeley's former partner-in-pop had achieved at the time, there was no clear-cut audience to market this album to: its hard-rock sound was not likely to appeal to fans of Wham! or of George Michael, and fans of this type of hard rock probably had no interest due to Ridgeley’s past association.

If Ridgeley had hoped to live down his pretty-boy pop star image and convince the world that he was actually a macho hard-rocker at heart, then he had his work cut out for him, and on Son Of Albert, he didn’t cut it by a long shot. For a guy who wrote and sang head-bangin’ songs about sexy women and fast cars, Ridgeley sounds rather wimpy here, struggling with a weak singing voice that is usually drowned out by loud instrumentation and slick production. The opening track “Red Dress” features George Michael as a guest vocalist, but his presence adds nothing to a song that sounds mainly like a Def Leppard reject. And that sets the formula for most of the album’s other tracks. On “Flame”, Ridgeley attempts a sexy glam-rock vocal, and it might have worked if he wasn’t smothered in so much noisy instrumentation. “Kiss Me” is the worst of the bunch, resembling something lifted out of Poison’s dumpster. Ridgeley fares a bit better with “Mexico”, a Van Halen-like cruncher with an unexpected Latin-dance coda, and a confident Def Lep-flavored cover of the Everly Brothers’ “The Price Of Love”. The not-too-poppy ballad “Baby Jane” is a nice change of pace, but it wants better singing.

Is there anything at all here that might appeal to fans of Wham!? It’s not likely. The cover of Chic’s “Hangin’” is about as dance-poppy as the album gets, but even that track has a sludgy hard-rock sound that renders it unappealing. “Big Machine” is a slightly better pop-song-with-a-metal-edge. The six-minute “Hardcore” version of “Shake” is a dull and repetitive club mix of the album’s ineffectual second track, the sort of thing you’d expect to find on the B-side of a 12-inch single.

Son Of Albert is interesting as an example of a solo album by a recording artist who tried something boldly different from what made him famous, but as a musical work, it’s expendable.

Andrew Ridgeley - Son of Albert

Andrew Ridgeley “Son Of Albert” (Columbia CK 46188) 1990

Track Listing:

1. Red Dress
2. Shake
3. The Price Of Love
4. Flame
5. Hangin’
6. Mexico
7. Big Machine
8. Kiss Me
9. Baby Jane
10. Shake (Hardcore)

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Orion The Hunter (1984)

Orion The Hunter was a short-lived band led by Barry Goudreau, who was an original guitarist for Boston. Their only album was the self-titled Orion The Hunter, released in 1984. Boston lead singer Brad Delp sings background vocals on three of the tracks (“All Those Years”, “Stand Up”, and “Joanne”), and had a hand in co-writing five, but you would think his role was bigger than that. Orion’s lead singer was Fran Cosmo, who sounded similar to Delp, but with a higher vocal range. Cosmo had previously sung on Goudreau’s self-titled 1980 solo album, and later joined Boston’s lineup, performing on the albums Walk On (1994) and Corporate America (2002). The quartet was rounded out by bassist Bruce Smith and former Heart drummer Michael De Rosier.

Orion The Hunter was cut from the same cloth as the aforementioned solo album by Goudreau, which sounded so Boston-like that it was hard to believe Tom Scholz was not involved with it. Orion The Hunter is just a shade less Boston-like than that album, with a tad less technical sophistication than the better-known band but with no less musical skill on display, offering melodic arena-rock that is nearly equal to that of the first two Boston albums. Goudreau produced the album, and co-wrote eight of the nine songs with Cosmo. “So You Ran” has the most immediate pop appeal, and was a minor radio hit, but “All Those Years”, “Dreamin’”, and the power pop number “Too Much In Love” are almost as good. “Stand Up” has a Jefferson Starship feel, with phasing and sound effects; “Fast Talk” uses some effects as well, but has plenty of hard rock energy. “Dark And Stormy” resembles too much of its decade’s pop-metal, but “Joanne” is a better ballad, co-written and co-sung by Cosmo and Delp. The excited “I Call It Love” gives the album a strong finish.

Any fan of Boston who has not acquired Orion The Hunter is advised to search it out. If you’ve ever wished that an additional Boston album had been recorded during the stretch between Don’t Look Back (1978) and Third Stage (1986), then Orion The Hunter is the second-closest thing you’ll find besides Goudreau’s solo album.

Orion the Hunter - Orion the Hunter

Orion The Hunter “Orion The Hunter” (Portrait BFR 39239) 1984

Track Listing:

1. All Those Years – (Goudreau/Migliacco/Delp)
2. So You Ran – (Goudreau/Migliacco)
3. Dreamin’ – (Goudreau/Migliacco)
4. Dark And Stormy – (Goudreau/Migliacco)
5. Stand Up – (Goudreau/Migliacco)
6. Fast Talk – (Goudreau/Migliacco/Delp/Percy)
7. Too Much In Love – (Goudreau/Migliacco/Delp)
8. Joanne – (Migliacco/Delp/Smith)
9. I Call It Love – (Goudreau/Migliacco/Delp)

See also RTZ (Return To Zero) .

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Distractions “And Then There’s…” EP (1981)

Great news for the lucky few of us who know of the existence of the Distractions, the Manchester band who recorded only one album in 1980, titled Nobody’s Perfect, before disbanding and being unjustly forgotten. Those of us in the know are aware that the Distractions – led by original singer Mike Finney and original guitarist Steve Perrin – eventually reunited and released a second album titled The End Of The Pier in 2012 – a whole 32 years after their long-lost treasure of a debut album. Now, a third and reportedly final Distractions album – titled Kindly Leave The Stage – has been completed, and is scheduled for release this spring. Also, a much-delayed box set titled Parabolically Yours – which hopefully will contain the tracks from the Nobody’s Perfect album – is now scheduled to be released this summer by the U.K. Hidden Masters label.

After the Nobody’s Perfect album proved to be a commercial failure in 1980, the Distractions were dropped from Island Records, reportedly in favor of a promising young Irish quartet called U2. Original guitarist Steve Perrin left the band, and was replaced by ex-Ludus guitarist Arthur Kadmon. The Distractions were on their last legs, but they did record one more EP titled And Then There’s… This 3-song, 7-inch EP was distributed independently by Rough Trade in 1981.

On this EP, hints of ska and reggae were added to the Distractions' brand of ‘60’s-influenced pop. The guitar and drums exude island-style rhythms, as do the horns on the Kadmon-penned “Ghost Of A Chance”. Although the songs are still not exactly uplifting, they have a less melancholy tone than the songs on the album, with slightly quicker tempos and less sadness suggested in Mike Finney’s vocals. In fact, it’s hard to tell for sure if “Love Is Not For Me” is meant to be sad or funny, as it takes the point of view of a man afraid to enter into a relationship for fear of experiencing real emotions. “Ghost Of A Chance” describes a fear of rejection without sounding quite as hopeless as its lyrics. And the A-side track, “Twenty Four Hours”, actually sounds quite hopeful, if not necessarily confident, that romance may be in store for its main character. How would a full-length album by this Distractions lineup have turned out? Alas, we shall never know.

The Distractions - And Then There's

Distractions “And Then There’s…” EP (Rough Trade THAT1) 1981

Track Listing:

A. Twenty Four Hours
B1. Ghost Of A Chance
B2. Love Is Not For Me