Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Review: Keel, Wig Wam, Jaded Heart

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 many cases was 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 earned them fans in the first place. By the end of the '90s, big hair rock was clearly dead and it seemed to take AOR with it.

So here we are ten years on and we're seeing new labels like Frontiers Records, based in Italy, 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'.

I've reviewed a number of Frontiers artists before, including W.E.T., The Murder of My Sweet, Blackwood Creek, Jimi Jamison. Today we're going to cover new ones from Keel, Jaded Heart, and Wig Wam.

KEEL "Streets Of Rock & Roll"

Ron Keel and his entourage is back with a record that sounds like the proper sequel to their breakthrough 1985 release, "The Right To Rock". 25 years later, Keel still delivers the goods with powerhouse twin guitars (from Marc Ferrari and Bryan Jay) and thundering bass and drums (from 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 12 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". 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 reminding me a bit of White Lion's "Wait", and has become my personal favorite - this one would have been all over the radio back in the day. In short, I am finding "Streets of Rock and Roll" to be one of the best releases Keel has ever done.

Don't miss this one if you are a fan of Motley Crue, Kiss, or W.A.S.P.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 4, 5, 8, 10, 11

Incidentally, Frontiers Records commemorated the 25th anniversary of Keel's “The Right To Rock" with a "25th Anniversary Edition" - don't miss that too!

Keel on MySpace. Official site.

JADED HEART "Perfect Insanity"

The German band Jaded Heart gravitates more towards the true heavy metal end of the spectrum, but they compromise on the 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 to many of you that I just couldn't get into this one as much. "Perfect Insanity" works well when you need to get your blood pumping, though. These guys have been going strong since 1990 and they have clearly mastered their craft. I would recommend this one for fans of heavier and less melodic bands like Queensrÿche, Dokken, or Heaven and Hell. Fans of classic metal such as Judas Priest will also appreciate Jaded Heart.

Jaded Heart on MySpace. Official site.

WIG WAM "Non Stop Rock & Roll"

I honestly didn't know what to expect from this band - from Norway, they kind of look like a nightmarish cross between Marilyn Manson, Brad Paisley, and Enuff Z'Nuff:

As if that weren't 'enuff', they call themselves Glam (vocals), Teeny (guitars), Flash (bass), and Sporty (drums)! But looks and goofy nicknames aside, these guys sound as glam as glam can get, 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 bubblegum candy store. In the context of this genre, Wig Wam does a superb job. Glam (the singer) sounds a bit like Vince Neil and CJ Snare (Firehouse). 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 1 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. "C'mon Everybody" features a riff reminiscent of Motley Crue's hit "Dr. Feelgood", and the groove won't let you go. "From Here" is the power ballad of choice on this CD. "All You Wanted" and "Rocket Through My Heart" are a couple more highlights from this very impressive set of sugar sweet hard rock tunes.

I would argue that if anyone could initiate a resurgence of '80s pop metal, Wig Wam is up to the task. Wig Wam will appeal to fans of Poison, Warrant, and Ratt. Unbelievably catchy, upbeat, and ready to party, Wig Wam is a winner for good ol' glam and roll.

iPOD-worthy: 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, 10

Wig Wam on MySpace. Official site.

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