So it’s time for Hardline’s seventh album. Hardline will always be mostly known for their now more or less iconic AOR/Melodic Rock effort Double Eclipse from 1992, back when they were an actual band. They still are a band today but to be honest, Hardline feels more like singer Johnny Gioeli’s solo project – or his and keyboardist/producer Alessandro Del Vecchio’s playground. That being said, after a weak continuation with albums like II (2002) and Leaving The End Open (2009), Hardline has been releasing a couple of high quality records since then and unlike many of the Frontiers based projects/bands, Hardline is actually a touring outfit. If the band will ever come up with an album as strong as the debut remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t bet any large sums of money on it.
The album’s leading single ”Fuel To The Fire” is also the opener here – and it’s perfect as such. It’s a rougher edged blending of classic Hard Rock and 80’s Melodic Rock. A thunderous rhythm, some crunchy and powerful riffs on an upbeat note, the song also throws out a hooky main-melody, slick enough to stick but not slick enough to go syrup on us. It’s a kick-ass, solid number with a direct chorus that together with the Neal Schon inspired riffage takes us back to the band’s debut style-wise – a damn stronger opener. The second single ”Surrender” follows. It comes in a mid-pace, slightly slicker than its predecessor with more keyboards but it’s still quite heavy – all in the name of Melodic Rock, of course. The heavier verses promises a lot but even though the chorus isn’t bad at all, it keeps me waiting for the punchline. What could – and maybe should – have been great is only good at the end of the day.
”If I Could I Would”, also released as a taster, is way more smooth and slick with a big AOR twist and a whole bunch of pop-hooks inserted. The verses takes a more down-beat position, close to balladry even while the pre-chorus paves way for a more upbeat chorus, a chorus full of 80’s AOR-isms with an effective catchiness and hooks all over the place. If this song said Bon Jovi instead of Hardline, it’d have been all over the place. Great stuff. Continuing with the pop influences, ”Like That” might be smooth but it also brings along a juicy groove that will make it work very well live. The tune is an Arena Rock pearl written for all of us 80’s lovers out there – with the catchiness to go with it. I surrendered to this immediately.
With a couple of mid-paced tunes with one foot on the ballad threshold, the real ballad comes in the shape of ”Heavenly”, a slow and mellow number with a late 80’s power ballad vibe, kind of sweet but not buttery. It’s one of those ballads that showed up out of nowhere on MTV back when and had everyone humming along. Strong melodies, a big soundscape and a bit of a tearjerker with a refrain impossible to get rid of. Good one. ”Waiting For Your Fall” is an uptempo and upbeat Melodic Rock number with an earthy live-groove. It holds some gutsy and crunchy guitars and a solid beat but also slicker vocal-melodies and a catchy Arena Rock chorus with a distinct pop-hook. A really good song albeit a bit too middle-of-the road at times.
Bringing on a raunchier edge, ”The Curse” is stompy, rhythmic and fat – think ”Dr Love” as a sister-song. The tune sure takes on a sleazier swagger and a dirty rhythm and again, the feel of the debut comes in. The more organic, earthy and live-friendly structure blends brilliantly with in-your-face catchiness of the main melody and melodically contagious refrain. Very good. ”Heartless” continues the pumping rhythms and the tough beats. With a heavy verse which gives us some gritty guitars, the song goes for a big chorus hook that says the band just might have a hit on their hands here.
”Searching For Grace” is an upbeat yet laid back borderline ballad, both pop-laden and soulful, contained in a big soundscape. The big AOR-ish melodies is met by a steady beat, quite straight ahead with another catchy vocal-melody on top. The bluesy guitar lick in the beginning makes for a dynamic vibe as well. Good one. Going back to the debut Hardline album once gain, the poppy and very melodic yet beefy and edgy ”80’s Moment” really is that – an 80’s moment, albeit a very late 80’s one. It’s quite a crunchy number yet still glossy which brings a band like Danger Danger – or maybe more The Defiants – to mind. It’s catchy, straight-forward, hooky and the chorus is tremendously crowd-friendly. Yeah, I dig this one for sure.
The album closes in a sparse and frugal way with the slower, acoustic guitar driven ballad ”We Belong”. The background piano takes the song to another level as it gives the song more bottom. The song holds some darker arrangements and its smooth vocal-melodies are melancholic and mellow. It’s a mellow, beautiful and emotional track with Gioeli’s brittle vocals as the icing on the cake. It’s a real good song and Gioeli really delivers vocally but the way I see it, a song like this shouldn’t close an album like this. This one belongs in the middle with a faster, more powerful rocker as the album’s bye-bye.
As a whole, this is another Hardline album, the way we’ve known them in later years – no more, no less. It’s really good and competent with no really bad songs but a few stand-outs too few. Style-wise, this album looks back to Double Eclipse more than ever which is a good thing, the way I see it. The biggest issue is that it still feels more like Johnny Gioeli’s solo project than an actual band as the the band is actually built around him by the label. Those things put aside, Hardline has come up with a really good album that might not that might lack the band dynamics but is still very enjoyable. But man, wouldn’t it be way cooler if Gioeli went back to his brother Joey – with who he formed Brunette that later became Hardline – and created a Hardline with him from scratch?