Axel Rudi Pell. Gioeli – Castronovo. A solo album. And now a new record with his own version of Hardline. That’s a lot of records in just a couple of years. Add to that, Johnny Gioeli’s voice will be heard on a few tracks on an album with a project called Restless Spirit, owned by guitarist Tony Hernando, in May. Mr Gioeli have to watch out so that his (potential) listeners doesn’t feel like we’re on a Gioeli overkill here. Because, if you’re in people’s faces too often, you’re running the risk of tiring people – or being just a shrug of the shoulder. ”Oh, is it that Gioeli guy again, didn’t he release an album recently?”. On the good side, Johnny’s projects are often musically different. Well, not like 180 degrees different, but different enough. Axel Rudi Pell is 70’s Hard Rock based with Rainbow and Black Sabbath as the biggest influence while the Giolei-Castronovo project was full-on AOR, Gioeli’s solo album was a more laid-back pop-rock album with a modern twist and Hardline is more Hard Rock based with AOR and Melodic Rock tendencies.
As long as the quality of the music isn’t affected negatively of the fast pace the albums are released, I personally don’t see any problems in releasing lots of music ever so often. When it comes to Hardline, it has been a bit up and down, but their last few releases has been really good albeit none of them even close to the Double Eclipse (1992) masterpiece. Opener and latest single ”Place To Call Home” tattles of more high quality music from Hardline. It’s a pretty heavy and tough Hard Rock tune that even though it has a core of Melodic Rock melodies is also driven by a darker edge and a punchy beat. The refrain is catchy without going for a Pop vibe. Great stuff. Leading single ”Take A Chance” sends a nod back to the fabulous debut, beefy and tough Melodic Hard Rock with hooks everywhere, a kicking and driving rhythm and a chorus brilliantly catchy – way to go!
Rough around the edges, tough and in-your-face, ”Helio’s Sun” comes along bringing a beefy and juicy rhythm – this is melodic Hard Rock with a kick. A very sticky ”whoa whoa” refrain is the icing on the cake – good one. Second single ”Page Of Your Life” is a slow ballad but more a powerful ballad than an actual power ballad. It lies on the heavier side with a melancholic darkness over it, based on piano but also guitar-driven on a tougher ground. It’s still very memorable and catchy and deserves to be a hit. Brilliant. ”Out Of Time” is a heavier number, ballsy, robust and powerful but also very melodic with a Melodic Rock fueled chorus. Another striking track. ”Hold On To Right” sports a fat rhythm and a big Hard Rock groove. It holds a slightly tuned down, meaty guitar riff but also a swell chorus. The softer, vocal-only mid-section works wonders for the dynamics here. Damn good.
Some classic Hard Rock riffs and a big early 90’s Arena Rock structure, ”Handful Of Sand” tags along. It’s a straight-forward rocker that holds a pretty heavy rhythm section with a big Melodic Rock main-melody. That said, it’s an ok track while listening but it fades from my memory pretty much when the track is done playing. It’s power ballad time when ”This Love” shows up. It’s a bombastic piece and not as cheesy as one would expect – thus no risk of catching diabetes. It’s a slow burner on a smooth yet fat rhythm and a refrain to die for. If today was 1991, this song would have ruled MTV. Great! Hardline takes a whole other turn with the Classic Rock stomper ”Story Of My Life”. It’s a raunchy and chunky rocker complete with a Jon Lord influenced organ solo and a Deep Purple twist all over the track that has me thinking of the Glenn Hughes/Joe Lynn Turner Project. Hardline should do more of this – Gioeli’s voice fits this music like a glove.
”Who Wants To Live Forever” is a Queen cover – a brave move. And then some. It’s not a bad cover but the truth is, this song really should have been left alone. Sure, Gioeli sings it very well with both soul and emotion but it’s heavied up with a rougher twist, something the song do not benefit from. I’m sorry guys but some songs aren’t written to be covered and this is one of those. The 70’s Classic Rock is back for another taste with the Deep Purple/Led Zeppelin infected riffy groover ”Chameleon”. It’s heavy and crunchy with a gritty and edgy guitar sound a ripping rhythm section. With a direct and intense refrain, the tune is without a doubt a winner on this record. Closing track ”My Friend” is, of course, a ballad. Soft and taciturn the tune is far from being a syrupy pop-ballad. This one is stripped and earthy with an almost folky touch and a gorgeous arrangement – and Johnny sings it beautifully. Very good.
As I wrote, Hardline convinces more and more by each album and this one is their best since the debut, without a doubt. The nods towards the debut album shows up more and more and deliberately or not, it’s how I think Hardline should sound. I also like that the band is letting loose more now – fatter and crunchier guitars, heavier drums and a punchier bass sound – and goes more and more into Hard Rock and Classic Rock and less AOR. That said, it’s still Melodic Rock were talking about here, it’s just edgier and with more grit and a more guitar-driven sound. I must admit that Hardline has fallen on the way-side for me, at least a bit. Except for Double Eclipse, I never get the urge to listen to any of their albums despite the fact that I do like them when I do. But not this one. This one will linger for me for a long time and if they can even better the quality for the next record, Hardline just might be on to something grand.