Ever since I was a kid I have loved to seek out for new music and it’s something I apparently haven’t grown out of, like many of rockers in my age unfortunately have. I love finding new bands and I also love when old, sometimes reunited bands, release new stuff and just don’t do the occasional nostalgia tours. A lot of of the old 80’s bands that reunited around the 2000’s are not only still going and releasing records, many of them are actually better than they were back then – or equally as good. I think of bands like Stryper, Europe, Winger, Electric Boys, Thunder, FM and more. Another one of those bands is Californian melodic hard-rockers Night Ranger, a band that made it big for a while in the U.S but never that big in Europe and Scandinavia.
Since I have always loved the more melodic side of Hard Rock, Night Ranger was right up my alley and the fact they were a bunch of really good musicians certainly didn’t make matters any worse. After declining sales, the band gave it up in the late 80’s. The band reunited in 1997 and released three fine records but the timing was wrong – Grunge had been put to sleep by Nu-metal by then but Night Ranger’s brand of Hard Rock was just as passé then as it was in 1994. When the band – Jack Blades (bass, vocals), Brad Gillis and Joel Hoeckstra (guitars), Kelly Keagy (drums, vocals) and Eric Levy (keyboards) – gave it another shot in 2011, things went much better and they have kept delivering the goods with great albums, Somewhere In California (2011), High Road (2014) and Don’t Let Up (2017), with guitarist Kerri Kelli replacing Hoeckstra) – and yes, I really think Night Ranger is easily as good – or not better – than in their heyday.
Opener ”Coming For You” is classic Night Ranger all the way through. Big melodies and pop-hooks travels with some staccato guitar riffing and some steady, punchy rhythms and a chunky groove. The band has thrown an eye back to the earlier days here but with a modern-day Night Ranger vibe to go with it. The chorus is a total blast where every little twitch sticks – catchy as hell. I guess they’ll open with this one when the tour starts. Great. Latest single ”Bring It All Home” could have been huge if released back in the day with its strong main-melody, distinct hooks and the striking refrain. Midway, the tune dips in tempo some and brings on a bluesier feel to contrast to the AOR of the song – and it works. The chorus sticks right from go and is classic Night Ranger. It’ll probably work well live as well. Very good.
Leading single ”Breakout” is a more gutsy and rowdy stomper, straight-forward in uptempo and quite in-your-face with some very recognizable Night Ranger melodies through and through. The poppier melody-lines is blended with a real Hard Rock swagger and some gritty guitars. The dual guitars between Kelli and Gillis gives the song a different edge too and the chorus is really bang-on-target and concise. Great. ”Hard To Make It Easy” is a swinging Rock ’n’ Roll groover with a bluesy boogie-swagger that holds poppier, AOR-ish melody-hooks, some Thin Lizzy influenced twin-leads and a honk-piano. It might not sound like classic Night Ranger but it’s an uplifting, positive, party-friendly rocker with a catchy-as-hell refrain and I think it’s just brilliant.
The album’s big ballad ”Can’t Afford A Hero” comes across more like a Damn Yankees song than a Night Ranger one, truth be told but it’s not like those two bands are worlds apart anyway. It’s slow and holds a melancholic, saddening touch, it’s smooth yet not cheesy and the acoustic guitars and keyboards works together in a great symbiosis. It’s not really a power ballad even though it stands on that threshold where the melodies takes a more bombastic approach in the chorus which sticks like glue. Very good. Upbeat yet slightly held-back at times, ”Cold As December” do come with a really chunky rhythm and some fat guitar-riffage – and speaking of guitars, both sound and structure are classic Night Ranger all the way. Armed with big harmonies and catchiness, the chorus grabs me right from go – and that too is classic Night Ranger. Killer track.
”Dance” kicks off with a drum-beat borrowed from Queen’s ”We Will Rock You” and continues with a guitar-riff reminiscent of Treat’s old slammer ”Too Wild”, only coincidental most likely. It’s a stompy number with a massive groove and a party-vibe that will be contagious live. Add a mastodon 80’s infectious and highly catchy chorus, impossible to not surrender to and we have both a hit and a future live-killer on our hands here. Make this a single now! Awesome. An upbeat ballad, ”The Hardest Road” has verses that takes a more mellow and laid-back road with a darker touch while the chorus is efficient and holds a direct hook. Style-wise, this goes into a Classic Rock meets melodic Rock vibe, like Night Ranger mingling with Rolling Stones kind of. I like this a lot.
Tough and hard-rocking with gritty guitars and kicking drums, ”Monkey” is a rowdier take on Night Ranger. It’s upbeat and direct with nod to 70’s Hard Rock albeit with Night Ranger’s personal sound within the vocal-melodies. It’s heavy with a mean streak and the unison shouted refrain makes the song stick. Good one. ”A Lucky Man” is quite a happy-go-lucky pop-rocker with a riff on loan from ”New York Groove” (Ace Frehley/Russ Ballard) and a verse-vocal-melody borrowed slightly from Poison’s ”Good Love”. It’s a hooky, positive summer song with infectious hooks everywhere and a chorus that hits right where it should. Very good.
Closing track ”Tomorrow” is pretty much an upbeat pop-song, very big on acoustic guitars but even though it holds a smooth outlook the song brings on an uplifting and swinging groove as well. We’re also treated with some Thin Lizzy meets classic Night Ranger twin-leads. Night Ranger was always very good at doing plain pop-songs and this is no exception, it really goes back to the band’s 80’s style and sound wise. The chorus is endlessly catchy too and even though I like my rock-albums to end with a real smoker, this works brilliantly – very good.
ATBPO is short for And The Band Played On and they sure as hell does. Since the new-start in 2011 the quality of their records has been really high but this record is their best since Somewhere In California, equally as good if not even better – and it sure makes the process short with their 90’s records. Not only is the quality here stunningly high – the worst song is still good – it’s also a very varied effort where they throw in everything from pure Pop to heavier and more gritty Hard Rock stuff. Sure, there are songs that might not sound exactly like the Night ranger we know and love and those might not be for everyone but as far as I’m concerned, a good song is a good song which is enough to make this guy happy. Boy, do I look forward to seeing them at Sweden Rock next year – the last time they played there they were magnificent and so is this record.