Back in 2016, former Europe guitarist Kee Marcello (also in Easy Action) was brought together with Fair Warning singer Tommy Heart for a project powered by the record label Frontiers – Kee Of Hearts. The couple had nothing to do with the song writing on the album, a self-titled album but the guitar playing by Kee and Tommy’s voice gave it at least some personality. I dug that album even though the songs sounded a lot like how Frontiers’ projects usually sound. However, Marcello and Heart found each other there and they decided that they needed to keep working together albeit with material they had written and produced themselves. But since Frontiers had enlisted the name Kee Of Hearts to the label, the duo decided it was for the best to take their band elsewhere and they are now doing a Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign for the album.
On this trip Kee and Tommy brought with them former Alien bassist Ken Sandin, who was also involved in the Kee Of Hearts project and Marcello’s solo band and drummer Darby Todd, also in Marcello’s solo band. The band’s name brings clear references to the the so popular 1988 Europe album and to take it to the full, said album’s producer Ron Nevison was also brought in for mixing purposes here. By doing so, Marcello has put his band in a seat where big expectations will follow this record both quality-wise and musically – most buyers will expect this record to follow in the footsteps of said album. Personally, I’m not worried about the song-quality at all – Marcello’s solo albums has all been solid – and then some – releases and whether this album goes into Out Of This World territory or not matters little as long as I get some killer tunes. That said, I’m intrigued to the max to give this album a spin.
”Twilight”, the album’s opener, throws a riff reminiscent of the song ”Stranded”, a song Swedish singer Tone Norum released back in 1985, and the chorus-melody throws a nod there as well but the resemblance ends there. What we’re given here is a grandiose yet slick AOR-ish rocker, upbeat and driven with a clear nod towards the late 80’s. It’s a quite pompous number with none other than Don Airey (Deep Purple, Ozzy, Rainbow) guesting on keyboards with striking melodies all over and a massive chorus that goes for a KO right away. The tune ends with a long instrumental Melodic Rock jam, taking the song into a 7-minute plus stomper, a brave yet very cool move when it comes to a song with lots of hit-potential. Brilliant.
Released as a teaser, the upbeat ”Hanging On” follows with a huge 80’s atmosphere – especially in the keyboard sound – and brings on some big AOR touches right in the vein of Easy Action and at times even Heart. Every melody is spot-on, the hooks are everywhere and there’s a massive vocal-arrangement with tremendous backing vocals which lifts the song even further. The refrain is enormous as well, deliciously catchy and to my ears, this screams HIT by the mile. Fantastic. Airey’s massive keyboards returns in the mid-paced ”In A Million Years”, a song that borders to a power ballad but still is not, much to the powerful rhythm-section and Marcello’s chunky guitar. It’s a full-blown AOR number, think a love-affair between Easy Action and Journey. It’s a melodic monster where the verses are catchier than most choruses and the chorus is just to die for. Phenomenal!
”Lighting Up My Dark” is an upbeat pop-rocker where Marcello’s guitar and Airey’s keyboard goes together in the best of harmonies carried by the solid rhythms of Sandin and Darby. It’s a positive and uplifting tune with an addictive main-melody and an all-around catchiness – I’m getting an ”a cold one in the sun” summer vibe from it. Again, the glistening refrain is so hooky it damn hurts and I’m thinking hit-single once again – fantastic! Opening with a quick intro of a striking synth and bouncy drums, ”Staring At The Sun” goes for a more down-beat outlook in the verse only for it to go off into a huge, stompy AOR/Rock belter so full of hooks they could make millions selling them to fishermen. The Europe Out Of This World connection is present but not in a cloning kind of way and the big late 80’s feel of the song is all over the track without sounding the least dated or old. It’s a smooth AOR-rocker with an enormous hit-potential – how terrific!
The sprit of Van Halen rests over ”The Warrior” with a ”Hot For Teacher” meets David Lee Roth’s ”Shyboy” (which really is a Talas song) vibe. It’s a raunchier track with a bluesy twist and the dirty guitar sound makes me think of some of the stuff Europe wrote for the Prisoners In Paradise sessions but never made it to the album. It’s a gritty and boogie-groovy hard-rocker that actually is a bit of a curve-ball on this album albeit a very welcome one. The refrain is spot-on and in-your-face – another killer. ”Up To You” is a slow-burner with more laid-back verses and holds a sparse ballad-vibe but the chorus brings the tune up a notch towards rockier territories. The guitar takes a raunchy turn which contrasts wonderfully to the song’s slicker outlook. Said chorus – a fine mix of Easy Action’s That Makes One and Out Of This World – is so amazingly catchy I laughed out loud. It’s massive and so catchy it hurts. It’s a total hit and I love the hell out of it!
”Only You Can Teach Me How To Love Again” – with Airey onboard on the keys – is a rock ballad, quite smooth and slick but never cheesy or saccharine. The verse is sparse and sombre with a held-back arrangement and it brings on an almost cosy vibe but changes structure a bit when the chorus arrives bringing along a larger soundscape and a bombastic outlook much because of the mastodon backing vocals which holds gospel-influences, very grandiose, intense and extremely memorable. This is a powerful, quite muscular power ballad with both spark and vigour. Splendid stuff indeed.
A very mid 80’s blipping synth kicks off ”Ain’t Gonna Let You Go” but the song goes off into an upbeat pop-rock groover directly, full of synth-keys and crunchy guitars combined perfectly. It’s a Melodic Rock meets AOR stomper with a verse that’s effectively catchy which takes us right into another astonishing refrain so uplifting and happy-go-lucky it’s mesmerizing. The big backing vocals with an infectious hook helps making sure the catchiness is distinct. Fan-bloody-tastic. The album closes with a beefy power ballad called ”Not Tonight”. Big riffs, a chunky rhythm and a grand soundscape combined with the addictive melodies makes the tune impossible to resist. The slightly dark and more sparse verses contrasts brilliantly against the enormous chorus which contains some pompous, bombastic and grandiose backing vocals and the chorus-hook is nothing short of contagious. Phenomenal.
Wow! Just Wow! I was pretty sure that this album would be a damn good one, but this good? I can’t find one weak moment here – every song feels like a damn hit. Soundwise there’s a whole lot of late 80’s here but in no way does this album sound old or dated. It’s the 80’s if the 80’s was 2021, if you get my drift. The references to the old Europe album is pretty clear but we’re not talking about a clone by any means, this band stands on its own two feet and has its own identity. As a player, Marcello is on fire on every song, the rhythm section is superb and I don’t think I have ever heard Tommy Heart sing this good. This is without any question one of the best albums Kee has ever released – if not the best. If you’re a fan of Easy Action or the Marcello-era Europe – or Melodic Rock and AOR in general, then this album is a must-have. My only question is, how on earth are they gonna top this the next time around?