The first time I heard the voice of Robin McAuley was way back in the early 80’s when our premier radio rock-show Rockbox played the song ”Shout” by his then band Grand Prix – and I was immediately floored. The album in question, Samurai (1983), was bought directly after and in my book, that record is an AOR-gem. A classic. And it’s still brilliant. But Grand Prix never happened and they called it a day shortly after. Robin went on to release one album with Far Corporation in 1985 and after that, we didn’t hear much from McAuley for a couple of years until a certain German guitarist called and asked for his favors.
The McAuley-Schenker Group era was popular although their three albums didn’t exactly sell millions but today many Schenker fans – and Hard Rock fans in general – holds that era as their favorite and so do I. Unfortunately it ended when grunge took over back in 1992 and since then, McAuley has released one solo-album, Business As Usual (1999), a reunion album with Far Corporation in 1994, he joined Survivor who released Reach in 1996 and he took part in both albums by Michael Schenker Fest and joined that project for touring. The last thing he did was a self titled album by his new band Black Swan which also featured Reb Beach, Jeff Pilson and Matt Starr. Now it’s time for him to treat the world with his second solo album, an album that is said to take us back to the sound of MSG.
And back to the MSG sound we go, in the case of opener ”Thy Will Be Done” it’s the Perfect Timing (1987) album that is the template. It’s an upbeat, very 80’s sounding Melodic Rock track which pours hooks all over us. Powerful vocals, lots of harmonies, 80’s keyboards and a big main-melody is the song’s recipe for success – and the chorus is plain world-class. Should be a single because of the overload of hit-potential. Great. The title-track and single is more of a crunchy rocker where McAuley-Schenker meets Dokken’s ”Unchain The Night”. The crispy guitar-riffs and punchy rhythms combined with the smoother vocal-melodies and the massively hooky chorus makes for a great dynamic in this brilliant tune.
”Late December” is a bit more mellow and down-beat, a ballad that brings on the softer vibes of that MSG-era we’re talking about and miss. It’s quite slick with some masterful melodies and the third, self-titled MSG album from 1992 comes to mind here. Even though the keyboards might be a bit too syrupy, this is more or less a lesson in power-balladry and I’m floored by hello. Swedish guitar-meastro Tommy Denander co-wrote and guests on ”Do You Remember”, a mid-paced yet upbeat juicy pop-rocker where Denander’s guitar crunches on beneath McAuley’s magnificent vocals and massive chorus-hooks. The roaring hammond also gives the song some edge and a raunchy outlook. Killer stuff.
With earlier references to both Perfect Timing and MSG it’s time for a look-back to the Save Yourself (1989) album when ”Say Goodbye” shows up. It’s a driving, straight-forward pop-rock number that blends acoustic guitars and smooth vocal-melodies with crunchy guitars and a punchy rhythm-section and just like on the songs before this, the chorus is a catchy blast. Great. Another Denander co-write and guest-guitar is ”Chosen Few”, an edgier rocker that’s carried by a solid rhythm-section. The song comes off as more organic and with a bigger live-feel. There’s a stellar riffage as well which takes us back to the late 70’s/early 80’s and so does the bluesy guitar solo. On top lies another effective and direct chorus that hits right away. Damn good.
”Run Away” is a slow and melancholic ballad with a bit of a saddening atmosphere and some ambient synth-strings to up the effect. It’s an emotional and heartfelt number, quite cozy and warming with a gorgeous melody-arrangement, quite smooth but never glossy or cheesy, only embracing with another very memorable refrain. Brilliant. Heart guitarist and McAuley’s Raiding The Vault buddy Howard Leese guests on the slower and heavier Melodic Rock groover ”Supposed To Do Now” with some gritty guitars which brings a darker edge to the song. It’s a crispy rocker in a mid pace with some stand-out vocal-melodies and a direct and effective refrain. Very good.
The only dip on the album comes with the song ”Wanna Take A Ride”. Not that the song is bad per se, but this straight-forward pop song that takes on a half-ballad vibe in the vein of ”Anytime” by MSG holds a pretty lame refrain that feels both unimaginative and a bit dorky. Otherwise, the tune has a nice, flowing summer-vibe over it and a feelgood atmosphere and even tough I have some issues with the chorus, it can’t be denied that the song holds some major catchiness and the hit-potential is really prominent. It’s a pity that the chorus isn’t stronger – it could easily have had some more work on it to make it lift the song to yet another level.
In ”Like A Ghost” we get a reunion with McAuley’s old band-pal Phil Lanzon as a co-writer and man do this song make me long for a Grand Prix reunion. It’s without a doubt a bonafide AOR-rocker but the fat, raunchy organ instead of a synth and the prog-laden mid-break takes the song on a left-turn from ordinary AOR. It’s hooky as can be with a smooth and infectious main-melody and the chorus is a beast. Great. Closing track ”Running Out Of Time” is faster paced, heavier and more hard-rocking – the heaviest tune on the album. A ghostly keyboard sound is effective and creates a darker atmosphere whereas the smoother yet still powerful vocal-melodies contrasts nicely and at the end of the day, it’s a powerhouse rocker that maybe should’ve opened the album. Very good.
This album is probably the closest we’ll ever get to McAuley-Schenker – if ole Schenk don’t change his mind and reunite that line-up, something that’s not too likely. There are also some nods towards Grand Prix but not as prominent as the MSG outlooks. Quality-wise, Robin McAuley has hit pay-dirt with this record because it’s really, really strong where song after song just hits right where it should – except for that one ”Wanna Take A Ride” refrain. The fact that McAuley now is 68 years old is impossible to hear as he’s as strong vocally as ever and the rest of the musicians makes a faultless appearance. If you’re into this kind of melodic Hard Rock and the McAuley-Schenker era in particular, this album is a no-brainer.