How much of a fan can you get before it starts affecting your objectivity? I sometimes ask myself that. As a huge fan of Pretty Maids since back in 1984 when ”Back To Back” blew my head off from the radio, I have loved that band. I can’t even think of one bad song by that band and they have released 15 studio albums. I also love all of the Pretty Maids related projects I have heard so far. Nordic Union – great, Avantasia – great. Pretty Maids is one of my all time favorite bands and Ronnie Atkins is one of my all time favorite singers – both Ronnie and his band is top 10 for me – total world-class acts. So when Ronnie announced that he was about to work on a solo album, to say I was excited is the understatement of the year. And now when the album is set for release, my expectations are sky-rocketing like you wouldn’t believe – both because of Ronnie and the people involved in this record.
As we all know the last couple of years hasn’t been easy for Ronnie. With a new, awesome Pretty Maids album – Undress Your Madness (2019) – just released, Ronnie got those damn C-news and when he finally got some positive news on that, the effing pandemic hit. Also add to injury, the cancer returned. A light within this blackness is that it looks like Atkins is still feeling good and the tasters for this album has proven he can still sing like a bad-ass. For his debut album, Atkins turned to his band-mate and friend Chris Laney to produce the record and to help out with the arrangements – and for guitar playing duties.
Laney in turn brought with him his At The Movies buddies to play on the record – Pontus Egberg (King Diamond) on bass, former Pretty Maids members, drummer Allan Sörensen and keyboardist Morten Sandager and Linnea Vikström-Egg and Soilwork/Night Flight Orchestra singer Björn Strid on backingvocals with Anders Ringman providing acoustic guitars and guest appearances from Kee Marcello (Europe, Easy Action), John Berg (Paralydium, Dynazty), Pontus Norgren (Hammerfall, Poodles) and Oliver Hartmann (Avantasia). A whole damn lot to look forward to, in other words.
Pre-dating the album-release with a couple of months, the leading single ”Real” opens the album – and my first run-in with the song was totally jaw-dropping. The fact that the tune holds a darker sound-scape and comes in a mid-pace makes it a bold choice as an opener – we rockers are used to hard-hitting openers – but it still works splendidly. The beat is a chunky one, the pop-vibes makes a fine contrast to the darker edges and when the chorus arrives, the tune goes into a more up-tempo mode. The chorus, yes – it’s massive yet held-back and the hooks are everywhere but it never turns into a sugary affair at all. Lyrically, it’s very naked and revealing. The solo from Hartmann fits the tune like a glove. A fantastic tune.
”Scorpio” is the third taster from the album and with this, Atkins & co. goes for a more hard-rocking vibe. It starts out with a synth-intro that continues as the tune gets going. The song takes a straight-forward, Hard Rock driven route on a stompy and bouncy rhythm, uptempo and quite kicking. The pre-chorus slows things down on an atmospheric note right out of later day Pretty Maids’ pocket before the chorus brings out the bombs with some heavy and fat riffage that wouldn’t feel out of place on any Pretty Maids record out there with a million bucks worth of catchiness and another great solo by Hartmann. Amazingly good.
The title-track was chosen as the second single. It opens on a ballad note with only piano and Atkins’ touching voice – quite sparse and sombre. The chorus changes structure some as it explodes on a ”We Will Rock You”-like beat with the hooky melody thrown in your face taking no prisoners. It’s a mastodon refrain and a complete KO. When the verses returns, it’s still toned down but with guitars, bass and drums added, bringing a slight punch to the track. It’s a magical track, very memorable and with deep lyrics where Atkins lays it all out in the open. The fact that the tune isn’t all over rock-radio is a mystery. This is world-class stuff, peeps.
Kee Marcello lets rip with a brilliant guitar solo in the mid-paced and musically uplifting melodic Hard Rock stomper ”Subjugated”. It’s a swinging groover where there’s a striking hook in each corner with verses catchier than most choruses and speaking of choruses, this one’s so massively catchy it’s almost ridiculous. This one needs to be a single because this is captivating stuff – and then some! Phenomenal. The ballad ”Frequency Of Love” is a down-beat slow-burner that holds a chunky rhythm, especially when the refrain comes along and a beautiful solo by Laney. The main-melody blends the more AOR-ish twists from Undress Your Madness and Nordic Union. The big chorus holds a more upbeat vibe, it’s strikingly memorable – so catchy it hurts. Fabulous.
Some edgy Metal-fused riffing kicks ”Before The Rise Of An Empire” into motion and the stompy rhythm-section gives the tune a heavy beat – especially the thunderous bass-line. The fine mix of crunchy guitars and keyboards fattens up the tune and the darker touches combined with the melodic vocal-melodies brings on a dynamic contrast. It’s punchy and upbeat and in all honesty, this could easily have been a Pretty Maids number. It’s not hit-laden at all but still super-memorable with catchy melodies all over. A killer tune with a striking solo from Pontus Norgren who throws another killer solo on the following track ”Miles Away”, a soulful half-ballad that’s carried by a solid beat in a grand soundscape. There’s a slight gospel-like touch on it which blends phenomenally with the power-ballad influenced arrangements. The vocal-melodies in the verses are intriguing and deep and the chorus is stupendously catchy with more hooks than a fisherman’s hat. Pure brilliance.
Going into a more AOR-laden territory, the forthcoming single ”Picture Yourself” lands somewhere between an upbeat ballad and a mid-paced pop-rocker. That being said, the rhythmic beat is fat and crunchy which makes for a dynamic blend with the smoother vocal-melodies which reminds me of Pretty Maids’ poppier moments and a song like ”Clay” comes to mind. Anders Ringman provides some astute acoustic guitars which marries fine with the poignant vocal-arrangements all over the tune and Laney’s pal Jan Gripstedt throws a killer solo our way. Once again, the magnificent refrain is colossal and captivating. I love this. On a heavier note, ”I Prophesize” might take on a more laid-back and abstemious verse but the riffage here is both muscular and edgy, much in the vein of Atkins’ mothership. John Berg comes in and delivers a startling solo and the mighty chorus takes an intense and in-your-face path with a conspicuous splendor. Terrific stuff.
”One By One” is upbeat and heavy with verses that would have fitted any Pretty Maids record out there. There’s an atmospheric keyboard that smoothens out the heavy riffing some but the Hard Rock backbone of the song never disappears, something the ballsy and propulsive rhythm-section of Egberg and Sörensen makes sure of. With some choir-like backing vocals, the immense Hard Rock meets Pop chorus becomes even more grandiose and catchy, impossible to resist. This, just like so many other songs on this album, sure feels like a future single. The tune is nothing short of resplendent. The album closes with ”When Dreams Are Not Enough”, a slow-burner that holds a riff reminiscent of Kiss’ ”Sure Know Something”. Even though the tune is somewhat abstemious, it still holds a chunky groove, a Pretty Maids-like vocal melody and saturnine AOR meets Melodic Rock twists with Allan Sundberg providing a glistening solo. It holds a majestic refrain with hit-potential enough to sell but never ever does it go mawkish or sugary on us. So awesome!
WOW! Just WOW! I can’t find one little thing on here to remark on. Nothing at all. I can’t remember when it was this easy to throw out a 10/10 – because it’s impossible to rate it any less. It’s honest, passionate and emotive and Atkins puts all of his thoughts and emotions out in the open. Every song here is a killer, the performances of all involved is pure world-class and Chris Laney’s production and Jacob Hansen’s mixing is stellar – the album sounds so damn good. It’s so good I almost get pissed-off when it ends because I just want more. What’s also a delight is that it’s easy to state that Atkins has lost nothing of his voice – he’s still one of the finest singers in Rock and here he has also proven himself as a song-writer on his own. I know it’s only March, my friends, but I’m positive we have the album of 2021 in our hands already, I mean who’ll be able to top this? Welcome back, Ronnie.