Friday 21 June 2019

Helix - Old School (2019)

Country: Canada
Style: Hard Rock/Heavy Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 14 Jun 2019
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia

Wow, Helix! Of all the eighties bands which I expected to go away with the advent of grunge, Helix would be close to the top of the list, along with Krokus and Tigertailz. For a while, they were the epitome of cheesy cock rock with big hits like Rock You and Gimme Gimme Good Lovin' accompanied by overtly lecherous videos designed as much around topless women as the songs. The latter is especially notable as one of those topless ladies was a sixteen year old Traci Lords.

What most people forget is that Gimme Gimme Good Lovin' was a good song to begin with and Helix covered it well. The music just took a backseat to the boobs and, thinking about it, that could be a pretty good description of a good chunk of that decade.

Well, Helix survived grunge and kept on going, perhaps because they weren't an eighties band to begin with, having formed as far back as 1974. Vocalist Brian Vollmer has kept Helix going ever since and I have to appreciate that achievement. Way to go, sir. In other words, they don't qualify as another inclusion in this year's bizarre trend of old bands reappearing out of the ether because they never went away. If I'm counting correctly, this is the fourteenth (or maybe fifteenth) Helix studio album and the previous one was only five years ago.

The question, of course, is whether it's any good and I have to say that it is and it isn't. There's good stuff here and, well, less good stuff. There are also songs that carry a seventies or eighties swagger without any hint of embarrassment, but songs that just can't avoid that feeling. There are effortless tracks and others that seem to be trying much too hard. Oddly I see that the songs were all written between 1981 and 1989, so they ought to be quintessential eighties material.

Oddly, for an album with polarising tracks, it starts out underwhelming. I don't quite know why Coming Back with Bigger Guns doesn't do a thing for me, but it doesn't. It's just there and it does precisely what you might expect from its title. I liked Whiskey Bent and Hellbound much more. It doesn't feel clichéd at all, even though the title suggests that it really ought to be. It finds a cool rockin' vibe that's all eighties hard rock without the embarrassing overtones. It's a lot more Great White, say, than Warrant.

Just as the album's looking up, it softens down. If Tears Could Talk is a lot softer than the openers, a rocker that doesn't want an edge because it revolves around emotions. Your Turn to Cry is soft in different ways, like an outtake from Jefferson Starship's Freedom at Point Zero; it's a lot more seventies than eighties. Tie Me Down is quintessential eighties, however: a hair metal ballad with an unfortunate title, because it just makes us think Faster Pussycat. Why so many soft songs together? What happened to coming back with bigger guns?

Old school Helix fans will be happier with Closer to You and Games Mother Never Taught You. The latter has that mischevious and sex-obsessed mindset that I remember from those eighties hits, as does Southern Comfort, another double-entendre filled sex song. Fortunately they're not remotely as cheesy as Rock You. They seem like good examples of how to update an unfashionable approach to a different era, even if the songs aren't technically new.

Hound Dog Howlin' Blues
is a good example of how not to do that. It dates itself immediately with repeated uses of the word 'bitch' that was somehow cool for a while in the eighties and sounds really stupid now. It does have its good sides too. It's very playful, with Vollmer interacting with what I presume is a spliced in live audience, showcasing his voice. It's the most lively song musically too, with a vibrant closing section that showcases a pair of lead guitarists, Chris Julke and Kaleb Duck. These guys can rock.

And, frankly, it should have ended there, but we're left with what sounds a lot like a seventies TV theme tune and I'm not just saying that because it's called Cheers. It's because of the soft piano and heartfelt voice approach and the homespun philosophy of the lyrics. I have no idea why this song is on the album. It even sounds like it was recorded a few decades earlier than everything else.

In summary, there are good songs here that show that Helix still have it. I dug Whiskey Bent and Hellbound and Southern Comfort. There's good stuff in other songs, even if they don't stand up as well in entirety. There's softer and less worthy material. There's some dated and cheesy material that really shouldn't be showing up in 2019. And then there's Cheers.

I'm glad that Helix are still around and all respect to Brian Vollmer for that, but I'd like to hear a new album of new material to hear what Helix are all about in 2019.

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