Friday 27 December 2019

Carl Dixon - Unbroken (2019)

Country: Canada
Style: Melodic Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 29 Nov 2019
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Here's something friendly for Christmas week! If you don't know the name, I should mention that Carl Dixon is a Canadian singer who's perhaps still best known for being the main man for Coney Hatch, surely the greatest band to be named after a lunatic asylum. He was their vocalist and guitarist for their heyday in the eighties and, 28 years after their former final album, was the trigger for them to recently reform and put out a new one. He had a stint in April Wine, on voice and keyboards, and two in the Guess Who, singing with them until a severe car accident in Australia temporarily halted his career for a while. This is his seventh solo album, I believe.

He's a versatile singer but, as you might imagine from those credentials, he leans towards the radio friendly melodic rock style and he focuses on vocals here, leaving the instruments to others. The backing line-up is respectable, with Robby Böbel of Frontline, Evidence One and Phantom V on both guitar and keyboards; Thomas Bauer, also of Frontline and Evidence One, on bass; and a pair of drummers who each perform on about half the tracks: Mark Santers, of Santers and the first Lee Aaron album, and Dylan Gowan.

The problem is for me as a critic because I find melodic rock particularly difficult to describe in useful terms. Sure, these are upbeat songs that are melodic and pleasant to the ear, but that's kind of the point of AOR. Sure, there's a twin attack of vocal and guitar, with the former turning out hooks and the latter mild riffs and decent but not too challenging solos, but again that's not remotely surprising. The back end both accompanies and emphasises, again as you'd expect.

Lyrically, it's exactly what you might expect, all about keeping the faith, even though nothing lasts forever but this isn't the end. It opens up with a song called Can't Love a Memory that's as archetypal as anything in melodic rock. "I want to tell you a story", Dixon sings, "about a woman and a man." This could be any melodic rock lyric from any melodic rock band. It even has a woah intro for the real words to build out of.

In other words, this passes all the tests to be a capable melodic rock album but not one thing I've said in those prior two paragraphs tells you whether it's any good or not. I'd say that it is, because it sounds decent on a first listen from track one to track eleven and it gets better with repeat listens as the songs find a little identity of their own, but I have no idea at all how to back that up to you. There are no musical soundscapes here, nothing pushing a boundary or introducing something new and interesting, no magic contrasts or dynamics.

I can say that I enjoyed the guitarwork of Robby Böbel, which is a constant delight and the primary reason that this maintains as much of a hard edge as it has. AOR can venture either side of the tenuous line between pop and rock and this stays on the rock side mostly because of him. But is there a single riff or solo I could call out for special mention? Not really. He just does a solid job throughout.

Mostly, it's Dixon's voice that remains the focus. It's a warm and friendly voice that carries power in everything it does but rarely goes into a belt. He's not interested in demonstrating how good his voice is or how versatile he is. He just wants to sing some songs and infuse them with emotion so the result may generate nostalgia in the listener. I can imagine people hearing Summer Nights on the radio and remembering some of their own from years ago.

Not having lived most of those hallmark moments, the standout song for me is the one that seems to really tell a story, which is Nothing Lasts Forever, a look back at Dixon's career in music. When I wasn't letting this album play pleasantly again while I work on something else, I was wondering how to find a recording of Iron Maiden, Fastway and Coney Hatch on American Bandstand.

I enjoyed this not because it's special or challenging music but because it does what it does well enough to feel damn good. It's kind of an anti-Opeth. I don't have to focus in on details and I won't find anything new if I did. I just need to let it play and keep playing and the day is automatically a better one for its inclusion. Good AOR to me is kind of like pornography to the Supreme Court: I can't define it but I know it when I hear it.

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