Style: Hard Rock
Release Date: 27 Mar 2020
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Back in the mid-eighties, Robin George's Dangerous Music album was a marvel. Rarely had I heard someone with such an instantly identifiable guitar sound and the songs were great too, crunchy but effortlessly melodic and rife with killer hooks. Ten seconds in to a song you didn't know and you knew it was a Robin George track. Fast forward a quarter of a century and this took me by surprise. Not only hadn't I realised that George has been keeping busy over the years making more music, not all under his own name, but this isn't what I expected him to sound like in 2020.
I have to say that my first time through was troublesome. There were things I liked but a lot that confused me. What's happened to George's voice? Gone is the staccato commanding of 1985 and hovering in its place is some sort of psychedelic slither. That's the title track anyway and it took me half the album to get on board with what George is doing with his voice. This is half Uli Jon Roth and half Marc Bolan, a bizarre mix but one that becomes all the more successful the more I hear it, especially as he factors in Tom Petty as well. And Donovan. And Dylan. And...
Similarly, his guitar isn't remotely as recognisable and it took me a while to figure out how many places he's taking it nowadays. Savage Song features a lot of teasing T Rex play and Petty tease but the solo in the middle comes right of old time rock 'n' roll and that helps to explain the rest. Rock n Roll BusyNessman starts out NWOBHM but quickly settles into swaggering blues rock. Rainbow Ridge is slow blues drenched in honey. Cocoon plucks melodies right out of the Beatles. By the time we get all the way to the end, we're taken home with Summertime Reggae Rule, which is very pop reggae. George is all over the musical map here.
The question, of course, is how well it all works. Frankly, I'm still not as sure as I'd want to be after three times through. I didn't like most of this on a first listen, perhaps because it clearly wasn't at all what I expected, but it started to make sense on a second. By the third, I was completely on board with this new sound of George's but convinced more by some songs than others. Freedom starts out rather like a cover of I Just Checked in to See What Condition My Condition Was In and, while it went somewhere else, it was hard to ditch that subconscious connection.
Certainly it's a real grower of an album but perhaps one that plays best in its own company. Throw any random song from Bittersweet Heartbeat onto any random classic rock radio station and the audience wouldn't have a clue what was going on. Is this pop or rock? Is this loose or tight? Should we be high or sober? Often, the songs seem to have two completely different approaches ongoing at once. Diva Machine is a T Rex croon over Stones swagger. Is this sort of thing allowed? Is it OK? Is it damn good and long overdue?
The band appears to mostly be a one man effort. Beyond singing on every song and handling all the guitar duties, he also contributes the keyboards and at least some bass. Charley Charlesworth provides the rest and Charlie Morgan, a session drummer to the stars (including Elton John and Kate Bush), sits in on drums. I would expect that George wrote and produced everything too, but I don't have a full list of credits. Let's just say this is his brain dumped out onto an hour of virtual vinyl.
And, the longer I listen to this, the more I appreciate that. There is some of the effortless power and melody from the eighties still in effect, not as much as much I expected but it's there. But there's a very personal blend of rock 'n' roll, sixties psychedelia, blues of various styles, glam rock, pop, reggae and who knows what else. And that means that it's as quintessentially and identifiably Robin George in 2020 as Dangerous Music was in 1985.
Give it time and this will surprise you. I'm surely not done with listening to it yet.