Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Vandenberg - 2020 (2020)



Country: The Netherlands
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 29 May 2020
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It seems weird to suggest that an album called 2020 is a surprising release in 2020, but this one's by Vandenberg, the band led by Dutch guitar wizard Adrian Vandenberg, and the last one we saw was Alibi way back in 1985. That was a good album, but we've got used to Vandenberg the person playing for a slew of other bands, not least Whitesnake, so hardly expected Vandenberg the band to resurface after thirty-five years for album number four.

It's a really good album made by a really good new line-up and those of you who still play Whitesnake's album 1987 often will really dig it. Vandenberg was responsible for the solo on Here I Go Again '87 and that's a good template for what's on this album. Just add slick 21st century production that keeps everything punchy, drop the overt ballads and forget the cheesy eighties MTV videos. This stands on its own merits and it kicks ass.

While it all sounds thoroughly American, I should emphasise that only one of the current band is American and that's drummer Brian Tichy, the name that I didn't know, even though ten seconds of research highlights that I've heard him often, from his work with Foreigner, Billy Idol, Gilby Clarke, the Dead Daisies, Sass Jordan and others, including Whitesnake. Here I must point out that I'm not sure if Tichy is actually in the band or just guesting on the album. Some sources suggest the former, but the Vandenberg band site states the latter, as the actual drummer is Koen Herfst, of Epica fame.

The same goes for the bass player, which Wikipedia says is Rudy Sarzo, who's played for everyone. Where you know him from may depend on your age. For me, it's Quiet Riot, but you may know him best from his work with Ozzy Osbourne, Dio, Queensrÿche or, inevitably, Whitesnake. However, again the Vandenberg site says that he's also guesting while the real bassist is Randy van der Elsen, best known for his work with Tank.

How this resolves, I have no idea. Maybe the band members are van der Elsen and Herfst while Sarzo and Tichy recorded the album. Answers on the back of a postcard please. What we know for sure is that the new vocalist is Ronnie Romero, who's surely the busiest singer in rock nowadays. He's best known at this point for Lords of Black and the reformed Rainbow, but he does a great job whoever he's singing for and this album is no exception.

You'd be insane if you thought there wasn't a lot of Whitesnake in the sound but the best material here, which to my mind is Hell and High Water, merges it with Rainbow. It's obvious in Romero's vocals, in Vandenberg's guitar and especially in the keyboards that underpin the second half of the song. It's not Stargazer but it's a heck of a lot closer to it than you expected before reading this. It's a real peach of a song.

I really like Let It Rain too, which follows it on the album, even though it starts out teasingly like a power ballad. Just as we're imagining hairspray budgets and Tawny Kitaen, it kicks into a neat groove, a worthy contemporary take on eighties hair metal that effortlessly avoids cliché. There's enough grit in the mix and Romero's vocals to make this feel right for 2020 and not just 1987. The inevitable exception may be Shout, which is so eighties hair metal that we almost cringe. Almost.

While Romero is so good at this sort of thing that it's easy to focus on him to the detriment of everything else, Vandenberg has always been a fantastic guitarist and he seems to have a lot of fun creating an album under his own name again. The guitars are just right in the mix and he gets quite as many opportunities to shine as you might expect, without ever overdoing it. This band may bear his name but it's still a band not a solo performance. Perhaps his brightest guitar moments come on the opener, Shadows of the Night, but I could have thrown out a half dozen other choices without much hardship.

The biggest catch to the album is that it doesn't attempt anything remotely new at all but it's fair to say that anyone into this sort of music won't be too worried about that. It's unashamedly what it is, melodic hard rock with a direct line back to hair metal. The riffs work, the hooks work and Romero and Vandenberg both shine, while whoever happens to be backing them does the reliable jobs expected of them. Now, let's hope the next album isn't called 2055.

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