Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Rob Moratti - Paragon (2020)

Country: Canada
Style: Melodic Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 30 Oct 2020
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I'm learning a lot about melodic rock lately by listening to Chris Franklin's fantastic Raised on Rock radio show. It's never been my genre of choice, but I've always enjoyed it. Sometimes it's good to let a good thrash album clean you out and then shift over to a good melodic rock album to fill you back up with happiness again. This would be a really good candidate for that sort of scenario, because it's just as perky as a sorority girl on a sunny day.

Rob Moratti is one of those many melodic rock vocalists who have built quite the discography but for an array of different bands. The biggest band he sang for were Saga, though he was only with them for a three year stint in between Michael Sadler's first and second tenures. That's him singing lead on The Human Condition. Before that, he was most notable as the lead singer for Final Frontier, but he sang on albums by Acacia Avenue, Northern Light, Phenomena and others. Since Saga, he's put out a string of solo releases, of which this appears to be the fourth. Chris will likely know all of these; I just know Saga and Phenomena, but I've long enjoyed both of them.

It's difficult not to like this album, because its inherently likeable. Everything is melody, whether it's a guitar or keyboard line or Moratti's vocals, and that means that everything is perky and catchy. If it fell into a time portal and emerged in the America of 1984, this material would be all over the charts, especially a song like Where Do We Go from Here. Well, either that or we'd still be proclaiming shock that it wasn't even three and a half decades on. That song is four radio-friendly minutes of class, right down to the fluid guitar solo in the middle.

In fact, it's so perky and catchy that it could easily have become either too poppy or too slick. I'm very happy to say that it avoids the former, being far more comparable to Journey or Europe than, say, the Cutting Crew. The closest it gets to pop is the ballad Break the Chains, which still features enough of a rock guitar to avoid that fate. I see a few guitarists credited on this album, including Ian Crichton of Saga, Joel Hoekstra of Whitesnake and Torben Enevoldsen of as many different bands as Moratti, and often the same ones. Add the legendary Tony Franklin on bass and you clearly have a rock band and an excellent one at that. Drummer Stu Reid isn't as prominent but he has a portfolio too.

So if this is rock music rather than pop, is it too slick? Well, some songs had me in two minds on that front. I don't have anything against melody and I kind of like when it just takes over everything, but I do like a little grit to keep it from sounding artificial. Moratti's voice is so naturally smooth that the production really shouldn't underline that with the audio equivalent of PhotoShop smoothing it just a little more, but it seems to me like it did exactly that. This is slick and commercial and unashamed. I could imagine loving songs like Remember and All I'm Living For on American radio but finding them overplayed and sticking so firmly in my skull that I'd end up hating them.

Often, in my reviews of melodic rock albums, I struggle to find the right comparisons, because it's the genre I have least depth in, but it wasn't that hard here. I'm Falling has a Europe feel to it and Where Do We Go from Here overtly reminds of the most commercial REO Speedwagon songs. Alone Anymore kicks in like a Van Hagar single, even if Moratti's voice doesn't have any of Sammy's roughness. Many of the other songs remind of Journey, which may not be too surprising given that Moratti can hit the same high notes as Steve Perry and even has a Journey tribute album under his belt.

If there's a negative here, it's that Moratti doesn't stretch himself here. I get the impression that he could knock albums of this quality every couple of months and, as enjoyable as they would be, I'd like to hear him mix it up a bit and move just a little outside his comfort zone. That doesn't happen here. You may not care.

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