I remember the first Unruly Child album, released in 1992, the second year of a two year existence for this band. Back then, the lead vocalist was Mark Free, who had previously led two King Kobra albums and one by Signal. Unruly Child got back together in 1998 and released another couple of albums, the singer changing for each, before they called it quits again in 2003. However, in 2010, the original line-up reformed and that's stuck, with this being their fifth album in the ten years since.
Nowadays, the lead vocalist is Marcie Free, because she transitioned in 1993, and that actually makes a lot of sense. Going back to that debut after listening to this, I realise that her voice hasn't changed to any great degree. Maybe there's a little more feminine persuasion, but it was always there. Had I been unfamiliar with that band, I wouldn't have been surprised to find that the lead singer was female. I'm not sure I can stretch to the point of saying that she feels more natural now but I can easily believe it, especially on a song like Glass House.
The most overt change in the band's sound in those intervening three decades is that there's less hair metal in the sound. They came along after that genre had been bludgeoned to death by grunge and it was always only one aspect of their sound, but it couldn't be avoided on a song such as Take Me Down Nasty. Compare that to the similarly upbeat Poison Ivy here and it's obvious that this Unruly Child is a more mature band with more mature songwriting and a more mature musical approach. Given that that debut is a favourite album for a lot of people, that in itself is a big recommendation for this one.
It's a strong lead song and both Free and guitarist Bruce Gowdy shine on it. Somehow it feels patient and urgent at the same time, which is a neat trick to master. It has a catchy escalating chorus for Free to get a snarl around and backing vocals that feel like an aura around her. I wouldn't have declined a longer solo from Gowdy but it's a good one and he jangles well throughout. This has a deeper sound than I remember from that first album, the band painting textures with their instruments for Free to soar above, and that only grows into later songs. It's Guy Allison's keyboards that take us home and I really like those too.
Say What You Want is as heavy as I remember this band ever being, though I'm admittedly a bunch of albums behind. Free finds a lower pitch here and Larry Antonino's bass is more prominent. I honestly can't name another melodic rock song that has drums faster than Jay Schellen reaches at points here. Frankly, while they're clearly an excellent melodic rock band, it would be easy to just call them a hard rock band nowadays. There's some serious power here and some attitude too.
And then we get Glass House, which is easily my favourite song here. It's a little more alternative than those earlier numbers, but it plays well alongside them. It feels like an unjustly obscure British indie single from the mid-eighties that Unruly Child resurrected and breathed new life into. It isn't, having been written for this album, but it has that sort of vibe. And, quite frankly, that opening trio alone is enough to recommend that you go out and buy this.
However, it doesn't stop there, of course. There are another seven new songs and a couple of reworked ones from that debut, To Be Your Everything and Let's Talk About Love, and there's more in them for a discerning listener to find. Everyone Loves You When You're Dead has a lovely dark groove. The subtle guitar is delightful on Catch Up to Yesterday and even more so on the intro for Freedom is a Fight, as Gowdy channels his inner tocaor or flamenco guitarist. I dig the exotic keyboards that start up We are Here to Stay and continue to make it jaunty throughout. That's the closest of these songs to compare to the quality of the openers, but they all sound good to me.
Now, I have some homework to do because I have four prior albums to find by this line-up.