Wednesday 23 March 2022

FM - Thirteen (2022)

Country: UK
Style: Melodic Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 18 Mar 2022
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Like Pure Wrath but from about as close to the other end of the rock/metal spectrum as could be comfortably imagined, FM are an established band whose most recent work I reviewed in 2020. In FM's case, that was their twelfth studio album, Synchronized, meaning that this is what I happily hope will become their lucky thirteenth, and it's emphatically more of the same, to the degree of me almost being able to link to it and simply say "Ditto!" I can safely state that everything I said last time out remains valid this time too.

In case you don't want to follow that link, I'll summarise like this. FM play commercial melodic rock from the softer end of that genre. They're British but they sound American and the radio friendly songs they play often aren't that far away from pop and soul and, on rarer occasions, country, like early in Love and War here. Mostly they play eighties AOR, doing it well enough that many of the songs on offer here will sound like you've been listening to them for decades. You might swear that half of them are covers of songs by bands like Journey that you loved when they were new way back in the day, but they're new now, distillations of a style rather than plaguaristic remakes. This band is just that good.

The line-up remains stable for the eighth album in a row and three of the five members have been there throughout: the back end of Merv Goldsworthy on bass and Pete Jupp on drums, as well as a soulful frontman in Steve Overland. He's the most recognisable part of FM's sound and he sounds just as good now as he did over forty years ago when he was starting out with his brother Chris in a band called Wildlife. It's his shifts into soul that make FM's sound so interesting, because I have to say that, as catchy as their AOR tunes are, they're deliberately smooth and commercial. Turning up the soul component gives them depth and emotional impact.

As an example, check out Long Road Home, which is a powerful song because of Overland's soulful vocal but could have been almost forgettable had he stayed clean and poppy. Waiting on Love is a pop song in rock clothing, surely the softest thing on offer here and, as well crafted as it is, one of the most forgettable. It's songs like this that I can hear and enjoy while they're playing, but forget halfway through the next song because that's just as catchy and, like that, my attention is shifted. That goes double when they're followed by songs with an electronic component, such as Just Got Started and Be True to Yourself, as I imagine they were deliberately designed to grab attention with a little edge.

I don't want to suggest that FM are just a pop band though, because there are a few songs here of harder stuff. Shaking the Tree is a stalker of an opener, almost to deliberately remind us that even if the album will inevitably get softer, FM still know how to rock and it's one of the highlights of the album. Every Man Needs a Woman is a rocker too, even with such a quintessentally soul title. If I'd looked at the track listing before pressing play, that would have been the last song I'd expected to rock it up, but, while it isn't without soul, it never stops rocking. The same goes for my favourite of the eleven songs on offer, which is Turn This Car Around.

It's fair to say too that new fish Jim Kirkpatrick, who's been FM's lead guitarist for fourteen years now, has an important role to play, even though I'd prefer it to be a larger one. He delivers some driving guitar on Shaking the Tree to kick off the album and he's prominent late on too, with neat solos in Fight Fire with Fire (no, it isn't an ambitious Metallica cover) and Be True to Yourself. He's not just there during the bookends either, as Turn This Car Around proves, even if he isn't always given as much opportunity to strut his stuff as I'd like. He contributes excellent, if short, solos in a few songs like Talk is Cheap and Love and War. There just aren't any epics for him to really get his teeth into.

So, as tends to be the case with FM, I'll leave this thirteenth album refreshed and entertained and wondering once more how they've never managed to break the mainstream.

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