Thursday 2 June 2022

Jeff Scott Soto - Complicated (2022)

Country: USA
Style: Melodic Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 6 May 2022
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Jeff Scott Soto is such a busy man that it seems surprising to find that this is only his eighth album. Well, that's because it's his eighth solo album and they only count for a minuscule fragment of his discography. He's also the T. in W.E.T., who who released my Album of the Month for February last year, that T. being for Talisman, a band he's fronted for another eight albums. He started out with Yngwie J. Malmsteen's Rising Force and has also been the singer in Axel Rudi Pell, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Sons of Apollo and at least eight other bands.

Oh, and that's just bands he's actually joined. I've reviewed a couple of albums he merely guested on, by Joel Hoekstra's 13 and Jason Bieler and the Baron von Bielski Orchestra, and that scratches a very large surface. I missed albums by Octavision, Black Maze Rose, Big Clyde and Star One, just to look at the last couple of years, and I believe he's sung on over a hundred albums as a guest, as either lead or backing singer.

But this is where he gets to call the shots for a change, courtesy of Frontiers, the most prominent label anywhere in the world for melodic and hard rock nowadays. What he's turned out is melodic rock with generally upbeat tempos and blistering guitarwork by Fabrizio Sgattoni, who was also on Soto's last solo effort proper, Wide Awake (In My Dreamland). Fans of Frontiers won't be surprised at all to discover that the band behind Soto, who's American of Puerto Rican descent, are Italian, or that the bass and keyboards are provided by the busiest man in rock music, one Alessandro del Vecchio, whose prolificity makes even Soto look like he's sleeping the years away.

There's nothing new here at all, but Soto and his crew do this very well indeed. A lot of these songs sounded to me like Graham Bonnet singing for eighties Dio, though Soto is established enough as a lead singer that I shouldn't need to compare him to anyone. Let's just say that he doesn't sound at all like Dio, even though the music behind him tends to have the drive of his Holy Diver/The Last in Line era and some of the melodic approaches too. That's there in swathes on Home Again and it was there on the pair of opening tracks that precede it too, Last to Know and Disbelieving.

Love is the Revolution is where it starts to diversify, a song that grows outwards from the Beatles to Led Zeppelin, but with that soulful Soto vocal floating over the top and an alternative approach from maybe Saigon Kick. Until I See You Again is a power ballad, with plenty of rasp in Soto's voice to emphasise the emotion he wants to get across. I didn't buy it as much as I did the many rockers on offer, but it makes for a decent change of pace and I can't say that it isn't done really well. It's very aware of how often it seems to peak emotionally, only to promptly go another level upwards without ever seeming strained. If you're going to do a power ballad, this is how to do it.

While there are other touches here and there, it stays mostly consistent, both in style and quality and it's actually pretty hard to call out the best songs. Home Again was my first favourite, with its early guitar spotlight and heavier vibe. Don't Look Back is much softer but has some lovely guitar moments too and it builds confidently into what's probably the earworm of the album. Back to the Beginning is a sassier number with moments for both guitar and bass. The thing is that these may be my favourite songs today, having listened through a couple of times, but it wouldn't shock me if they weren't my favourite songs tomorrow. Thank You feels like a sleeper single, for instance.

All in all, it's thoroughly reliable, which shouldn't shock anyone who's heard Jeff Scott Soto before in whichever one of the bands he's performed with. He's always been reliable and able to shimmy a recognisable voice into any number of different existing band frameworks. Is this better than an album he hired out for? That depends. It's not as good as the W.E.T. album from last year, but few things are. It's well worth your money if you're a melodic rock fan because it really isn't that complicated, after all.

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