My gaps this year for COVID and research trips and whatnot have put me behind on some releases that I don't want to miss, so I'm going to knock out a bunch throughout August. This one came out in March, a year to the week since Ronnie Atkins's previous (and first) solo album, One Shot, which got a rare 9/10 from me and was just about a coin toss from being my Album of the Month. It was a peach of a melodic/hard rock album and this really isn't far behind it. The man has always been an immense talent, as his forty years for Pretty Maids have proven, but he simply can't do any wrong right now, even though he has stage four lung cancer and is living day to day.
The songs just keep on coming. I've Hurt Myself (By Hurting You) is a pristine opener in the patent Ronnie Atkins fashion, which means that it's a hook-laden song that's clearly all about melody but doesn't skimp on the oomph behind it. There are AOR songs written for maximum appeal on radio that don't have hooks this strong or this numerous and they usually don't have the power behind them that this does. It's so good that we wonder how Atkins will follow it up.
So he throws out Unsung Heroes, which is easily as good and might even be better. Then it's Rising Tide and Remain to Remind Me and we start to wonder when we're going to hear something that, never mind average, might be just a notch down in quality. What's perhaps most telling is that, on the few songs where we think we've found that, they build into killer choruses that we can imagine might warrant them becoming our new favourite. Maybe the quality finally dips on Grace, which is the beginning of the second side, were this a vinyl album. And that's a pretty damn good song! It's the sort of track that some bands have been trying and failing to record for years. Here it's a drop from holy crap to merely excellent.
Easily my least favourite song is the next one, Let Love Lead the Way, not because it's a ballad and just a ballad, not really even a power ballad until its second half, but because of keyboard tinkling that spoils the first half for me and doesn't quite vanish during the second. Blood Cries Out starts with keyboards too and they don't quite convince me. The songs ramps up nicely—and I mean that with bells on—just not to become another new favourite, that mindset being confined to the first half of the album.
The line-up is pretty consistent with that on One Shot, with producer Chris Laney providing guitars and keyboards, as indeed he does in Pretty Maids nowadays, Pontus Egberg on bass and a pair of former Pretty Maids colleagues on drums and keyboards, those being Allan Sørensen and Morten Sandager respectively. There are guests too, mostly on guitar, but I don't recognise all the names. Pontus Norgren is certainly a guitarist for HammerFall nowadays; Oliver Hartmann is a busy man who fronts Hartmann and guests on what seems like every other European album being released; and Anders Ringman co-wrote a Lovecraftian rock opera with Chris Laney.
I took those notes on my second listen through and I've had a couple more since, enough that I am comfortable saying that the thoroughly consistent first half of this is worthy of another 9/10, not a typical thing for me to say. However, the second half definitely drops in quality, not to the point of being a problem for someone wanting to just listen but easily enough to affect that score. It's less consistent, both in approach and quality, but it's still dotted with greatness. Blood Cries Out gets there eventually and the title ballad that closes out the album is epic grandeur even before it hits the power disco escalation button halfway through.
So this isn't quite another One Shot, ironically given that name, but it comes damn close for half a dozen tracks and finishes out with style too. The lesson we should take from these albums is that if we see the name of Ronnie Atkins on anything, it's going to sound amazing. At this point, he could sing the phone book and make other singers and songwriters jealous. All the best for a strong and lasting recovery, sir, and I look forward to another album from you next March.