Monday 26 December 2022

Autumn's Child - Starflower (2022)

Country: Sweden
Style: Melodic Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 21 Dec 2022
Sites: Instagram | YouTube

I haven't heard anything by Autumn's Child before, but I have reviewed an album by Last Autumn's Dream, to which this is something of a successor. They're both Swedish melodic rock bands, but the only musician to move from one to the other is founder Mikael Erlandsson, who sings, plays guitar and keyboards, and, I would assume, writes the songs. This is a tad heavier than Secret Treasures, the kinda sorta new last album they put out in 2018, but not by much. It's still melodic rock thinking of hard rock in its heavier moments.

It's agreeably varied though. Gamechanger kicks things off firmly in the melodic rock vein, but an edge of prog flavours it throughout. Aphrodite's Eyes ups that to far more than just an edge. It's a playful song from the outset and it moves through a lot of ethnic territory, reminding almost of a Rainbow song but with a different tone. I liked it immediately and it set the bar notably high early in the album. Welcome to the Show is a poppier piece, upbeat and sassy with a firm drive forward. And then there's Opera, which is something else again.

Opera isn't opera but it deliberately plays with the operatic, to accompany the lyrics. It starts out as a ballad with soft tinkling piano but builds in epic fashion, borrowing plenty from Queen during its second half. And I don't just mean the general feel, with its harmonies and grandiose nature; I recognise individual swells and changes and part of the solo from Bohemian Rhapsody, in a clear Brian May guitar tone. It's so epic that it feels a lot longer than it is, because it moves through all its phases in under four and a half minutes. It's not the longest song on an album without any long songs. It's not even the longest song thus far, as Gamechanger outstrips it by forty seconds, but it feels long.

So Autumn's Child remain firmly within melodic rock throughout, but they're stretching it in every direction they can think of. I Can't Get Enough shifts into straightforward hard rock, feeling almost undecorated on this album, even with keyboard accompaniment throughout that shines late on as those keyboards find a funky sound. 1995 looks backward, as its title suggests, almost seeming like Bryan Adams covering Poison at points, but filtered into the Autumn's Child palette. The Final Call adds pop rock to the mix, channelling some Cheap Trick into proceedings.

Most of this works for me, even though it's a little soft for my tastes. The sheer variety elevates it and keeps it fresh throughout. Every song brings something just a little different and I like that. I have to say that Opera tries far too hard to be the standout track which means that it loses out to Aphrodite's Eyes in my book and by a long way. I'd have to stretch to call out a second choice and I'd suggest that that's not a good thing, even if it partly speaks to the consistent quality otherwise.

It would be easier for me to pick my least favourite songs and, while Erlandsson's vocals are clean with just enough grit to be perfect for this style, they're also why I tend to think less of some songs here. Dorian Gray feels clumsy because of the way it's phrased, the title repeated far too often in a way that doesn't seem to fit. Erlandsson gives it the old college try but the lyrics feel shoehorned into the music and the song doesn't work for me because of that. Also, Love from Tokyo feels off, not because Erlandsson doesn't do the job he needs to but because it isn't the job I expected. The song has a soulful underpinning to it, as if it's an old and beloved ballad, but it's halfway between Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake with vocals different enough from either that it somehow feels wrong.

Given that Erlandsson successfully covers plenty of vocal ground here, from perhaps John Cougar Mellencamp to Ronnie Romero, via a whole set of stops in between, I don't think I can particularly blame him for not ending up precisely where I expected him to on a couple of songs. He does what he needs to here and melodic rock fans ought to appreciate his voice, as well as his keyboards. It's just that expectations have quite a lot of meaning here, so what you get out of this may be partly dependent on what you bring to the table yourself. I'd certainly like to hear more and, if Autumn's Child end up as prolific as Last Autumn's Dream, there will be plenty more on the way.

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