It's been twenty-four years since a Sabu album, 1998's Between the Light, but it felt like Paul Sabu has been writing and recording melodic hard rock anthems ever since then, just waiting for a right moment to release them as a killer sixth album. He's been an AOR legend for decades, ever since a successful shift away from pop music in the early eighties that found its pinnacle in the 1985 album Heartbreak, but this is heavier than I remember. It's mostly hard rock, with strong hooks, but it's a lot closer to that ever elusive boundary with heavy metal, a boundary it crosses more than once.
There are only two musicians involved this time out: Sabu himself and Barry Sparks. Sabu sings the lead vocal and Sparks adds backing vocals, while they divvy up the instrumentation between them depending on the song. I believe they both play guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, whatever else that might be in play here. That may be it because I didn't catch any particularly unusual sounds in the background. Nothing is particularly adventurous. It's just all good.
Blinded Me is a strong melodic/hard rock song to open things up. The guitars are solid, because I'd expect them to be, but the vocals stand out. They're rough but strong and emotional and seriously emphatic, like Graham Bonnet on steroids. That doubles up on the title, which is probably the best song here for Sabu's voice. He's just breathless enough to make it appear that he's giving it every ounce of his energy, but he's the exact same level of breathless at the end of the song as he was at the beginning. It's all very carefully done.
They're both good songs, as is Kandi, which feels like a pop song that's been bulked up. Everything has a level of machismo to it, a very traditinal male flavour with muscles and sweat and a dash of Brut aftershave, and that applies to this song too, which I could fairly describe as the lightest here but also mislead in the process. Even the lightest song is heavier than I expected and the heaviest are more so. They would include Back Side of Water, which has a real chug to it, as well as a catchy hook, but especially Rock and Rock the House, which are two separate songs, both of which have a Tank groove to their guitars and a Dave Meniketti feel to the vocals. I definitely wasn't expecting that!
There are other departures too, to keep this varied. Love Don't Shatter has a slightly alternative vibe to it. Skin to Skin adds a clapping singalong section to ensure that it gets stuck in our brains. I would say it does a good job but there are too many hooks here for any one to truly dominate until the album's over and we're still replaying it from memory. Turn the Radio On, a particularly solid single candidate, hints at rap at one point but also features the most overt rock wailing. There's a vaguely rap chant to end Dirty Money too and I should underline that these are mere flavours, not shifts in genre.
The most difficult job is calling out highlights, because every song here is a highlight. The catchiest are probably Back Side of Water and Midnight Road to Madness, both of which rock pretty hard as well. The title track's level of emphasis is a hook in itself and I found myself rather partial to Rock the House, which closes out the album. Not only does it play in that Tank style I adore but it drops down to hard rock for a while and even adds a middle eastern vibe for a while in the midsection. It ably demonstrates how Sabu and Sparks are comfortable across quite the range here.
When I saw that Paul Sabu had a new album out, I knew that it ought to be good. He has too much of a track record to expect otherwise, however long it's been since his last solo album. However, I'd be lying if I said that I thought it would be this good. This is an easy 8/10 and, if you're particularly into this rougher version of a traditionally squeaky clean genre, it's fair to say that you might add a point to that. Welcome back, sir!