Thursday 23 February 2023

Robin McAuley - Alive (2023)

Country: Ireland
Style: Melodic Hard Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 17 Feb 2023
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No, this isn't a live album from Robin McAuley. It's his new studio album, his third as a solo artist, only two years after his second, Standing on the Edge, even though it took him twenty-two years to get round to that one. Then again, singing for Michael Schenker in a variety of incarnations is a fair excuse. He's also recently knocked out two Black Swan albums, so he's definitely keeping busy and he sounds as good as ever, his voice a lot more lived in than it was back in the seventies but as melodic and as powerful.

Even though this kicks off on keyboards to remind of that previous album, the opening title track is up there with the heaviest songs that time out, like Running Out of Time. The style isn't greatly changed but that was a melodic rock album, whereas this is a melodic hard rock album. It does the same sort of things but with more of a kick to it. It still drops down to calm melodic sections but it's also happy to shift up towards what Schenker might do, if without quite as fierce guitarwork.

Case in point, Dead as a Bone, which has to be my favourite song here. I liked Alive on a first listen but it didn't knock me out. It grew on a second time through and I'd happily call it a highlight too, but Dead as a Bone didn't need that. It grew on me as it was playing the first time. It started out damn good and it ended even better. I actually played again it immediately to make sure I wasn't dreaming, then I started the album over and Alive came, well, alive for me and I started to realise how good this album is.

It's not all that good but, just like last time out, there's nothing duff to let the album down. Some of these songs are merely better than others. Dead as a Bone includes a searing solo from Andrea Seveso and he throws a few of those out there this time, with more on Can't Go On, Feel Like Hell and The Endless Mile, not to forget Fading Away. Damn it, there are strong solos everywhere this time out. If I'm reading correctly, Seveso is responsible for all the guitarwork on this one, because there are no guests. Sure, Howard Leese only guested on one track last time but this is very much a guitar album as much as it's a vocal album and that one wasn't.

There are certainly a lot more powerful riffs on this album than its predecessor. My favourite is on Stronger Than Before, because that kicks off almost like Accept but with a layer of elegance over it and, of course, a much smoother vocal from McAuley than anyone who's sung for Accept across the years. Even on softer songs, by which I mean songs comparable to the hardest on Standing on the Edge, the guitar continues to make itself obvious, even if the busiest man at Frontiers, if not in rock music period, Alessandro del Vecchio, turns up his bass to keep that heavy feel underneath it.

Talking of vocals, McAuley turns up the emphasis on Bless Me Father and, to a lesser degree, on Can't Go On, but adds some sort of effect to start out Feel Like Hell rather like Klaus Meine of the Scorpions. Even with those heavy riffs on Stronger Than Before and biting guitar at points on The Endless Mile, I wouldn't say this ever reaches heavy metal but it certainly flirt with its, especially on the former track. I like this heavy, more emphatic Robin McAuley, but then I'd like a Robin McAuley album if he sang the phone book over the crumpling of paper. It always comes down to the songs with him.

And that's where I'm thinking that this doesn't quite reach the heights of the previous album but it's not far behind. Dead as a Bone and Fading Away are up there with anything on that one, with a heavier approach and an added emphasis but riffs and hooks just as strong. On the flipside, I'm pretty sure that, if I went back to Standing on the Edge and listened through, I'd be yearning for a punch like McAuley and his band find on Alive. I guess I should split the difference and give this an 8/10 too. I know it's still growing on me, after three times through. It's the sort of album I could be happy leaving on repeat for a couple of days. That's worth something.

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