Thursday 15 June 2023

Winger - Seven (2023)

Country: USA
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 5 May 2023
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Like most people, I remember Winger from their heyday in the charts in the late eighties. I hadn't realised that they'd split up in 1994, though I'd kind of assumed it, and I hadn't realised that they'd got back together not once but twice, briefly in the early noughties and more sustainably in 2006. While they've stayed together ever since, with very few line-up changes—John Roth joined as a co-lead guitarist in 2001 but otherwise it's just been rhythm guitarist Paul Taylor hopping in and out of the band as he deems fit—they haven't been particularly prolific. This is their first album in nine years and Better Days Comin' in 2014 was their first in five.

The good news is that this is a surprisingly clean and fresh sounding release and it feels great from the outset, with three highlights in four amidst a pretty solid opening five. The highlights are the more energetic pieces, which holds true throughout the album. Proud Desperado kicks off with an impressively clean production, lively but patient riffs from Roth and Reb Beach and huge patient choruses with a soaring vocal from Kip Winger himself. Tears of Blood does much the same but it's even better, building on an almost AC/DC riff with a vocal that grows through a Rainbow style bridge to a big chorus.

These are both excellent early tracks, but Resurrect Me is even better still, an elegant glam metal tinged hard rock anthem. This felt like the best song on the album on a first listen and, given that the lyrics are all about the phoenix that decorates the cover, it's surely the featured song, if not a true title track given that Seven merely counts this as their seventh studio album. Voodoo Fire is a strong track to follow it, a bit looser and sassier and with a tasty a capella closing, and the one I've skipped over, Heaven's Falling, is strong too, a bit softer and thinner but a good song nonetheless.

So far so good but, while the rest of the album can't really match that opening, it doesn't do a bad job of trying, especially given that it features some admirable variety within its mainstream hard rock framework. The best track after these is Stick the Knife in and Twist, much later on, which has a slight Megadeth vibe to its riffs, so plays a little heavier, but is otherwise the same high energy Winger as on Tears of Blood and Proud Desperado. One Light to Burn finds a deeper groove that I found reminiscent of Vow Wow and Do or Die adds some symphonic metal swells while staying in a steady glam/hard rock vibe.

The rest are a little softer in demeanour but still play well, just without quite so much emphasis. It feels odd to say, given that I'm generally not as enthused about the softer songs as those with high energy, but the softest song is probably my other highlight, but it's a real grower. It's Broken Glass and it's the first half of a tasty pairing with It's Okay at the heart of the album. It starts out with a set of keyboard swells and piano notes that we're conditioned to see as signs of impending power balladry and I guess it counts as one of those, but it's deeper than that, building a real groove. I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't a fan on a first listen but it gets better every time through.

And, quite frankly, so does everything else. Winger went away when grunge came along, like much of my youth, but they weren't so glam metal that they would feel like a modern throwback to that old sound. They were based in New York rather than Los Angeles and they had a more elegant hard rock sound that combined the blues rock of Whitesnake, the arena rock of a plethora of American mainstays and some of that LA glam metal vibe as a bonus. It actually translates very well to 2023, with some modern touches to make it feel contemporary.

In short, I thought it would be good but it's better than I expected. Much of this is an 8/10 album, a rating I'm still tempted to throw at it. However, it shifts softer as it goes with Stick the Knife in and Twist a rare exception on the second half. It's fair to say that I like this more whenever the band up their energy levels and that approach is very biased towards the first third of the album. I don't dislike where the second side ends up and It All Comes Around is an elegant closer, but these songs don't connect with me the way the earlier ones do, so think I'm staying at a 7/10.

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