It's become clear over the past couple of years that any new album from Ronnie Atkins is likely to be a real highlight and he's keeping up the consistency. I gave a 9/10 to his solo debut, One Shot, as one of my albums of the year. The follow up, Make It Count, and this third album, fall a little short of that masterpiece but not by much. They're still both highly recommended 8/10s from me.
This one starts out like it wants that 9/10 rating. The title track is a very strong opener indeed and Ode to a Madman isn't far behind it. They may well be a little heavier than the previous albums, so firmly hard rock rather than melodic/hard rock, but not by a lot, even with a teasing hint of a harsh voice behind Atkins at the end of the latter song. It's the drive of these songs that makes them the highlights of the album, because they both find a powerful groove and milk it capably for four and a half minutes each.
Just in case he's heavied up a little too much, Paper Tiger reduces the intensity level and includes woah woah sections, so it doesn't have quite the same impact, but it's a good song nonetheless, a delicious level of grit in Atkins's voice on this one. Soul Divine is a ballad and that's all I need to say about that. If you like Ronnie singing ballads, then you'll like this one. That means that we've had a couple of rockers where the band—whoever's in it nowadays—crank up the energy and a couple more where they bring it back a little. Then it gets interesting.
I found it hard to pick a favourite song because the three obvious candidates are so different. That opening title track is one and If You Can Dream It (You Can Do It) is a second, as the most stripped down, back to basics melodic rocker here. It's so obviously single material that it's familiar on the first listen, so immediate that I was singing along on the first chorus. It's highly effective and also very uplifting, as its title suggests, without ever getting cheesy. The third, however, is a different song again. It's Godless, but there's also a highly evocative ninety second intro before it called Via Dolorosa, which was the route through Jerusalem that Jesus walked to be crucified.
If that suggests weightier material than something as simplistic as If You Can Dream It (You Can Do It), then you'd be right. It starts out with a middle eastern vibe in the way that Rainbow often did, but it has a much more contemporary feel to it, almost a hint at industrial during the verses, albeit with all the rough edges filed carefully off because this is rooted in melodic rock. It prowls and stalks and there's some sort of processing done to Atkins's voice during the verses to make it even more memorable. It's an interesting sound and it's an infectious song.
Everything else sits a level behind these highlights, with Ode to a Madman maybe a nudge above as the closest to them. However, nothing lets the side down and there's something to every song that makes it a worthy inclusion, even Shine, which suffers from following Godless. It was always a good song and it has a particularly well crafted bridge, but it struggles to, well, shine, after a gem like Godless that does things differently. However, listen to it in isolation and it has no problem in telling us how good it is. It was here that I realised just how good this album was.
There's a nice bounce to Sister Sinister. Raining Fire has a real swagger to it. Paper Tiger is slick as it gets. The Unwanted feels like commercial Blue Öyster Cult. What If wraps up the album with an overt touch of musical theatre. None of them stand out for me personally but every one of them has something that could make it your favourite. That's the sign of a damn good album, meaning that it's three absolute gems out of three for Ronnie Atkins, who's always been a fantastic singer and songwriter but who is making it look so easy nowadays. Any singer or band playing melodic or hard rock nowadays ought to go to sleep and dream about being this good.