Monday 1 April 2024

Moonpark - Good Spirit (2024)

Country: Czechia
Style: Melodic Rock
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 28 Mar 2024
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | YouTube

This is a debut album and, while it sounds like a debut album, the problems I had with it started to go away when I realised some things. Moonpark hail from Czechia instead of an amusement park on the moon, which isn't quite as cool but does give them a good shot at being influenced by bands from both western and eastern Europe, as well as America and whatever travelled. They're relatively new, having formed in 2020 but this mostly sounds like it could have been released on a small record label in the eighties.

Initially, the obvious influences are American AOR bands. Dancing in a Lie opens up like a Survivor classic, with carefully placed power chords against a repetitive keyboard rhythm. Then it launches into the quintessential components of the genre: a simple but strong riff, a good melodic line and a decent guitar solo. Blinding Fire continues in much the same vein, with the addition of effective piano touches to underpin it. It's all mildly aggressive but rooted so carefully in melody that what I mean by aggression is Separate Ways rather than Don't Stop Believin'.

The weak spot for me was immediately the vocals of Michal Kolacek, but I still had a realisation to make and I didn't make that until Together nine tracks in. Because everything is so obviously AOR, I was comparing him to Steve Perry and he was coming off third best. What I eventually realised in Together is that he isn't aiming to be quite that clean. There's some nineties in his voice, whether it's a slight edge in Good Spirit that reminds of Matt Kramer of Saigon Kick, someone starting out the nineties with something a little darker before grunge took over, or a half snarl on Together like Axl Rose once he leaned into his unique voice.

Now, whether that's the right goal for Kolacek, given what everyone else is doing behind him, is up for grabs, but it has to be acknowledged to realise what he's doing. Once I did so, I heard him in a new light, one with less caveats attached to it. He certainly hits some impressive notes on Good Spirit and Blinding Fire. Of course, he's also presumably Czech but singing in English, so kudos for making it sound like he's just as fluent as I am as a native speaker. I couldn't remotely sing songs in Czech, even if I had any sort of vocal talent. He makes a second language seem easy.

After a few times through, I honestly believe that choice has a much larger negative effect on the songwriting than it does on his singing. None of the lyrics here manage to break past the generic and they get rather clichéd on the second side, especially once the ballads show up. There were a few points where I started to mentally keep track of how many eighties song titles I could identify within the lyrics. Did whoever wrote this material learn English from listening to David Coverdale numbers? Inquiring minds want to know.

If I had some issues with the vocals, even if I was able to resolve most of them eventually, I found the instrumentation solid and, lyrics aside, the songwriting does some impressive things. There's a particularly sassy riff in Kiss Me, which may well be my favourite song here. Good Spirit flows as smoothly as a Journey classic, especially once it gets to the bridge. I could even cite Abba here, as there are some effortless pop melodies too, just with that subtle edge to Kolacek's voice. Rock 'n' Roll Train had to get moving quickly with a title like that and it does. It has the fastest pace of any song here, even though it remains firmly within the melodic rock genre.

The songs in between all these are decent too, if a level below the ones I've mentioned. It's when we get to Together that it starts to go wrong for a while. If someone has written a textbook on the way to write a piano driven power ballad, they might just have copy/pasted Together onto a page. I tend to hate piano driver power ballads and I'm not a fan of this one, though I have to admit that it's unexpectedly growing on me a little on further listens. When We Were Young starts out like a piano driven power ballad too, though it does grow beyond that at least a little.

The only song in between those two is a particularly odd one. At points, Summer Night sounds like a fifties pop song. At times it sounds like a fifties pop song as covered by classic era Kiss. Mostly it sounds like a fifties pop song covered by classic era Kiss but then covered in turn by Bryan Adams, which is an odd mixture. There are clichés again, but it's decent enough and I do like its bass line, courtesy of Petr Kolar. And the only song left after them is Dawn, which returns to hard rock Journey and does it pretty well, but it feels a little out of place after the ballads.

And so this is a mixed bag for me. There are some strong melodic rock songs here, most obviously on the first side. I know plenty of people who would love Dancing in a Lie and Blinding Fire and many who would dig Kiss Me and Good Spirit. Jirka Dolezel doesn't bring anything new to melodic rock with his guitarwork, but he was consistently the standout for me; I enjoyed all of his solos to some degree and loved a bunch of them. So there's good here. The bad is mostly constrained to a stylistic choice by Kolacek that may play better for others than it does for me and the clichés that leap out from the lyrics. I wonder if they'd write more substantial lyrics if they did so in Czech, but that wouldn't be as internationally commercial, of course.

Where it ended up for me was a decent debut that sounds like a big break for a small band but an important one. The question now is how they can build on that. They've got their sound out there into the world and now they get to market it. It may be hard to get this sort of quintessentially old style material onto the airwaves but it can be done and there are stages all over Europe. I hope to see a second album in a few years time that's more mature and brings Moonpark into their own. Only time will tell.

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