Membran/Riff City Records [Release date 11.03.13 ]
Listening to ‘Rockville’ you can’t help thinking “how on earth did the band remain nearly men” in the late-1980s in spite of a dedicated following and when AOR was “king”? And then you think “are they going to demand wider attention in the Millennium?”
I have to be honest: I really warmed to this band on their “return” and I particularly enjoyed ‘Wildside’, a little bit unexpected but a monumental riff-driven groove. For me, they’ve not really topped that since although they continue to produce solid music, starting with the album ‘Metropolis’ which even brought them back to daytime radio playlists.
Anyone looking for anything other than prime-time FM c.1986 should look away. What the band have done is build on their 2007 comeback and produced an album that could have been made back in the heyday. This will no doubt please their hardcore fans but I am not sure it will please anyone else.
Perhaps I’ve missed the point. With the band financing this project via Pledge Music you could say that all bands need to do now is to literally play to a captive audience who are prepared to invest directly. I am not sure this is healthy though in terms of broadening a fanbase or stretching the envelope in terms of the music. Bands could end up producing safe, comfortable albums for safe, comfortable audiences.
‘Tough Love’ and ‘Wake Up The World’ typify the band’s approach, catchy tunes that will sound good on radio but they are terribly dated. Ditto ‘Only Foolin’ the early single which demonstrates the band at their most soulful. A couple of other songs do remain standouts: ‘Story Of My Life’ (with Overland at his passionate best) and ‘High Cost Of Loving’, albeit in a late-eighties cocoon.
FM have always veered toward the soulful end of the melodic/AOR spectrum, spearheaded by Steve Overland’s classy vocals but I would have preferred a lot more darkness in the mix and some rock “edge”. It isn’t here, except for just one track – the excellent ‘Crosstown Train’.
The whole thing is a tad predictable, even the guitar solos (although always elegantly executed); perhaps it was the sheer novelty of the last album that enchanted but I think overall it was a much stronger offering.
I am not privy to the extended version of the album that was sold via Pledge Music (and which will get a general release as ‘Rockville II’), so I can’t say whether the second album packaged with “Rockville” is a bit more risky. I hope so.
The reasons why FM never capitalised on the success of their debut album in 1986 have been well-trodden and have much to do with the prevailing musical currents of the day and not least industry foibles.
FM are a great band and a great bunch of guys, evidently revelling in their second coming, but there’s no idea from this album that they are in any way stretching themselves or reaching out to a younger audience. It’s like the car on the cover : solid and reliable in its day but not very sexy. ***1/2
P.S. FM always give value for money and Rockville II is neither an album of leftovers nor the ubiquitous “alternative” mixes. Starting with three songs that might have made the first cut, ‘Bad Addiction’ perhaps too much in Thunder territory for comfort.
The companion album should be an essential purchase if you haven’t already acquired it through the pre-sell deal. If it tends to play safe again, it does show that FM are a band of consistency and sheer quality.
The instrumental ‘Desolation Station’ which folds into ‘Runaway Train’ was perhaps a little heavy for the ear candied main offering, but it shows the band’s moodier side to great effect with excellent synth orchestration and of course another great Overland vocal performance.
The remaining tracks are joyous reminders of classic, radio-friendly AOR that although strictly belong to a more carefree age are effective nonetheless, including ‘Living For The Weekend’, ‘Forever And A Day’, ‘Paradise Highway’ and ‘Brother Take Me Home’ whilst ‘Last Chance Saloon’ sounds more like prime-time Eagles in ‘Lying Eyes’-mode, perhaps with a bit of Darren Wharton’s Dare thrown into the mix. ****
Most bands would be more than happy to release this as their “main” album. Taken in the round, a renascent band to be reckoned with and a great overall **** package.
Review by David Randall
David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.
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