Album review: FOREIGNER – With the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra & Chorus

FOREIGNER - With the 21st Century Symphony Orchestra & Chorus

earMUSIC [Release date 27.04.18] 2-CD

As rock gets old, anniversaries and special editions are the order of the day.  I can’t see the current crop of younger rock bands having this luxury 40, or even 25, years on.  But, for the older generation of classic rockers (and AOR titans), the special edition sure beats making new music.

In fact, this lack of new inspiration/incentive could be levelled at a band like Foreigner.  For the past decade they’ve consistently recycled the old stuff, either re-recording, going acoustic or the greatest hits live (4 albums).  Their last studio album was in 2009 – the excellent Can’t Slow Down – which in some versions came with the inevitable bonus disc of re-mixes.

Now, to complete the circle, we get the orchestral version of the “hits” prior to the band’s welcome return to the UK for dates in May.

There are some obvious candidates for the swirling strings treatment (and 60-piece choir), so of course we get ‘Waiting For A Girl Like You’ and, moreover,  ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’ which Gareth Malone would have been proud of (not least the audience contribution).

On the former, Kelly Hansen’s otherwise excellent vocal exposes that it lacks the soulful warmth of a Lou Gramm and you have to conclude that modern synthesisers are damn fine orchestra substitutes especially in the hands of Michael Bluestein.

The choir is deployed on the stirring, acapella intro to  ‘When It Comes To Love’  and the haunting intro to ‘That Was Yesterday’. Foreigner’s prog digression – ‘Starrider’ – is perhaps best suited to the orchestrated transformation, coming over as something Justin Hayward would have been proud of.

The album is well orchestrated by Grammy-nominated Dave Eggar and Chuck Palmer, ‘Double Vision’ affording a particularly good example.  But whether the orchestral treatment enhances such gems as ‘Cold As Ice’, ‘Feels Like The First Time’ and ‘Juke Box Hero’ is debatable.

This last piece is now the colossus in the band’s set and degenerates in to a mid-tune call and response groove – perhaps this could have been punctuated with some thrilling string stabs – before being rescued by Bruce Watson’s convincing guitar work.  On the other hand, ‘Urgent’ emerges relatively unscathed retaining that ever-so-cool sax solo in the very capable hands of the redoubtable Thom Gimbel.

The gig is available on DVD and includes ‘Head Games’, ‘The Flame Still Burns’ and ‘Hot Blooded’ – all missing from the CD version.  One has to question why these tracks were omitted as each side of the CD pans out to less than 50 minutes.

One thing is for certain, the last time I saw Foreigner live was in 2014 when they were in tremendous form and the material never sounded so good.  The band were fantastic before the professorial Mick Jones arrived on stage (several tunes in to their set) but when he took up his rightful commanding (and historic) role on guitar and occasional keys everything moved up a notch.

The band have toured with orchestra in Europe (this 2-CD set was recorded in Switzerland in May 2017) and in the USA in March/April of this year but the UK dates will be with just the band.  On the evidence here, aside from the novelty value, that might not be a bad thing.  ***1/2

Review by David Randall

David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.

Gig review (Manchester Apollo, 12 May 2018)

Foreigner UK tour dates

May 12 – Manchester Apollo
May 13 – Glasgow Auditorium
May 15 – Birmingham Symphony Hall
May 16 – London Royal Albert Hall

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In this show, first broadcast on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio on 2 February 2020, David Randall plays a selection of tracks from some of the artists who impressed at this year’s Giants Of Rock event in Minehead (24-27 January).

Featured Albums w/c 17 February (Mon-Fri)

09:00-12:00 NEWMAN Ignition (AOR Heaven)
12:00-13:00 BLACK SWAN Shake The World (Frontiers)
14:00-16:00 CORMAC O CAOIMH Swim Crawl Walk Run (indie)

Power Plays w/c 17 February (Mon-Fri)

SHAKRA Turn The Light On (AFM Records)
THE NIGHT FLIGHT ORCHESTRA Transmissions (Nuclear Blast)
RYDERS CREED Lost Soul (Off Yer Rocka Recordings)
FRAMING HANLEY Puzzle Pieces (Thermal Entertainment LLC)
ROBERT HART Mysterious (Escape Music)

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