Album review: BLACK SWAN – Shake The World

BLACK SWAN - Shake The World

Frontiers [Release date 14.02.20]

You have to say (again) that Frontiers knows how to put a band together, in this case Black Swan. Here are four musicians – Robin McAuley, Jeff Pilson, Reb Beach and Matt Starr – whose well documented CVs point to peak professionalism. All of these guys can nail down a sound or a musical concept with clarity, vision and style. And with Robin McAuley they have one of rock’s premier vocalists and, clearly, he’s still got it.

They put this album together via long distance hot-housing, growing musical ideas until they blossomed into fully formed songs. And so, there’s an abundance of richly melodic twists and ear-catching hooks here. It’s all good, but some tracks stand head and shoulders above the others, so let’s focus on them.

The heavily rhythmic ‘Big Disaster’, punctuated by a shotgun riff, is a peach. You could drool over the clean, gang vocal choruses and Beach’s razoring, get-in-quick-and-out-again axe soloing, but it’s drummer, Matt Starr who is the hero of the hour. His heavy, percussive thump drives this track along with metronome like precision, showing off Pilson’s full fat production.

The big and beautiful ‘Immortal Souls’ isn’t too far behind. Its pumped up, towering edifice of a chorus simply soars, sparking like a Chinese firework. As does the more subdued ‘Make It There’. A spiritual echo of the Alias classic, ‘Waiting For Love’, it adds muscle and heft to that perfect eighties’ AOR blueprint, reliving the drama and the romanticism of the genre.

But the real standout on this album is ‘Sacred Place’. It is a stunning melodic rock song, with an urbanity of tone and texture you don’t often find in popular music, never mind AOR. It cleverly marries a heartstopping hook to a simple “love story” lyric that assiduously avoids sentimentality, largely thanks to McAuley’s convincing delivery. Starr, Beach and Pilson tear it up in the middle section, just to provide framing for what came before and what goes after. God knows why this track is buried in the back half of the album.

We’ve focused on the best stuff, but the not-quite-the-best-stuff isn’t far behind. ****1/2

Review by Brian McGowan


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