As alternative sounds ruled the roost in the nineties, musical styles that had ruled the previous decade were out of fashion and none more so than the melodic rock/AOR scene which was driven completely underground.
In pre-Facebook, YouTube and Spotify days there were nevertheless a few keeping the freak flag flying: Andrew McNeice’s melodicrock.com website, going strong to this day; mail order companies promoting new releases, albeit a tad over enthusiastically; and a few specialist labels- Now and Then and Escape from the UK, and from Germany, MTM which was co-owned by international footballer Thomas Hassler!
The latter seemed to specialise in bringing to light albums that had been recorded and shelved a few years before and mothballed by other record labels. For us long-suffering AOR fans, gems from bands like Steelhouse Lane and Tower City was like finding a store of whisky during the prohibition era and we devoured them eagerly.
One particular favourite of mine was Ransom’s ‘Trouble In Paradise’. Ransom was essentially a vehicle for a pair of members of Eddie Money’s backing band, guitarist Tommy Girvin and multi-instrumentalist Don Cromwell, with Ron Wikso from The Storm credited on drums.
Two things make this album special for me. One is Tommy’s voice – a gorgeous mix of Don Henley, John Waite, and Van Stephenson, albeit contrary to the first impression of his John Lydon-esqued spiky haired sneer on the CD booklet.
The other was the perfect lyrical content for an AOR genre once memorably described as ‘music for those who have loved and lost’. The tone is set when the first song ‘Bring It On Home’ opens with a mournful guitar line and Tommy with a catch in his voice simpers ‘we were up all night on the telephone/and I heard the words you said/how you needed time, more time alone’. Buying it around the time I came out of a break up myself, I played the songs over and over to the cost of my own well-being.
There were more up-tempo numbers like the Bad English-like title track and ‘Wounded By Love’, which would have sat comfortably on an Eddie Money album. Tommy had the raspiness of Bryan Adams on the latter and the comparison continued on the power ballad ‘Middle Of The Night’, which with its opening ‘yeah’ and big backing vocals, is like a low budget version of many of the songs on ‘Waking Up The Neighbours’.
However the standout cut is ‘Was it Worth Goodbye’, great AOR songwriting with power chords leading into a hook-filled chorus reminiscent of the late great Van Stephenson. The second half of the album is somewhat mellower with the mid- pocket ‘Can You Fall In Love Again’ and ‘Long Hot Summer’ and the more hi-tec sounds of ‘Can’t Live Without Your Love’.
‘Can You Take The Heartache’ continues that recurring lyrical theme, but is actually one of the album’s rockier numbers, but Tommy sounds superb on the ballad ‘Let Tonight Be The Night We Remember’. It may sound formularised, with every note telegraphed, but these guys knew how to write to the template.
Next to nothing has been heard of them since- they apparently did release a second album ‘Better Days‘ in 2010, but it passed everyone by. From the perspective of a millennium that has seen the revival of the genre’s popularity and a new generation come on board, albums like this seem quaintly dated and under produced. However it’s still a cracking piece of textbook AOR and a reminder of an era when a select few kept the faith.
Review by Andy Nathan
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 23 August 2020.
UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 25 August 2020.
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