Album review: JOHN NORUM – Total Control, Face The Truth, Another Destination (reissues)

JOHN NORUM - Total Control

Rock Candy Records Remasters [Release date 07.08.20]

It’s always about timing, isn’t it? John Norum left Europe on the cusp of the band’s breakthrough in 1986. He was legally obliged to fulfil a 3 album contract with the label.

These Rock Candy reissues are those 3 albums, now repackaged with 6 bonus tracks, remastered by the label’s top class tech guys. In recording technology terms, the mid eighties isn’t that long ago. It witnessed the birth of digital recording, with Midi sequencers and protocols quickly becoming key words in the lexicon of recording technology. Forty years later, acquired skills and fine tuning pump up the clarity, depth and definition that you hear on these remasters.

The Total Control (1986) band was tight and as solid, with Marcel (Rising Force) Jacob on bass, Goran (Brazen Abbott/Street Talk) Edman on vocals/backing vocals, and Peter (220Volt/Talisman) Hermanssen on drums. Jacob had a bunch of unused songs, and these formed the album’s foundation.

At times, you wonder about the veracity of the “going too commercial” musical differences cited as the reason Norum bailed from Europe. Yes, on ‘Let Me Love You’ and ‘Too Many Hearts’ particularly, there’s a blues guitarist fighting to get out. Yet, on other tracks, like on ‘Love Is Meant To Last Forever’ and ‘Eternal Flame’ (not that one), Norum laces his guitarwork with melodic, crowd pleasing fills, frills and solos, combining these effortlessly with Edman’s perfectly pitched vocals.

The original mixes were not great. These new versions sound sympathetically remixed as well as remastered, giving the music a “classic rock” sheen.  ***1/2

JOHN NORUM - Face The Truth

Five years later, after more than a year of touring the “Total Control” album, and a subsequent dalliance with Don Dokken’s solo album, Norum recorded Face The Truth. He brought in bassist, Peter Baltes, from the Dokken project, and got the vocalist he idolised, Glenn Hughes (who almost made it onto the “Total Control” tour, but that’s another story.)

Norum’s lack of songwriting skill was cruelly exposed here. Hughes’s vocals, now a gravelly mix of lived in funk and rock’n'roll groove, lifted many of the tracks out of shadows, but it’s no suprise that the covers of Thin Lizzy’s ‘Opium Trail’ and ‘Don’t Believe A Word’, outshine everything around them. So the album is not immediately lovable. You have to work at it. A lot. Ultimately the pair’s emotional and musical investment payoff, and the payoff is worth it.  ***

JOHN NORUM - Another Destination

The third remaster, Another Destination was originally released in 1995. In reissue terms, that seems like yesterday.

Norum again shows exquisite taste in his choice of vocalist. Kelly Keeling, originally of Baton Rouge, then later with MSG, King Kobra, George Lynch and others came in for this one, and shared several writing credits with Norum.

A couple of collaborations between Norum, Keeling and Alan Lorber, the legendary NY arranger/producer/composer, ‘Inside’ and ‘Resurrection Time’ prime the album nicely… neatly setting up a rambunctious cover of Humble Pie’s ‘Strange Days’.

They find that opening trio a hard act to follow. That said, Keeling’s bluesy growl locks onto a primitively hypnotic Norum riff on ‘Spirit World’, and Norum’s showpiece instrumental, ‘Shimmering High’ boldly mixes the lyrical and the visceral, staying the pace long enough to allow some real depth to emerge.

The remastering here is almost breathtaking. From the first track, the band are in the room. Classy and classic. You don’t listen, you wade through it.

Apart from the de rigeuer expanded liner notes, previously unseen pics and restored artwork across all three remasters, “Total Control” includes Norum’s 1988 “Live In Stockholm” recording, as a 6 track bonus.

Norum and Keeling went on to further cement their musical relationship in 1995, with their ‘Worlds Apart’ album.  ****

Review by Brian McGowan


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 20 September 2020.

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