Album review: PHENOMENA – Still The Night

PHENOMENA – Still The Night

Cherry Red [Release date 27.11.20]

Tom and Mel Galley put Phenomena together in 1984. Glenn Hughes, Don Airey, Cozy Powell, Neil Murray had been enlisted…Whitesnake versus Deep Purple, a metalised marriage made in hard rock heaven. The following year they released the debut. It was to be the first of an art rock triptych with a supernatural theme.

The second and third albums brought in additional vocalists and musicians, but it was recognised that Hughes was the marquee name, thus this compilation cherry picks the Hughes tracks from the trilogy.

Rumours that MTV had killed the concept album stone dead proved to have been exagerrated, as Phenomena sold over a million copies. Unquestionably a product of its times, it ignored the musicians’ day job and opted for a focus on Radio Rock, big on mood and atmosphere. ‘Dance With The Devil’ lighly underscores the drama, with celtic flavoured keyboard frills and understated axework, leaving Hughes’s macho tones centre stage. The especially good ‘Who’s Watching You’ and ‘Twilight Zone’ particularly combine keyboard heavy pop and overt AOR tropes, recalling Asia and ELO.

Galley assembled a cast of thousands for the follow up, Dream Runner (1987). It is a considerably more expansive affair. ‘Hearts On Fire and ‘Surrender’ lead the way with bigger choruses and juicier axe solos. Both sound like lost pages from Europe’s 80s songbook, full of cascading keys and dramatic choruses. And even up against Ray (Badlands) Gillen and Max (GTR/Bronz) Bacon, Hughes doing his mucho macho thing on these two tracks is what grabs your attention.

We skip the “Hughes free” Inner Visions (1992), and move onto Psycho Fantasy (2006), with Hughes handling vocals on three tracks.

The entire album was a much heavier affair than the Project’s first two releases, with some interesting songwriting going on. Tony Martin’s and Lee Small’s vocals are a thrill to listen to, but it’s Hughes who gives the album weight and momentum. His lived in vocals, a legacy from his dalliance with the darkside a decade and more before, are a compelling driving force on the hard rocking ‘Touch My Life’ and the funked up ‘How Do You Feel’, with the riffy, metallised ‘Higher’ boldly reminding us of the musician’s seventies roots.

Still The Night is as much a salute to Hughes as it is a Phenomena compilation, providing us with the best of both worlds. ****

Review by Brian McGowan

Album review (reissues, 2018)

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