Frontiers Records (Release Date 09.07.21)
Less than a year after the latest Pride of Lions album and only two after his ‘Reckoning’ release, powerhouse singer Toby Hitchcock is back in fairly short order with his third solo album. After using Erik Martensson and Michael Palace for his first two, this time the prolific Alessandro Del Vecchio is the chosen in-house Frontiers mastermind. The Italian has written or co-written every song, plays bass and keyboards, produced, engineered and mixed the album, and doubtless prepared the studio coffee.
Opener ‘Forward’ is a little different from before with a poppy keyboard-led backing, but in conjunction with Toby’s strong vocals the combination works. ‘Before I Met You’ though takes longer to appreciate and, in common with the rest of the album, has more of a Pride of Lions feel to it than its predecessors.
The title track threatens to take off but has a disjointed feel, not helped by a production that renders the rhythm section sterile, verging on feeble. The sad thing is that I can hardly say I am surprised, as disjointedness and generic musical backing have been a feature of too many of these studio-only projects.
In his day job Toby’s style benefited from the theatrical writing of Jim Peterik and Alessandro has similar leanings from time to time, so as a result the ballads probably come over better, including the piano-led ‘Tonight Again’, though ‘Don’t Say Goodbye’ is another which does not flow as well as it should.
We also need to talk about the lyrics. Granted, to take aim at the soft target of someone for whom English is a second language is a cheap shot: moreover this is a genre that sticks to fairly safe territory of love and relationships and does not pretend to be profound.
However I found myself compulsively drawn to their deficiencies, and the way couplets are thrown together in a jarring and often unrelated way, almost like playing with a magnetic poetry kit. The title track, ‘Garden of Eden’, despite a promising chorus and ‘Say No More’ are particular offenders, while the transcription of the lyrics onto the CD booklet somehow manages to make things even worse.
I can only rationalise my thoughts that, with Toby not being a songwriter, they stand out more coming out of the voice of very much an English language speaker.
In all fairness the last third of the album is actually very good, partially compensating for other disappointments, and even the production seems stronger and the arrangements more coherent.
Another ballad in ‘Run Away Again’ shows off that voice, and the AOR of ‘Two Hearts On The Run’ nearly but not quite manages to live up to a classic eighties keyboard intro, while the guitar solos from Martin Jepsen Andersen are all impressively tasteful and melodic.
‘On The Edge Of Falling’, with its ‘ who-oahs’ over some guitar runs from special guest Joel Hoekstra of Whitesnake has a rockier and more anthemic feel, but easily the best is saved till last in ‘Losing You’ an epic, theatrical ballad attacked by Toby with passion and with another good guitar solo in the middle.
So ultimately there was a fair bit to enjoy and overcome some of my reservations. But let’s not kid ourselves; given the undoubted talent of the main protagonists, this is a flawed effort with only flashes of their real quality. *** 1/4
Review by Andy Nathan
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