Night Ranger- ATBPO

Frontiers Records (Release Date 06.08.21)

Night Ranger’s first album in four years, the title ‘And the Band Played On’ is a nod to the challenges of making music during the pandemic, though to reduce the album title to its less memorable acronym is just one of a number of puzzling aspects to the album.

The first three songs are in a similar mould to 2017’s ‘Don’t Let Up’ which rocked hard but was short of vintage NR songwriting. ‘Coming for You’ is pacey with a powerful riff if lacking some melody in the vocals or hooks, but  ‘Bring it All Hone to Me’ is lighter in touch and highly enjoyable if over familiar, with its chorus exuberantly delivered by  Jack Blades, spoiled only by an oddly unmelodic guitar solo. ‘Breakout’ has the trademark twin guitars of Kerri Kelli and Brad Gillis recurring throughout the song which is fast paced, even if the chorus is a bit of an afterthought, and ends in the fashion as ‘Don’t Tell Me You Love Me’.

The album has already caused some controversy for its departures from the trademark NR sound and the first example is ‘Hard to Make It Easy’. It boasts a twin guitar intro and a ‘Reeling in the Years’ type shuffle, but the dominant instrument is the honky-tonk, barroom-style piano from Erik Levy (whose keyboards are all but invisible on the rest of album) giving it a feel of southern rock or even bro country.

Actually I loved it and thought they carried off a different style really well. The country feel is then stronger on the ballad ‘Can’t Afford a Hero’, with some nice slide guitar. With vocals which barely sound like Jack Blades or Kelly Keagy, first impression was it was lacking in passion and even a bit dreary, but it grows with a further listen.

‘Cold As December’, which seems to be the first sung by Kelly,  rocks hard with a strong, almost Cinderella-ish riff, though the middle section is a bit disjointed and the lyrics average at best. It is a curate’s egg and likewise ‘Dance’, boasting a ‘We Will Rock You’ style drum pattern, is bright and sunny but has a rather repetitive chorus. Again it is not particularly Night Ranger sounding, so it takes further listens to appreciate in its own right.

However ‘The Hardest Road’, a Kelly sung ballad, suffers from a phoned in lack of passion. Yet in a contest for the weakest Night Ranger song, it is immediately followed by another in ‘Monkey’, which taps into the same musical vein as ‘Breakout’ but lacks its charm. ‘I’m your monkey, I’ll be your junkie’ is one of the worst offenders in an album where the lyrics have a lazy feel to them.

‘A Lucky Man’, borrowing the staccato riff of ‘Mona’, is also on the throwaway side until a quality guitar solo before ‘Tomorrow’ finally sees the return of classic Night Ranger, notably in some aggressive closing guitar work. It is the final official song with a bonus track ‘Savior’ again below their standards.

Well played and produced throughout, I would argue they have struck the right balance between sticking to a tried and tested sound and expanding their repertoire. However, particularly in the second half, they fall below their usual standards so it is likely to be considered one of the weaker efforts in their distinguished catalogue.    *** 3/4

Review by Andy Nathan

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