The first time I laid eyes on their name, I thought Cruzh were a metal act from Poland or Russia or some place like that. Fact is, I didn’t even know how to pronounce it. Now I know better. Of course, Cruzh is the word “crush” misspelled. I’m not sure why they felt they had to use a z instead of a s, maybe they were trying to be different but I think it runs the risk of confusing people. Well, enough about the name, Cruzh – Tony Andersson on lead vocals and keyboards, Anton Joensson on guitars and Dennis Butabi Borg on bass (with session drummer Louisian Boltner who played on the album) – are an AOR trio from Sweden that rose from the ashes of glam / sleaze rockers TrashQueen, Anton’s and Dennis’ former band. They hooked up with Tony who they knew from when he worked as a studio musician on the never released TrashQueen album when they noticed that they all shared huge affections for AOR and melodic rock, presumably mostly from the mid eighties. At first the guys decided to not reveal who they were and when they introduced the band online in 2013, the page only showed three silhouettes and the line “Get ready for the Cruzh”. This was, of course, a marketing thingy that they hoped would make people talk about them and trying to create a buzz. It kind of worked because when the band revealed themselves for the release of their debut E.P. Hard To Get, it got some raving reviews world-wide and so was also the case of its follow-up E.P. Aim For The Head. By the time we were writing 2015 in our calendars, Cruzh were in the works of recording yet another E.P. when they got a call from Frontiers records and were offered a deal with them. The guys didn’t think twice about that and instead of a third E.P. they recorded a full album. So, here we are a year later and Cruzh’s debut album is just about to hit the shelves when I write this. Now, AOR and melodic rock bands from Sweden has been popping up like mushrooms in later years with mixed results. When the AOR and melodic rock boom started in Sweden back in the first decade of the 2000’s, there were lots of really good bands coming out, but since then the scene has gone more or less overkill and too many mediocre products has been released so it’s easy to take all the talk of how great every new AOR band is with a big pinch of salt. Fact is, I actually have become really jaded when it comes to this kind of music. So it is with very critical ears that I listen to this kind of music nowadays.
The first thing I notice with opener “In N’ Out Of Love” is that it has borrowed a whole damn lot from Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer”, so much that it borders to theft. But once I’m over that I can state that it is a very poppy song, total AOR with a chorus so sticky you’ll be singing it for days even if you hate it. It’s almost too cheesy, but I have a soft spot for songs like this so I dig it. “First Cruzh” comes with a big Boston influence and the backing vocals has so many layers that it would make Mutt Lange breathless. It’s a very catchy, pink and fluffy AOR rocker, but the quality of it is sky-high – great stuff! “Aim For The Head” is reworked from their second E.P. and it’s really mind-boggling that this tune didn’t become a hit when it was first released because this uptempo AOR rocker has all the right ingredients to be one – an addictive melody, an amazing chorus with hit written all over it – brilliant song. It’s ballad time when “Anything For You” comes along, but this one is way too buttery for me, I can almost see the butter pouring out of the speakers. This doesn’t belong on a rock album, it belongs in the old folk’s home – lame! But they mend the damage with next song up, “Survive”. This is a melodic rock song with a good hard rock beat and I’m thinking Def Leppard meets FM here. The big chorus sounds like something Reckless Love could have come up with if they were any good. They aren’t but this song sure is. Next up, ballad time again and with “Stay” they have given us a much better ballad than the last one. The song puts me in a time machine back to 1986, so much it even gives my bald head a perm. It’s a bit too cheesy but not so much that it annoys me.
“Hard To Get” is the title track of their first E.P. and again, I can’t believe this one didn’t get on heavy rotation on the radio back then because this one too deserves to be a hit. Sound wise it sounds like 80’s Bon Jovi kicking it up with Swedish AOR rockers Dalton and on top of that they bring out a chorus that has a Crashdïet – like melody. The chorus is über-catchy and I can’t get the song out of my head if my life depended on it – this is AOR Heaven! On “You”, the guitar arrangement just screams Boston and the immediate catchiness starts already with the verse, but unfortunately the chorus fails some – it’ just won’t stick. Bummer because this could have been another mega hit to be. It’s an ok song, but it could have been great. “Set Me Free” however, is a real killer. It’s a hard rock groovy AOR stomper, a bit faster and more uptempo than the rest of the songs and I really like that this song rocks with the guitars more upfront – I would have appreciated more of this, to be honest. “Before I Walk Alone” is an uptempo pop / AOR tune, very slick. The melodies are catchy and all but it falls a bit on the way side and it never lifts. It reminds me of Danger Danger. The last song on the album is called “Straight From My Heart” and is another ballad. It sounds like something that Nelson left out of their 1990 masterpiece After The Rain which can never be a bad thing. It starts out acoustically and stripped but after about half the song it turns into a bona fide power ballad. It’s actually really cheesy on the border to wimpy, but it has something I can’t put my finger on, something that makes me like it. Live it has every possibility to become one of those lighter (well, these days we use our phones instead…) ballads.
To sum it up, for the most this is a really good album albeit a bit uneven at times – there a few fillers too many here. It’s very well produced with a great sound scape, but I think it’s a bit too well produced – it’s over produced. It’s too clean and too soft sounding and even a bit sterile and plastic and it lacks dynamics. It never gets Ron Nevison bad but I want more depth and a steady ground – AOR is always better when it’s not too polished. Also, with a great singer like Tony Andersson in the band, the auto tune that rears its ugly face here and there is completely mind-boggling to me. Still, despite the criticism, I find this album very likable and the songs that are good are bloody awesome and it’s easy to hear that these boys are great musicians. But the question is, would I buy this album? Yes, I would and it’s an album that won’t get erased from my playlist anytime soon. I see a very bright future for Cruzh just around the corner. I can’t wait for their next album.
1. In N’ Out Of Love
2. First Cruzh
3. Aim For The Head
4. Anything For You
7. Hard To Get
9. Set Me Free
10. Before I Walk Alone
11. Straight From My Heart