There is something with AOR, rock and pop bands naming themselves after cities / continents. Think about it – Boston, Chicago, Kansas, Texas, Asia, Europe, Japan, Alaska, Berlin – and there are probably more of them if you bother to google a bit. Well, Swedish AOR duo Hank Erix and Freddie Allen looked at some of the mentioned bands, the more AOR oriented ones such as Boston, Kansas and Chicago and realized Houston wasn’t taken. Said and done – Houston it was and when they released their self titled debut album in 2010, they were hailed as the great new hope of AOR with raving reviews everywhere. The second album, Relaunch (2011) was an album of covers – a bit of an appetizer for the next album, if you will. Their third album was called II, it came out in 2013 and the rave reviews kept coming. Album #4 was made of more covers and called Relaunch II and it saw the light of day in 2014.
So with two albums of original material and two made out of covers, the only natural thing was to release a new album, their fifth, made out of only originals – and to call it III. By now, Houston had turned into a real band instead of a duo and this time, the only remaining original member is Hank Erix (lead vocals). The remaining gang is as follows: Calle Hammar (guitars), Soufian Ma’Aoui (Reach, Palace, Adrenaline Rush on bass), Oscar Lundström (drums) and Victor Lundberg (keyboards). This means that Hank and the other 50% of the guys who started the duo has now split. My own relationship with Houston have been more, let’s say, sporadic. I have heard some of their stuff, both covers and their last album, but most of it have fallen on the way-side. Not that I think they’re crap, it’s just that nothing have really stuck with me. But with their new record, I thought it was time to give the band a fair shot.
Opener “Cold As Ice” (also the title of a very famous Foreigner song) kicks in and it sounds very much like I had expected – pink and fluffy with a big pop meets AOR sound and a very strong and catchy refrain. But. There are some slightly progressive moments here and there which brings some unexpected dimensions to the tune – a very good move and an awesome track! They keep up the good work with “Everlasting”, a pure AOR track that holds a rockier groove and an upbeat tempo and a catchy refrain that grabs of a hold me after first listen. Yes, I like this very much. “Dangerous Love” also moves in a faster pace. This is pop rock with a major AOR vibe that’s total 1986. It’s sweet and saccharine and very catchy but it still rocks. A damn good tune. The title “Lights Out” makes me think of UFO but that’s the only resemblance to the old British classic rock band. This tune is a ballad, an AOR ballad that is slick, smooth and silky and syrupy enough to had topped the charts everywhere in 1986. It’s a good song but a bit too saccharine, I’m afraid.
“Amazing” was the title of an ok Aerosmith ballad in the mid 90’s but Houston’s song is a straight forward AOR tune, very slick but with a steady beat and a bit of a punch. It’s an ok song but I find it too middle-of-the-road with not enough catchy hooks to make it a stand-out tune. This one passed me by without making an impact at all. Next up is “To Be With You” and no, it’s not a cover of Mr Big’s biggest hit (I’m sorry about all the name dropping…). This is a more melancholic and dark mid-paced rock song that goes into the heavier side of AOR with a bit of a modern ballad touch. An ok song, but it didn’t set my world on fire, so to speak. “Glass Houses” is better even though it also comes in a mid tempo. It’s also very slick, smooth, pink and fluffy but with a bit of a crunch. It has an over-all beautiful melody and a very catchy refrain and I like it even though it’s not as spot-on as the first few songs.
“Twelve-Step” also goes into ballad territory although it’s more of an uptempo ballad. However, I find it a bit light-weight as it goes more into pop / west-coast than actually AOR. It’s ok but it fails to move me and it never hits any nerves at all – it’s just there and it just doesn’t go anywhere. “Road To Ruin” is a bit of a contrast in itself. On one hand, it’s slow, soft and has one foot in ballad county but on the other hand, the guitars are lifted higher in the mix and are more audible here – which is a good thing. Still, the tune doesn’t catch my ear and I find the chorus just isn’t catchy enough. It’s not bad, though. Closing track “Interstate Life” is pretty much a cute little pop song, very smooth, clean and very direct. All the AOR elements are present and it sure has its fair share of hooks but for some reason it just doesn’t stay with me and I have a hard time remembering the song when the last chord has struck.
The album started out very good – better than I though it would, actually – but it falters some along the way. It’s easy to hear that these guys knows their AOR through and through and that they obviously are very good at what they do but still, I have the feeling that something is missing, that little extra thing that takes this album from being just good to great. One thing that bugs me is that I find it too clean, too sugary and too soft. And since I’m a guitar guy, I want the guitars to be the instrument that leads the way, not the keyboards and this album contains too few loud guitars and not enough heaviness – I do want some punch and attitude even in my AOR. All this makes it hard for me to find the music engaging enough even though I can hear that the guys are really stellar song writers. Maybe hardcore AOR:sters will beg to differ here but for me, this album reaches good with a bit to go to making it great.
More Houston reviews:
1. Cold As Ice
3. Dangerous Love
4. Lights Out
6. To Be You
7. Glass Houses
9. Road To Ruin
10. Interstate Life