Confession time. When I was a kid in my early twenties I had a huge – as in HUGE – crush on Robin Beck. I loved (and still do) her debut AOR album Trouble Or Nothin’ (1989) and I thought she was the most gorgeous woman on earth. I must have seen the video for “Tears In The Rain” a million times back then and I thought that if she ever plays in Sweden, not even a restraining order would keep me from stalking her. I wasn’t serious about that, of course – I wouldn’t even have dared to approach her to say hi back then – but man, what a teenage crush that was. Not only was she a beauty, she also had a fantastic voice and brilliant songs. In 2017, everything I wrote still stands. The teenage crush, however, is gone since many, many years. I even had the pleasure to talk to her after a gig not long ago so now I can add ‘extremely nice and humble’ to the list. No restraining order was needed. So it’s very hard to not be a fan of Robin Beck.
She did record some pretty awful follow-ups to Trouble Or Nothin’ – three of them, to be precise – but since she went back to playing melodic rock and AOR back in 2005, her albums have become better and better with each release. It is now four years since we got a sign of life from Beck, studio album wise. Her last album Underneath (2013) was really good but there’s one thing I have been reflecting over and that is her choice of style. Yes, I love the fact that she’s back where she belongs genre wise but since she have more or less used the same kind of song writers – herself included – and producers, her albums goes in the same direction, both when it comes to sound and song structure and to be honest, her last three records are all continuations of each other and I have wondered if she hasn’t taken her brand of AOR as far as she can. A slight change and some renewal musically to not stagnate and become samey probably wouldn’t hurt.
The album opens with “Island” and it’s clear right from go that my wanted change has come with this album. Unless this tune is a one-off, that is. It’s a mid-paced rocker that comes in a darker mood and is lots heavier than what we’re used to. The guitars are more upfront in the mix and the arrangement almost leans into the alternative side of rock. But the chorus brings the AOR into the picture and it sticks already by first listen. I really like this one. “On The Bright Side” is an uptempo pop song, pretty driven with a punchy rhythm. It’s not the usual AOR that Beck usually provides us with and it feel a little strange to hear her sing a pure pop song. But it’s very catchy and it comes with a huge hit potential. Great song. Next up, the album’s first ballad – yes, I assume that there will be more ballads to come. It’s called “In These Eyes” and it is brilliant. It’s soft, yet big and bombastic. It’s not really a power ballad – which is what we might expect but more of a regular pop ballad that draws itself towards west coast rock or poppy AOR – and it’s not cheesy at all. The arrangement is soothing and the chorus is so very catchy.
The title track is a heavy piece but with a distinct groove. It’s a mid paced melodic rocker that leans towards hard rock more than AOR. It’s the album’s first single/video but I’m not sure about its hit potential. I mean, it’s a very catchy tune but at the same time, it’s pretty raunchy and more of a grower so if she’s aiming for airplay here, I’m not sure it’ll work. That said, I think it’s a killer track but more of an album track than a single. “Me Just Being Me” is a funked up melodic rock track with a big, bad-ass groove. The tune mixes rock ‘n’ roll, funk and hard rock with a bluesy touch of pop and AOR – and the chorus is mega-catchy. It’s a new and unexpected move from Beck but it works like a charm. Love it! “On To Something” is a striking ballad, dark and heavy yet very melodic and memorable. A pop song on a hard rock foundation – how brilliant! The balladry continues with “Lost” but this time we do get a power ballad, but a riff-happy and pretty heavy one. The refrain is pure catchiness and the tune is sticky as Hell – awesome!
The slight alternative twist returns with “Crave The Touch” but it is mostly a rocker where the arrangement lies on the melodic rock side. The groove is infectious, the melodies instant and direct and the chorus sticks right of the bat – there’s some major hit potential over this and I wouldn’t be surprised if modern rock radio picks it up if it’s ever released as a single. Very good. “If You Only Knew” is a mold breaking ballad if there ever was one. It goes into soul territory but also sports influences from both blues and gospel. While all that sounds really cool, there’s something very syrupy and sticky sweet when it comes to both arrangement and melody. An ok song but a bit too saccharine for me. The balladry continues with “Here I Am”, a slow, power ballad-ish rock song, you know, the kind of “lighter-in-the-air” arena rock ballad from the late 80’s. It is on the verge of chessiness, but it’s saved by an amazingly catchy refrain and even a punchy rock touch. In the end, I really dig the tune.
After a few ballads in a row, it’s time to rock things up again and “Girl Like Me” gives us a hand in that. This is an upbeat, raunchy rocker with a kicking-up-dust beat and a good dose of attitude. It goes for the throat with a big groove, an addictive main melody and a chorus that’s stickier than glue. Brilliant! She closes the album with “Warrior”, another ballad. But this is ballad is everything but awesome, in fact, it is the album’s low down. It’s glutinous, butter dripping and mainstream. I could add dull as well. It’s so obviously written for mainstream radio and belongs more in a contest like Idol than on a rock album. It’s the weakest song Beck has recorded in years. Should have been kept in the vaults.
Style wise, I think it’s great that Beck has put her thoughts outside the usual AOR box this time and it was clearly a good deal to use Cliff Magness as a co-producer (together with hubby James Christian) and co-writer here because for the most, the tunes here are damn brilliant. Ok, it’s not like Beck has re-invented the wheel by any means or gone off to be metal chick all of a sudden – it’s still melodic rock and AOR we’re talking about here – but she has made sure that this album isn’t just a continuation of the last two records. But it might be a camp divider among her fans. For starters, this album is heavier and rougher than anything she has done in the past – and the production is also a bit more modern and there will always be fans that want things like they always have been. But the way I see it, as long as we get a whole bunch of great songs, I don’t really care about changes, genres and whatever and great songs are something we get shitloads of here. So welcome back, Robin. Hope to see you on a stage near Sweden soon.
More Robin Beck reviews:
2. On The Bright Side
3. In These Eyes
4. Love Is Coming
5. Me Just Being Me
6. On To Something
8. Crave The Touch
9. If You Only Knew
10. Here I Am
11. Girl Like Me