GROUNDBREAKER – Groundbreaker

So, it’s time again for another Frontiers all-star project. I know for a fact that a lot of people is starting to get tired of all of those and quite frankly, it is getting a bit old. But. It all depends on which musicians that are involved. When it comes to band-like constellations and not just a bunch of Frontiers written songs and a known voice to sing them, I can let it slip and quite frankly again, many of those have been really darn good. This time it is FM vocalist and song-writer Steve Overland who wanted to do some outside writing and recording. Frontiers helped him to get in touch with three Swedes, guitarist/song writer Robert Säll (Work Of Art, W.E.T.) and bassist Nalley Påhlsson (Therion, Treat, Martina Edoff) and drummer Herman Furin (Work Of Art) with Frontiers’ all-rounder Alessandro Del Vecchio helping out on keyboards, to make this project happen.

For song writing duties, Säll says he brought in approximately 50% of the songs – he have been and still is, I guess, employed by Frontiers to deliver songs for various projects. But, he was fast to state that both Overland and Del Vecchio have been responsible for bringing in a whole lot of material as well. Since Del Vecchio is involved in more or less every Frontiers project, the songs have a tendency to sound a bit samey at times and you kind of know beforehand in which way the songs will go so it’s a positive thing when the other contenders helps to bring in the music – for diversity’s  sake. When it comes to Overland, we all know what a brilliant singer he is and the latest few FM records are to me their finest releases throughout their career. FM, as we all know, started out as a pure AOR outfit in the 80’s but in later years they have moved very close to Classic Rock which suits them very well. So for the first time in ages, it’s not entirely clear in which way a Frontiers project will go.

Opener and leading single “Over My Shoulder” gives us an idea of what to expect here. It’s clearly AOR we’re talking about and it is an uptempo stomper that sounds like a poppier FM – or FM back in the 80’s, if you will. It sure brings on some slick melodies and a big refrain but somehow I can’t make it stick. It’s a good song but a bit too standard. I guess my expectations might have been set too high. Latest single “Will It Make You Love Me” is a pretty groovy AOR-rocker that holds some fine guitar riffs and a good bounce. The big keyboard sound takes us back to the 80’s and the catchy refrain brings on a Bon Jovi around 1986 vibe. It’s a very good tune and why it is a single isn’t that hard to figure out. “Eighteen Til I Die” is a very smooth and slick AOR meets Pop song in a faster pace. It comes with a very catchy and snappy refrain – a good song but a bit too fluffy for me.

“Only Time Will Tell” is a straight-forward AOR-rocker in a faster pace that is big on keyboards and holds a really good refrain with lots of hooks. The mid 80’s sound lies all over this track and even though I like the chorus, the rest of song is pretty standard. “Tonight” is more or less a pure Pop song with AOR undertones. It’s very slick and syrupy and is close to balladry. It’s not bad at all but it fails to grab me and leaves me underwhelmed. “Standing Up For Love” is an upbeat AOR-stomper that is totally 1980’s complete with a bunch of “Whoa Whoa”‘s , but in the pre-chorus instead of the actual refrain. It reminds me of something that could have ben taken from FM’s Tough It Out (1989) album with lots of keyboards and a fat guitar at the bottom – and the refrain is catchy as can be. This should be a single. Best song so far.

Second single “Something Worth Fighting For” is the album’s big power ballad. Large, pompous and bombastic, this tune belongs in 1990 and I’m sure it would have been on heavy rotation on MTV back then. I’m a sucker for a grand power ballad if it’s well-written and arranged and this one sure is so I think it’s awesome. “The Sound Of A Broken Heart” is a groovy, straight-forward rocker – an attempt to get a bit more raunchy? But it’s not without Pop influences and it also holds lots of 80’s sounding blipping synth sounds. The contrast between the more groovy Rock and the slick AOR sounds works splendidly. The tune is somewhat reminiscent of Ozzy’s “Shot In The Dark”, a song he in his turn stole from Overland’s pre FM band Wildlife and re-wrote. Very good.

“First Time” brings on some nice turns as the verses and chorus contrasts some. The verses are slow, soft and ballad-like while the refrain speeds up the pace with some neat guitar riffing. It grooves nicely and the refrain is catchy as hell and it reminds me of late 80’s FM. A great tune with a very big hit-potential. “The Days Of Our Life” is a very direct and in-your-face Melodic Rock tune with a big chunk of Pop that holds a distinct refrain that sticks right off the bat – very good. Closing track “The Way It Goes” comes straight from the mid 80’s, style wise. It’s a very poppy AOR-rocker with the keyboards upfront but not short of guitars. The rhythm is stompy and the chorus is unbelievably catchy with shitloads of single potential. A great way to end an AOR record.

I must say that with all the talent involved here, I’m a bit disappointed – I thought the album would be better. But it is in any ways a bad album. It’s well composed, well-produced and the musicians are of the highest caliber and of course, Overland is – and has always been – a world-class singer with a broad range and lots of feel and soul. Where the album falters is in the song writing department. Again, I can’t find one bad track here however there are few fillers that for me turns out be quite forgettable. Luckily enough there are some damn good tracks as well. Style and sound wise, Groundbreaker goes for a sound in the vein of FM’s 80’s and while there’s nothing wrong with that, I was never a big fan of FM back then – I’m one of those who prefers their later albums. The thing is, while FM have got an identity of their own, Groundbreaker hasn’t – if it wasn’t for Overland’s voice, this could have been any AOR outfit out there. This is a good album but a few steps too many from being great.

6/10

Tracklist:

1. Over My Shoulder
2. Will It Make You Love Me
3. Eighteen Til I Die
4. Only Time Will Tell
5. Tonight
6. Standing Up For Love
7. Something Worth Fighting For
8. The Sound Of A Broken Heart
9. The First Time
10. The Days Of Our Life
11. The Way It Goes

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