Back in 2008, when Swedish rockers H.E.A.T. released their self-titled debut album, they were the new hot-shots and looked upon as the new hope for AOR and the band that would be the next big Swedish export. The album was – and is to this day – seen as something of a small masterpiece in the AOR genre. But I must admit that personally, I wasn’t all that impressed. Sure, it’s a good record but it failed to grab me by large. But H.E.A.T. quickly gained a reputation as a great live act and even though the follow-up, 2010’s Freedom Rock got some mixed reviews from both fans and media (I belong to those who prefer that album over the debut), the band got bigger and bigger and after they participated in Melodifestivalen (the Swedish Eurovision Song Contest) with a song called “1000 Miles”, with which they got to the finals and the song became a huge hit, H.EA.T. had become more or less a household name in Sweden – the big break was close.
That’s when lead singer Kenny Leckremo did a John Norum and left the band he helped to form just when the breakthrough was right there around the corner. The reason was to focus on himself, so he moved to London and things turned dead quiet. When it came to Leckremo, that is. We all know what happened with H.E.A.T. – they recruited singer Erik Grönwall and became a big band, both in Sweden and internationally. It took Leckremo some eight years to find himself and regain his passion for music. With the assistance of his former band-mate Dave Dalone (who also left H.E.A.T. but now back in the band), Leckremo went to work and wrote songs and when it was time record, he went to his buddies, drummer George Härnsten Egg (Dynazty) and bassist Mikael Planefeldt (Streamline) with Leckremo himself holding lead vocal, keyboard and rhythm guitar duties and now his first solo record is finally released.
The first single that preceded the album, “10 Years”, is also the opening track. It’s an uptempo and pretty driving Pop song with AOR undertones with an early 90’s vibe. Melody-wise, it’s somewhat reminiscent of the debut H.E.A.T. album but as a whole it’s much poppier than that. The first time I heard it, it was merely a shrug of my shoulder but it grew on me fast and now I think it’s a terrific pop-pearl that deserves to be a hit – very good. “Nothing To Die For” starts up slow but speeds up some after a while. It’s a pop/rock tune with a clean guitar sound and it sounds like an AOR version of Dire Straits with a H.E.A.T.-like refrain that catches on pretty much right away. Good Stuff. “Where Do We Go” is a soft, laid-back tune based on acoustic guitar with a folky influence. The song is quite stripped and earthy but holds a killer keyboard arrangement and the memorable chorus brings on some superb, big vocals. Very good.
“Lullaby” starts out as a piano-based ballad but it speeds up and when the refrain hits, the guitars heavies things up for the first time. It slows down during the verses but the refrain is pretty driving and in-your-face still with some great piano-playing which gives the tune a big flow. It’s a damn catchy tune that should be a single at some point. “We Were Young” comes in a mid pace but still holds a groove albeit of a softer kind. It’s quite smooth and a bit earthy and it reminds me some of the more Soul influenced stuff on Journey’s Raised On Radio sound-wise. Good tune. “Give Her Some Time” is mid-paced as well but holds a more bluesy groove. There are some raunchy sounding guitars on it, Soul influences and an edgy organ that brings some Rock ‘n’ Roll to the table. On top lies a pretty smooth AOR melody and the refrain is immediate and grabs a hold right away. Brilliant tune!
The raunchier “Vagabond” brings on some chunky guitars and a good, meaty groove in an upbeat pace and the tune is both swinging and kicking. There is also a slight gospel-like vibe over it and it also holds a live feel and shitloads of hooks – a real killer! “White Lie” is a slow ballad albeit with a heavier sound, all in a West Coast/AOR way. But don’t expect a MTV power ballad from 1990 here. This tune is both bluesier with a Soul vibe and a Gospel twist in the back. Even though it’s a ballad, it’s quite groovy and bouncy with a very memorable main melody and a killer refrain. The latest Steve Perry album comes to mind, very earthy and organic – awesome! “Losing” is a slow, soft, piano-based ballad, quite laid-back and melancholic but still on the bombastic side. Again, Journey comes to mind here and I can easily imagine Steve Perry singing this – very good.
“Live While You Can” brings on an uptempo pace, very much in an AOR turns Pop way where the melodies brings on an early H.E.A.T. touch, especially in the chorus. It’s a quite driving tune with a punch, a softer kind of punch. The refrain is damn catchy, but it might need a few spins to catch on. Good tune. “Walking On Madness” holds an 80’s type of groove, uptempo with lots of synthesizers but it also brings on some raunchy and chunky guitars with a heavy rhythm section that makes for the most Hard Rock style on the record. It’s a straight-forward, rocking stomper but still quite poppy with a helluva refrain, catchy as can be. Brilliant! “Spectra Intro” is just that, an intro that just should have been part of the the following title-track, a title-track that starts out with an edgy guitar, quite heavy but the beginning of the song is with drums and a synth before the guitar comes back in. It’s slow to mid-paced with a stomping groove, very rhythmic and some Hard Rock thrown in here and there. There is also a soft, tranquil and soothing middle-break that brings up the dynamics. The 7-minute, quite epic track ends on a spacey and atmospheric note – a brilliant tune and a great closer.
This album is a grower so give it a few spins before the final judgement. It left me cold and underwhelmed after the first spin, I thought it was ok after the second but by fourth listen I loved it. But it’s important to know that this is not a hard album, in fact it’s on the softer Pop/Rock side. I would label this AOR but not like all the thirteen a dozen AOR bands that have come out of Scandinavia in later years. Leckremo has found his own style of AOR here, much to the fact that he dares to mix it up a little with whatever that comes along – be it Blues, Soul, Gospel, Hard Rock or plain Pop. Vocally, Kenny still can hold a tune like the best of ’em and he actually sound like no one else. So with a great songs, a very groundy yet big production and great players, Leckremo have with this album proved that there is still life after H.E.A.T. This is just the beginning and I’m sure Leckremo’s got a bright future ahead of him. Well done and welcome back!
1. 10 Years
2. Nothing To Die For
3. Where Do We Go
5. We Were Young
6. Give Her Some Time
8. White Lie
10. Live While You Can
11. Walking On Madness
12. Spectra Intro