Palace took me a bit off guard when they (he, actually as the “band” is really Michael Palace doing 90 percent himself) released their debut album Master Of The Universe in 2016. Sure, I am a fan of both melodic Rock and AOR but since the album in question here hardly reinvented the wheel I was a bit surprised that I dug the album as much as I did. But Michael Palace is an artist with a huge love and passion for this kind of music and combined with his many talents as a multi-instrumentalist, producer and song writer, it really shouldn’t have surprised me at all. I didn’t know much about Michael back then but a quick google showed that his CV included great albums by First Signal and Kryptonite, a job at Frontiers as a song writer which included Toby Hitchcock, Adrenaline Rush, Miljenko Matejivic, Reach and Find Me. Now Palace is back with a new album – and a new haircut (well lack of, more…) and we hear talk about breaking out of the AOR box a bit musically.
The opening title-track and leading single takes off with steady beat in a faster pace. It’s a mix of Pop, Hard Rock and AOR, big on both synthesizers and crunchy guitars with a heavy rhythm. It follows the style of the last album and just like on that one, the chorus is absolutely brilliant and catches right off the bat. The album couldn’t have started in a better way. “Tears Of Gaia” brings on a synth sound that screams 1986 and Palace mixes that with a groovy rhythm and a Toto-like melody. This pearl of a Pop song is catchy as can be and it actually rocks. Awesome stuff. “Nothing Personal” is an upbeat, 80’s pop-rocker that’s groovy and punchy but with smooth and a big keyboard sound and a chorus to love. “Promised Land” is more straightforward melodic Hard Rock and quite heavy at times. It do come with an AOR arrangement where the guitars and keyboards goes hand in hand in the mix. Another killer!
The hit-fest continues with “Love Songs”, an uptempo Pop song, very smooth and slick, but it also bring on a Soul vibe while the AOR comes along in the direct and brilliantly addictive refrain. “Dangerous Grounds” is more rough and crunchy where Palace’s Hard Rock influences takes over more. Europe, Treat and 80’s Bon Jovi, when they still were a Rock band, are influences weaved in here. Lots of hooks and big melodies makes this tune an effective melodic rocker – and the chorus is just spot on. How great! “Queen Of The Prom” is the tune that takes Palace out of their AOR comfort zone the most. It’s still AOR but we also get 70’s Pomp that smells of both Queen and 80’s TNT. But that’s not enough. There’s a slight Beatles twist and a newer band like Cats In Space drops by to say hello. This is brilliant stuff and my favorite track on the album.
With “Who’s Counting Time”, it’s ballad time and even though it’s both cozy and soft, it’s not overly sugary. It hold melodies that sticks right away and a chorus made of super-glue but I still wouldn’t put this in the power ballad file. It has very little to do with “Very Rose Has Its Thorn” or “Heaven”. It could very well have shipped this album platinum had it been released in 1985, though. Great! “Julia” is a pretty raunchy late 80’s/early 90’s Arena Rock tune, big on guitars and bouncy rhythm with a live feel and a bluesy twist. The refrain might be on the more standard AOR side but it’s still catchy as hell and hard not to like! Closing track “To Have And To Hold” is a punchy yet quite slick AOR meets Melodic Rock track in a faster pace with a chorus so catchy it’s insane. There’s hooks all over the place, from verse to chorus and this must be a future single. A great closer that makes me wanna spin the record over and over again.
While this album is a natural follow-up to the debut it also differs a whole lot from that album. There are melodies and arrangements that are recognizable from the debut but on this record, Palace have really made sure not to repeat himself – this album is way more varied, both in the songs and the production. The sound here is bigger, more dynamic and it breathes in a way the debut didn’t. Sure, it’s an 80’s production but it doesn’t sound sterile or plastic and even though there are plenty of synthesizers here, the guitars are always present and the it never gets syrupy or cheesy. Palace also have an identity of their/his own which makes them/him stand out from all the thirteen a dozen AOR bands around. There are no weak songs at all here and finally I can enjoy a Swedish AOR record all the way through. The best AOR album of 2018? Well, there aren’t many released to threaten this one. Well done!
More Palace review:
1. Binary Music
2. Tears Of Gaia
3. Nothing Personal
4. Promised Land
5. Love Songs
6. Dangerous Grounds
7. Queen Of The Prom
8. Who’s Counting Time
10. To Have And To Hold