MICHAEL THOMPSON BAND – Love & Beyond

Remember when the CD came around? I mean, when it totally threw vinyl into the garbage bin? All of a sudden, you as an artist didn’t have to think about if there was room enough for another couple of songs. The days of 8-10 songs an album were gone. All of a sudden 12-14 songs was more or less the norm and many bands and artists were giving that all they were worth. Every last song written did suddenly appear on albums and 15 – 18 tracks weren’t unusual at all. Which also meant filler-time deluxe. At first I loved it but it quickly wore me out. All that music was a bit too much to digest at one time. Luckily enough, that seem to have changed back now and we’re back to 10-11 tracks per album. Why I bring this up is because I saw the tracklist for this album and went “Oh no. 18 songs!!”. A closer look told me that seven of the tracks were interludes which is basically intros. Still, 11 tracks plus seven intros is a bit of an overkill.

Michael Thompson is a name I recognized immediately, however I couldn’t for my life put my finger on who the dude is or name any of his songs. A quick googling told me that apart for a couple of solo albums and a couple of albums with the Michael Thompson Band, the guy is a well used studio musician and song-writer and the different kind of artists he has been involved with are many – and it’s a quite impressing list I laid my eyes on. Cher, Michael Bolton, Joe Cocker, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Toni Braxton, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey, Sarah Brightman, Phil Collins, Meat Loaf, Shania Twain, Ray Charles and Mike Oldfield are a few names he’s worked with – and let’s not forget, shitloads of film and TV scores. Sure, not many Hard Rock or Metal names on there but you get the picture. When Thompson makes his return with his first record since 2007, now on Frontiers, it’s with a Rock album albeit on the softer side.

With seven interludes/intros, the opening track, naturally called “Opening” is just that – an intro. That one takes us straight into the album’s first “real” track, the title-track. Also the album’s leading single, the song is a pop-laden, soft-rock tune in mid-pace, quite laid-back with clear AOR influences. The tune won’t make you wanna crack open a beer and party-on Wayne but it do come with a damn catchy refrain and memorable melodies throughout the song. Very good. The softer approach continues with “Save Yourself”, a tune just as laid-back as the single but even smoother and with a bigger Pop outlook. However, the tune is more upbeat and holds a good rhythm which makes it a bit groovier. Good one. “Passengers” holds a slower pace but still with a good groove where electric guitars meets acoustic dito in a very appealing symbiosis. It’s a rhythmic pop-rocker that reminds me some of Bryan Adams in his hey-day. Good tune.

The first of the interludes, “Red Sun”, comes in as song # 5 and it’s more of guitar intro that makes way for the next track, “Supersonic”. It’s a mid-paced, guitar-driven, semi-acoustic pop-rocker not a far cry from Bon Jovi’s sound of the last 15 or so years. It’s mainstream and smooth and even though it’s not a bad track, I just won’t lift which makes the tune a decent shrug of the shoulder. Ok but that’s all. “Le Perouse”, the next interlude, is a short, guitar-intro that doesn’t say much but still got a good melody. “Don’t Look Down” breaks out a bit as it’s built on heavy guitar riffs and a steady rhythm. That said, I wouldn’t claim it’s a heavy track per se. What we get here is another pop-rocker with a good groove and a sticky main-melody complete with a stickier refrain. I quite like it. “Far Away” is an upbeat yet laid-back and smooth pop tune with a slick AOR vibe and an unctuous main-melody. It’s still a decent track but it doesn’t arouse me.

“Penny Laughed” is the first interlude that speaks to me. It’s short and instrumental, of course, but atmospheric with tranquil arrangement over a laid-back pace. “Love Was Never Blind” will surely be filed under West-Coast/AOR but at the same time it holds a good, meaty Hard Rock guitar riff and raunchy groove. Still, it’s both smooth and slick and the infectious chorus is pure Pop – clearly a future single. Very good. “Black Moon” is really only a short intro that passes by pretty much unnoticed but it leads us into the album’s first full-on ballad “Flying Without Wings”. Smooth and soft with a big refrain, the tune reminds me some of John Waite’s solo stuff from the 80’s. It’s slick and AOR-laden but not cheesy. Very good. “Forbidden City” is the album’s last interlude. It’s a shorty and again it holds an atmospheric feel but it still feels more like an intro – an intro that takes us right into…

…”Just Stardust”, an upbeat pop-rocker with a more rowdy and dark edge. It’s still very smooth, somewhat brittle and a bit abstemious with a very strong main melody. The chorus is hooky enough but it could be catchier. Pretty good, though. “What Will I Be Without You” is a big power ballad, taken straight out of the late 80’s or early 90’s. The main genre here is classic AOR, but there’s darkness and melancholy involved – and also slight twists of modern Country balladry, which is more Pop than actual Country, truth be told. But it’s a catchy little pearl that would have been all over MTV back when  – very good. “Starting Over” is darker with a Hard Rock approach – heavy riffing and a beefy rhythm, heaviest so far. But it’s Melodic Rock we’re talking about – not even close to Metal. A very memorable and good tune. Closing track “‘Til We Meet Again” is just a short, instrumental outro that doesn’t really make any sense as an album closer.

While I can’t find any bad songs on here – hardly any fillers either for that matter – there aren’t many tracks that passes good and goes for great either. And not only do the album consist of too many songs – yes, I believe seven intros/interludes/outtros are at least four too many – almost the whole album goes in the same pace and most of them holds the same sound-scape which makes it hard to keep the interest up when so many songs has to be digested and all of them are so laid-back, smooth and the tempo alters between slow to mid pace. On the other hand, there are lots of good songs and the performances here are top-notch – Thompson is really a brilliantly skilled guitarist. With some more uptempo and rocking songs, this album could have been given a much higher score than this. Good but not great!

6/10

Tracklist:

1. Opening
2. Love & Beyond
3. Save Yourself
4. Passengers
5. Red Sun (Interlude)
6. Supersonic
7. La Perouse (Interlude)
8. Don’t Look Down
9. Far Away
10. Penny Laughed (Interlude)
11. Love Was Never Blind
12. Black Moon (Interlude)
13. Flying Without Wings
14. Forbidden City (Interlude)
15. Just Stardust
16. What Will I Be Without You
17. Starting Over
18.’Til We Meet Again

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