When I read the press releases that comes with the reviewer’s download/streaming links of bands that are completely new to me, I sometimes feel like I have been living under a rock for my entire life. There you can read about the bands’ previous releases, how much and with whom they have toured, what a big fan-base they have and how inspirational they have been for other bands in the same genre. They’re all exaggerated, of course, but for a dude who has been told more than once by more than one human being that I’m a music-geek, I can’t help to wonder why on Earth I didn’t know about this and that band. I mean, I should have at least heard about them. Read about them somewhere. Their name really should ring a, at least, small bell. Why I’m writing this in this review is of course because Soleil Moon is such a band.
Apparently, Soleil Moon was formed way back in 1994 when singer Larry King met up with jazz-pianist John Blasucci and back then the songs they wrote was in the vein of Pop, Jazz and Country but it would take them until 1999 to release their debut single “Worlds Apart”, accompanied by a bunch of studio musicians. The guys released their debut album Worlds Apart the following year but even though they started writing songs already in 2001, the follow-up On The Way To Everything wasn’t released until 2011. Then nothing again. With Frontiers records backing them up now, Soleil Moon is back with their third effort, now with more of a band outlook. Hill and Blasucci are now joined by studio guitarist Michael Thompson, Khari Parker on drums, Alan Berliant on bass and Chris Siebold holding guitar duties live. For me, this album is my first ever encounter with Soleil Moon, only knowing that they’re working the AOR route. However, judging only by the album cover and its title, this could just as likely have been a Power Metal band from Italy or something.
Oddly enough, Soleil Moon opens the album with a mid-paced, laid-back, smooth and slick pop-rock number. The tune is called “’72 Camaro” and the tune brings on a summer-feel that makes me think of a more AOR-laden Bryan Adams. This is pure feel-good music, very polished stuff without even an ounce of danger about it. But this is not Metal, it’s AOR and as such this catchy tune does its job – and then some. A very catchy and very good tune. The album’s first taster is called “Here For You” is a slow tune and even softer and more laid-back than the opener, on the ballad side. It makes me think of early Survivor and even though it comes with a tougher – all in the name of AOR – break, the big refrain is pure Pop, very pink n’ fluffy. I’m not floored but it’s a decent tune.
“You And I” is an interesting tune, though. It’s pure Pop but with an almost disco/funk groove. Extremely slick and mainstream radio-friendly, full of synthesizers and drum-machine fills, the tune makes me think of some boy-band – anyone you can think of, they all sounds the same – and the tune is misplaced even on a soft record like this. I try to find something good to write about the song but there’s nothing here for me to embrace. Skip-alert deluxe! “Just So You Know” is the album’s second teaser and it also holds a slower pace. It’s silky and slick – but not a pure ballad – where mid 80’s AOR and Pop meets. Safe and sound, yes, but with a distinct and enchanting refrain, this tune goes for the win. “Can’t Go On” continues the safe route as a mid-paced AOR ballad with a big, catchy chorus. It’s a good tune but what brings it up a notch is that finally gets some audible guitars upfront.
“Halfway To Nowhere” is an extra-added sugar, Pop meets AOR ballad that sounds like it could have been written for an 80’s romantic comedy movie score. To be honest, it’s a bit too sugary for me but the big chorus is actually hard to resist. I’ll file this one under “good”. On an uptempo note, “How Long” is first song that actually tries to rock us at least for a bit. It’s straight-forward with a juicy beat. It’s based on melodic Hard Rock but polished up with smooth pop-melodies and a slight country-rock touch. The refrain, however, totally rules this album and in this song we have the album’s absolute winner – great stuff.
The album’s third – and last? – taster is called “Nothing Matters” and is, again, a ballad. It’s mellow, soft and laid-back with a soothing main-melody in the verses but the chorus is more uplifting and upfront with a striking catchiness. A very good, 80’s sounding tune. “When I’m With You” is an uptempo, direct pop-song with a big arrangement. It’s softer laden but also pretty big and atmospheric with a punchy and overblown refrain that brings my thoughts towards musical theatre with a slight Country vibe. I agree that it’s somewhat mawkish but I have a problem saying no to the grand chorus that sticks right off the bat, so yeah, I quite like it.
On a more dramatic scale, the soft and quiet ballad “Before The Rainbow” enters. Based on piano and acoustic guitars, the tune starts out stripped but when the orchestrated strings and the big vocal arrangement jumps in it gets more pompous and even brings up the tempo slightly. As the whole arrangement is quite beautiful and the tune isn’t too saccharine, I dig it. It could have been a big hit if released in the mid 80’s. The title-track that closes is a mid-paced half-ballad, quite dramatic with a chunk of gospel-singing in the background. It’s rhythmic yet slick but with prog-pop elements that reminds me of Magnum. On top lies a big refrain, catchy as can be and viola, we have another winner on out hands – and with that we say goodbye to Soleil Moon for now.
I’m a bit confused here. Firstly, I guess I have to file this under AOR but the truth is, this album is for those who think AOR is too heavy – this is a Pop record with AOR and West-Coast influences – and I don’t have a Pop box on this site. Secondly, even though Frontiers do release records by very pop-influenced bands, isn’t this album a bit too light-weight even for them? There probably are those that will beg to differ here but I can’t remember when I last heard an album that supposedly is some kind of Rock is this light. So on one hand we have a bunch of really good musicians, a great singer and yes, some damn good songs but on the other hand it’s so very safe, polished and slick – and at times both syrupy and cheesy – that even a guy like me who digs smoother kind of Rock gets frustrated by the lack of something that could me this rock a little. The record is also way too soft and ballad-laden for my personal taste. AOR and West-coast hardcores might love this but for me, there’s quite a lot left to be desired here. The five I gave it is out on thin ice – 4,5 would be more accurate.
1. ’72 Camaro
2. Here For You
3. You And I
4. Just So You Know
5. Can’t Go On
6. Halfway To Nowhere
7. How Long
8. Nothing Matters
9. When I’m With You
10. Before The Rainbow