Toby Hitchcock has always been, in my little world, a singer I’d call obscure. Why? Well, because I have never really gotten a hold of who the guy really is. Even when I first heard his voice when Pride Of Lions showed up, it passed me by who was singing. Today, I know well who’s singing when Hitchcock’s voice turns up. But what I know about Hitchcock as a person is zero nada. I only know that the guy holds an enormous range as a singer and he sports a style that brings my mind to musicals and Pop more than Rock. It seems like Hitchcock really didn’t have a career as a singer until Jim Peterik (Survivor) brought him along and formed Pride Of Lions. With one solo album (Mercury’s Down, 2011) under his belt, Hitchcock felt it was time for a follow-up now that PoL are on hiatus and this time he turned to Swedish song writer, keyboardist and drummer Daniel Flores (Find Me, Murder Of My Sweet, First Signal) and with the addition of fellow swedes Michael Palace (guitar) and Yngve Strömberg (drums), a new record was completed.
They kick off the album with a pretty crafty number called “No Surrender”, an uptempo Pop song with a huge AOR vibe. It’s a straight-forward tune that comes on strong and with a big, strong chorus and shitloads of hooks,. The tune comes off as a winner even though it’s smooth and slick. A good starter, no doubt. Leading single “Promise Me” brings on some very smooth melodies and Hitchcock goes for a softer vibe in the verses to toughen up in the extremely catchy refrain. That said, it’s on the verge of being almost too sugar-sweet. But I dig it – a very neat Pop song. “Show Me How To Live” is a big ballad, drenched in keyboards – soft, slow and very safe. Fact is, the tune – and Toby’s vocals – sounds as if they came right out of a musical. Or maybe a soundtrack from an 80’s feel-good movie sung by someone like Celine Dion. I don’t hate the tune but it’s way too cheesy for comfort.
“Behind The Lies” kicks off with a chunky guitar riff from Palace and brings on some hope for a rockier moment but a wall of keyboards comes in right away and makes it… less Rock. It’s still a stompy, upbeat AOR-tune with lots of hooks and a memorable refrain, very pink n’ fluffy. A good song, no more, no less. The album’s finest track is called “Fighting For My Life”, an uptempo AOR-rocker with the guitars more up-front which makes the song take a turn into Melodic Rock. The big guitar riff brings old Bon Jovi to mind and the main-melody brings a Scandinavian sounding approach. On top of that, Hitchcock’s brilliant voice and a über-catchy refrain makes the tune go for a home-run. Very good. “Serenity” is a big, uptempo AOR/pop-rocker, filled with 80’s style keyboards and “whoa whoa”s like 1985 never went away. It’s straight-forward, big and very catchy – good tune.
While still very much AOR, “Queen Untouchable” is faster and rougher and more Rock than the first five songs and clearly rocks more, something this album needs. The guitar is edgier and more audible but there’s still lots of keyboards involved. A catchy and direct tune. Good one. “Gift Of Flight” is a half-ballad in mid-tempo with an enormous refrain that puts us in a time-machine back to the 80’s. Parts of it makes me think of Palace which makes me wonder if Michael Palace had a hand in the song-writing here. It’s a great song with huge hit-potential. Back in 1987 it would have topped the charts. “Don’t Leave” takes AOR into Melodic Rock – like Bon Jovi, (early) Michael Bolton and Bad Habit rolled into one. It’s a direct tune with a pompy twist and a rockier approach where the main-melody is right on the spot and the chorus is catchiness deluxe – very good.
The rockier outlook continues with “This Is Our World”, a tune that comes along with some punchy AOR and a dramatic arrangement. Vocally, Hitchcock is superb here and the chorus just knocks me off my place – I smell a hit here. Very good. While still very much an AOR tune, closing track “Someone Like You” is upbeat and comes with some rougher edges. The guitars are more prominent and musically this track is more a Melodic Rock track with AOR twists than the other way around. It’s a very direct tune, the kind that gets stuck in the head right off the bat and it holds an intense and very catchy refrain. A good song, clearly single-material and a very good closer.
So what can I say to sum this up then? Catchy and hook-laden songs – check! A clean and sharp production that welcome us to the 80’s with open arms – check! A brilliant singer with a bunch of just as brilliant musicians behind him – check! This means that all is well and we have a killer AOR effort that will shine with a high-score, then? Well, when I read back to what I just wrote here, it really should be as I haven’t found one bad song here. But there are issues with this record that I just can’t escape. First of all, everything is just way too safe and predictable. Second – and the worst issue – is that no matter how many times I listen to this album, I don’t remember anything afterwards. Yes, the songs are very good – while listening – but after each song ends, I can’t remember it. The album is forgettable and if I hadn’t taken notes, I wouldn’t have been able to review it. So when it comes to Hitchcock, I guess I prefer Pride Of Lions after all.