“What if”. Sometimes I wonder if the members of Unruly Child have asked that question throughout the years. What if their debut was released back in 1989 instead of 1991. Even if Grunge hadn’t taken a hold of the Rock scene just yet by then, it was there and on its way up and also, Unruly Child’s kind of AOR was not the big thing anymore. In 1991, even Melodic Rock and everything that branched out from that had gone harder, rowdier and grittier due to the success of bands like Skid Row and Guns N’Roses which meant that Unruly Child’s brilliant debut was released at least a couple of years too late. Maybe in 1989, that album had sold shitloads of copies and maybe sported a few hit singles. So the album bombed and the band more or less split up even though they released a couple of records in the late 90’s and early 2000’s with first Kelly Hansen (now in Foreigner) and then Philip Bardowell instead of Marcie – then Mark – Free at the mike.
It came as a big surprise when Unruly Child reunited in 2010 with the original line-up – Free, guitarist Bruce Gowdy, bassist Larry Antonio, drummer Jay Schellen and keyboardist Guy Allison – and released a solid and stellar reunion record in Worlds Collide. But usually these reunions are one-offs, if something spectacular don’t happen, so when they followed the album up with an E.P. called Down The Rabbit Hole four years later, it was a sign that Unruly Child was here to stay. That the E.P. was underwhelming was of another matter. 2017’s Can’t Go Home was a grower for me. Disappointing at first spin but it grew fast and today I think the album is great albeit not as strong as World Collide. When the band now releases their third full-length record since the reunion, it’s with a great deal of expectations from yours truly – and by an almost halved band. The rhythm section of Antonio and Schellen has left the band and are, it seems, not replaced. Schellen guested on drums for this record and bass duties was done by Gowdy and Allison.
The album’s leading single and album-opener “Living In Someone Else’s Dream” sounds exactly the way Unruly Child sounded on their last two albums – it’s nice with an AOR band that really sports their own sound – so fans of the band need not to worry. It’s an upbeat AOR track that lives on a Hard Rock rhythm with some chugging guitars going on. It’s also full of keyboards and a slick and smooth sound complete with a refrain that can move mountains. As the first single, this one’s a no-brainer because of its catchiness but it also works to show fans that Unruly Child still sound just like Unruly Child should. Very good. “All Over The World” is big AOR with a rock-groove, playful in a mid pace. With layers of vocals and a big soundscape, the guys bring on a glistening AOR sound. The refrain is also very sticky – I mean that in a good way, by the way – so it stays with you from go. A really good track as well.
“Dirty Little Girl” (Really? Wasn’t that kind of title cringy clichéd even back in 1990?) is more laid-back in a a mid-tempo and holds a slight Def Leppard like guitar arrangement in the verses. The chorus brings up the tempo a notch, there’s a whole lot of big backing vocals and style-wise, it could very well be a left-over from the debut. I don’t think it is but it could explain the sappy title. A solid, catchy refrain makes me letting the title debacle slide and the thumbs are erected. Built on an acoustic-guitar, the slow and mellow ballad “Breaking The Chains” gushes over me like a waterfall of silk, making me feel comfy in all its smoothness but it also brings on some nice contrasts as the chorus bring forth some heavier guitars and even a punchy twist. The huge refrain could have made this one a chart-topper back in the days when power ballads were exactly that and since I’m a sucker for power-balladry, I think they have a winner on their hands here.
The balladeering continues with “Are These Words Enough”. The acoustic guitar stays on for this tune but instead of a power ballad, this one is a laid-back, mellow and atmospheric pop-song with a soothing melancholy but with a big vocal arrangement all over and the the whole tune brings on memorable melodies both in verse and refrain. Very good. The latest single “Will We Give Up Today” is upbeat but also somewhat laid-back on a steady rhythm on a straight-forward note. It’s quite a feelgood track, uplifting and positive, a smooth AOR number with an enormously catchy refrain – I smell a hit here. Great stuff. With “Beneath A Steady Rain” it’s ballad time again. This one’s slightly jazzy and opens with a serene piano, a bit subdued even, very mellow and stripped with only Free’s voice and Alison’s keys. When the band joins in, the tune gets slightly tougher but it never gets past the laid-back and cozy vibes. It clocks in at nearly 6 minutes and it’s a different tune, but it works oh so well. Love it.
“The Harder They Will Fall” starts out with the Winston Churchill speech, almost the exact same that Iron Maiden once used for “Aces High”. And just like said Maiden song, this one takes a fast pace, upbeat and bouncy. But that’s where the two songs’ similarities end – this is not a Metal track by any means. If anything, the tune is a mix of the debut album and Free’s subsequent band Signal. It’s a busy AOR rocker with a very strong refrain that becomes tattooed on the brain from hello – very good indeed. “Down And Dirty”, is heavier than anything else on this album. Built on a Hard Rock ground, a steady, solid beat and tougher with the guitars heading to the front of the mix. It’s raunchy Melodic Rock with lots of hooky melodies and an astonishing refrain. Damn good one. The album closes with “The Hard Way”, an uptempo and more in-your-face track, holding a faster pace. It’s a Hard Rock influenced AOR track (or maybe the other way around?) with a mountain of melodies, lots of hooks and meaty guitars with a striking refrain on top. Way to go!
Yes, Unruly Child have done it again, another stellar AOR record with influences and twists from both Hard Rock and Melodic Rock, big soundscapes and they sure know how to dig out the hooks for more or less every song here. Sure, this is Unruly Child and they’re not gonna fix what’s not broken so while they probably won’t convert any AOR-hater into being an AOR-lover – fact is, they might not gain many new fans at all – but fans of the band won’t be disappointed either. It’s in the vein of their last two full-lengths – which means slick and smooth AOR rockers, very produced with great songs, big arrangements, keyboards and big vocals everywhere without ever forgetting about those big guitars. Slick and smooth, yes, but never sugary, cheesy or mawkish. If that’s your thing and you still haven’t checked this lot out yet, it’s time to do so now. You really should have done so yesterday/week/month/year.
More Unruly Child reviews:
1. Living In Someone Else’s Dream
2. All Over The World
3. Dirty Little Girl
4. Breaking The Chains
5. Are These Words Enough
6. Will We Give Up Today
7. Beneath A Steady Rain
8. The Harder They Will Fall
9. Down And Dirty
10. The Hard Way