As of lately, many Scandinavian AOR releases, without naming any names, has left underwhelmed. Not bad – they are all very well produced, clean-cut with big sound-scapes and as for the musicians, well, it’s really hard to find bad ones within the genres of AOR and Melodic Rock. I can’t even say that I don’t like the songs because, for the most part, I do. It’s just that so many of them sound the same, sometimes to the point where it’s hard to tell them apart. But that’s not me saying I don’t like or have grown tired of AOR per se, no I still love all the classics but for the last few years, very few new AOR releases has moved me enough – and therefore the high scores has been absent as well.
Even though I have known of Swedish AOR:sters Work Of Art for many years, I really haven’t had the urge to check them out properly, something I can’t really put my finger on why. See, they have been around since their debut album came out in 2008 and have since released three more albums including the new one, two of the guys – vocalist and keyboard player Lars Säfsund and guitarist and keyboard player Robert Säll – are in Frontiers Records stable of song writers with Säll being part of W.E.T., also featuring Jeff Scott Soto and Erik Mårtensson (Eclipse, Nordic Union, Ammunition). So yeah, I really should have checked them out properly years ago – it’s almost an act of wrong-doing that I haven’t. That said, it’s better late than never and when the band now is releasing their fourth effort, it’s a good time as any to see if all the praise I have been reading about them will apply to my taste as well.
Opening track “Misguided Love” is an uptempo pop-number that lands somewhere between Toto’s AOR and West Coast, very slick and polished on a very clean note, big on keyboards which overpowers the guitars on every level. That said, the tune brings on a killer guitar solo and the refrain is spot-on with massive hooks and very big on hit-potential. Tell why this tune isn’t a single again. Next track, “Be The Believer” is a single, though – the album’s leading one as a matter of fact. Still smooth, pink and quite fluffy, this uptempo AOR-pop-rock tune brings the guitars up a notch, which is thumbs up for me. The melody arrangements are gorgeous and the sticky, hook-laden refrain is an absolute beast that sticks right from go. The fact that this isn’t a huge hit already is puzzling, to say the least. With two uplifting and positive AOR-stompers, the album couldn’t have started any better.
Second single “Another Night” is an AOR bumper with a huge pop-twist all over it. While slick and silky, the tune also sports a nice, chunky rhythm with a good dose of groove and on top we get a massive chorus that screams hit for miles. The driving guitars with its crunchy sound also takes this one a small step towards Melodic Rock – and I love it. Great tune. On an upbeat yet very slick note, “This Isn’t Love” – featuring one Vince DiCola, most famous for composing music for the Rocky IV movie, who guests with a big keyboard-solo – follows. A straight-forward, Toto-influenced AOR number, the tune features a more tuned down Hard Rock outlook that could have created wonders had the guitars been lifted higher in the mix. As for now, the tune also brings on a pretty standard Scandinavian vibe but it also comes with another massive chorus with shitloads of hooks and hit-potential enough to sell. Yeah, I dig this lots.
The upbeat “Gotta Get Out” is quite punchy – for an AOR tune, that is – and holds a juicy and straight-forward beat where both chorus and verses are gushed with hooks and intense catchiness. The chorus here is world-class and sticks right from go while the simple yet effective guitar solo is both raunchy and glistening. Killer stuff. “Come Home” sure brings out some Hard Rock twists here and there, a punchy and stompy rhythm and the tempo is on the upbeat side. But while the song is slightly heavier and direct, it’s still polished and slick and the tune would have benefited from bigger guitars instead of being built around a mountain of keyboards. It’s a good song but the verses are stronger than the chorus. “If I Could Fly” holds a smooth keyboard arrangement over some juicy guitars, very mid-80’s sounding where Toto meets Survivor. It comes with a upbeat rhythm, a smooth vocal-melody and a hit-smelling refrain. Good one.
The slower paced and very pop-friendly “Destined To Survive” brings on a huge mid 80’s vibe and a keyboard-overdose but that said, it’s still pretty punchy and quite rhythmic. The guitars also comes with a crunchy touch but again, they’re way too low in the mix. While it do holds a slightly progressive, ELP meets Yes like intro, the tune itself is an uptempo AOR/Pop effort with a good enough refrain. It’s an ok tune but it kinda falls on the way-side here. “Scars To Prove It” on the other hand is a brilliant track. The beefy guitars and groovy rhythm takes this AOR-rocker down to the crossroads where Classic Rock meets up. The song holds the biggest live-feel on the album and it rocks with a late 80’s touch and on top we get an effective and striking chorus that catches on without getting syrupy or cheesy at all. Easily one of the album’s finest moments.
Surprisingly enough, “What You Want From Me” opens up with a Sammy Hagar era Van Halen twist where the guitars decides to speak up for real. Unfortunately, the song doesn’t stay on this road but turns into a more keyboard-laden AOR track with those crunchy guitars turned low in the mix. Still, when that disappointment is laid to rest, it’s quite easy to state that this is damn fine AOR-rocker in an uptempo pace with a clearly infectious chorus that would stick even if I caught memory-loss. Very good. The album closes with a ballad called “Let Me Dream”. It’s mellow and laid-back with a Foreigner twist and while it sure is smooth and slick, it also brings on a darker outlook. It also makes me think of Whitesnake’s late 80’s softer side. We get a great vocal-melody and a soft yet very memorable refrain, that at least got me hooked.
While it would be both wrong and unfair to say that Work Of Art sounds just like any other modern Scandinavian AOR act, the production here is still a bit too slick and polished for my satisfaction. Don’t get me wrong, the quality of the songs here are for the most sky-high and the fillers are a minority. In that department, Exhibits treats me with all that I look for in an AOR album – big, catchy choruses, well-written songs where both sugar and cheese are kept at a low and these guys are all word-class musicians. But AOR dwells in the Rock genre and the over-use of keyboards takes too much of the Rock out. I know keyboards are a big part of AOR but I also want big guitars, pounding drums and a beefy bass – something I miss way too often here. However, if you’re a hardcore AOR/West Coast fan, you’d be doing yourself a big disservice if you don’t buy this album right off the bat.