X-ROMANCE – Voices From The Past

Once upon a time (1988), a bunch of young Swedish dudes led by bassist Anders “LA” Rönnblom and keyboardist Thomas Widmark decided that forming a melodic Hard Rock band was a good idea. Back then melodic Hard Rock with lots of keyboards and a good dose of Pop ruled the airwaves and bands such as Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Whitesnake and Van Halen were big business and in Sweden bands such as Europe (by now a world-famous act), Treat, Dalton and Alien were all over both TV and music magazines – and AOR/Melodic Rock bands were popping up everywhere in an almost insane pace. So why not strike while the iron is hot? Back in ’88, smooth melodies, lots of keyboards and cute hard rock guys writing love songs with a romantic shimmer over the lyrics was more or less the norm, so why not go all in? Said and done, Rönnblom and Widmark did just that and called their band Romance.

But just like so many other bands around that time, nothing except a whole bunch of demos happened and the band called it quits after a while. Fast forward to the fall of 2015 and Rönnblom found himself digging through some boxes of old tapes and found the old Romance demos. After going through them, he realized they were too good to only collect dust in some corner and contacted Widmark about doing something with them. Widmark agreed and while starting to re-record the demos, they looked for musicians to be part of this project – and the found some really experienced guys – Andreas Novak (House Of Shakira) – vocals, guitarists Fredrik Tjerneld and Mikael Dahlin, drummer Kenta Karlbom – and since the rest of the old band wasn’t available for whatever reasons, they added an X to the name and voila, X-Romance was born. When 30-year old demos are re-recorded, there’s always a risk that the music sounds dated. That and the fact there must be a reason for them not getting a record deal in the first place made me somewhat dubious that this would hold up but it also created a big interest in me finding out how this would sound in 2019.

The very 80’s sounding opening track and leading single “Lonely” told me that dated is not how I would describe this. It’s an AOR grooved pop-rocker that lands somewhere between Bon Jovi and Dalton, upbeat and driven by guitars as much as keyboards. It holds a refrain that’s so immediate and catchy I can’t believe it never got them a deal back when. In 1988, this would have been all over radio, I’m sure. Yes, it’s 80’s sounding and yes it’s on the AOR side of things but it does not sound like any other 13 a dozen Scandinavian AOR acts this side of the decade. Very good. The uptempo “Bad Connection” rocks harder with a chunky riff and a darker edge. The 80’s vibe is present, of course, but it holds a meaty rhythm and a great groove complete with a memorable main-melody and a big-ass refrain. Good one. “Over And Over” is a time-machine back to 1987 where Dalton and Bad Habit embraces 1984 era Europe. It’s clearly Hard Rock as a base but with a striking pop-refrain that sticks whether you want it to or not. Very good.

Latest single “You And I” is a slow-paced rock song with a big pop-vibe that brings Whitesnake’s 1987 ballad “Is This Love” to mind. It holds a big, harmonized – and very memorable – refrain and again, that this tune didn’t result in a record deal is beyond me. This smooth and quite slick power ballad-like tune would probably had made the band a household name. That said, for me it works just as well today. “Total Madness” brings early Europe to mind albeit with a more poppy main-melody. It’s an uptempo rocker that even sports a slight Metal vibe with some chunky guitars and a steady rhythm. But as a whole, it’s merely a decent track that doesn’t really leave a footprint at my house. Clearly borrowed from David Lee Roth’s “Just Like Paradise”, the 80’s Melodic Rock sounding “Straight Through Your Heart” combines keyboards and guitars in a great way and the striking refrain reminds me of a better version of Dalton or Glory. Very good.

Another tune with a catchy refrain that holds hit-potential is the upbeat Melodic Rock tune “Temporary Love”. It’s a pretty punchy tune with a big, crunchy groove that leans towards Hard Rock. If they ever tour, I think this one will go down very well live. “Pushing On” is a bit heavier where the twin guitars brings on a bit of a Thin Lizzy vibe. In fact, it even throws a slight nod towards Iron Maiden. That said, it’s hardly Metal we’re talking about here – this is Hard Rock with big Melodic Rock melodies and a catchy refrain. I dig. “Somebody Out There” is a big, mid 80’s power ballad – sweet, slick and smooth but also bombastic at the same time. It’s extremely catchy and it’s another one that would have given this lot a huge hit back in the day. Closer “Departure” is an instrumental track that kicks off with drums racing away and the song keeps up the speed – upbeat, fast and hard rocking. It kinda reminds me of early Europe mixed with an Yngwie Malmsteen neo-classical vibe – very melodic. It’s a damn catchy tune and great way to say bye for now.

I must say that I’m really puzzled that Romance never caught a deal back when. I mean, sure they’re hardly the most original band in the world but they’re hardly clones by any means either and not only would their brand of AOR meets Hard Rock and Melodic Rock have fitted the musical climate of 1988, this album also proves that they knew how to write big, catchy tunes full of hooks and besides, record companies back then signed lots worse band than Romance. How do these songs hold up in 2019, then? Very well, I must say. I don’t know if the songs has been given new arrangements or being re-written but for the most part they don’t sound dated at all – and in 1988 I would have eaten this band alive! That said, it doesn’t take more than one listen to figure out that the songs were written back in ’88 and thinking of the high quality of those songs, I’m more than interested in how newly written songs from this lot will sound. Hopefully, they’re not content with this but feel the need to create new stuff and move forward.

7/10

Tracklist:

1. Lonely
2. Bad Connection
3. Over And Over
4. You And I
5. Total Madness
6. Straight Through Your Heart
7. Temporary Love
8. Pushing On
9. Somebody Out There
10. Departure

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