Back in the glory days of the 80’s and 90’s there were a lot of melodic hard rock bands that dwelled in the ‘almost made it big’ category. Back then it was considered a failure if you “only” sold 500 000 copies of your album in the States. When bands such as Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Def Leppard, Mötley Crüe, Van Halen and Aerosmith sold somewhere between 4 – 8 million copies, some of them even more than that and headlined arenas, bands such as Winger, Warrant, Slaughter, Cinderella, Tesla and Stryper still had to tour as opening acts or playing smaller venues while selling somewhere between 500 000 to 2 million copies of each album – a number any band would sacrifice one of their testicles for today. Economically, it worked out fine if they played in the US and Japan and maybe Great Britain and Germany, but to tour Scandinavia and many other European countries was impossible without losing money. Some of those bands came over here as opening acts but the fact is, all those ‘almost made it big’ bands weren’t that big over here. Another one of those bands were Great White. They had hits, they sold pretty large amounts of records, but they never managed to make it to the next step. Then came grunge and it was all over. But just like the rest of those bands, Great White reformed with different line-ups when melodic hard rock had its resurrection somewhere in the mid 2000’s. In 2011, original guitarist Mark Kendall brought along drummer Audie Desbrow and keyboardist / guitarist Michael Lardie (none of those two are original members but both joined on the second album Shot In The Dark, 1986) together with ex XYZ singer Terry Illouis, leaving original singer Jack Russell behind. That version of Great White released the excellent Elation back in 2012.
After a long run of health issues that kept Russell away from the business, he has now cleaned up his act and back on track he has decided to also use the Great White moniker albeit with the addition of ‘Jack Russell’s’ to the name – with the other Great White’s blessing. Unlike when there were two versions of Ratt and Queensrÿche, the Great White guys seems to be more adult about the name and realizes that both parties has the same right to the name and instead of fighting like cat and dog, they seem to support each other instead. A much smarter solution, that way they both can concentrate on playing music instead of fighting even though it can be slightly confusing for the fans. So what can we expect from this lot, then? Well, Great White were always a more rhythm & blues oriented band with lots of Led Zep influences and less pop than many other of the bands that they shared the stage with back in the day and with Russell’s Robert Plant like voice, that’s exactly the kind of music I’m expecting to get here.
The album starts with “Sign Of The Times”, a mid-paced, pretty soft rocker that while it holds some classic 80’s Great White elements, it also sounds somewhat subdued. It’s a good song for sure, but I would have preferred a more dust kicking rocker as an opener. “She Moves Me” is more or less a plain pop song with a danceable groove and big on synthesizers – fact is, I can even hear a twist of 80’s disco in the tune. But the main melody and the chorus are classic Great White. It’s an ok song but my guess is that it is an improbable future fan favorite. The band gets spiced up with “Crazy”, a fun-loving rock tune with a groove and for the first time, some raunchiness – a solid rock song with an amazing chorus that takes a hold of the brain immediately. The classic Great White sound shows up in the blues groove of “Love Don’t Live Here”, a stellar blues killer that comes in a slower pace complete with a B3 and some intense and soulful vocals from Russell – brilliant stuff. Russell hangs himself out to dry in the lyrically self-explanatory rocker “My Addiction” – I guess this one is his therapy. The mood is dark but the groove is kicking and the tune could easily has been lifted from one of Great White’s 90’s albums – a good tune. “Anything For You” is a soft, emotional and passionate ballad, stripped down to only acoustic guitar but it also holds a string section which makes the whole song even more touching. Add a very distinct melody and a killer vocal performance and you get one of the biggest highlights of the album – superb!
The title track is one sore thumb. Part early 80’s AOR, part 50’s pop all mixed with an almost symphonic vibe. Also, the striking chorus sounds like something Tobias Sammett could have come up with for his Avantasia project. Now that’s a thought – Jack Russell singing on an Avantasia album. Yeah, why the hell not – would probably turn out awesome. “Don’t Let Me Go” also stands out with its rock reggae rhythm, probably highly influenced by Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer Maker” and its big pop refrain. It’s soft rock, sure, but it is very good soft rock. “Spy Vs Spy” comes in a faster pace, but again, this is really a pop song with a big 80’s influence even though it holds some really gritty guitar riffage. “Blame It On The Night” is one catchy rocker that both holds a smooth pop / AOR chorus and also a melody that is total early 80’s Great White. It has the potential of being one of the best tracks on the album – if it weren’t for all the effects, that is. Sometimes it feels like I’m in the middle of some computer game and if they would have put the effects in the background it might have worked, but they are mixed too loud here – what a shame. The album closes with a real mold breaker – a song called “Godspeed”. It’s an a’capella that goes in a 50’s doo wop / pop style – the song itself might not be all that, but it makes me happy listening to it and I can’t help smiling. I guess it did its job, then.
To sum things up, Jack Russell and his mighty men (featuring former Great White bassist Tony Montana on guitar and keyboards and ex- Skin drummer Dicki Fliszar on drums) has made a good album, no doubt about that. There are no bad songs to be found, but on the other hand, the album is really good while listening but I find it hard to remember any of the songs when the album has ended. Also, the production is way to smooth, soft and edgeless. I know Great White aren’t metal, but I miss the punch, the dirt, the bite and at least something close to dangerous. The way the album has turned out, it feels safe, sanitized and too soft which, of course, affects the dynamics. On the plus side, Russell is still a brilliant singer and his band does a flawless job, so there’s no doubt there’s still life in JRGW camp. Next time, a little more rawness will most likely do the trick.
1. Sign Of The Times
2. She Moves Me
4. Love Don’t Live Here
5. My Addiction
6. Anything For You
7. He Saw It Comin’
8. Don’t Let Me Go
9. Spy Vs Spy
10. Blame It On The Night