Anyone remember Vixen, the all-girl band that was on the verge of making it huge back in the late 80’s? They scored some big hits “over there” with songs like “Edge Of A Broken Heart” and “Cryin'” and their debut album that came out in 1988 sold in very large quantities. The ladies toured frequently around the globe but when their follow-up Rev It Up (1990) failed to match the sales, it felt like the whole thing was more or less over even though the album wasn’t a flop per se. Vixen split-up in 1991 but made a short reunion in 1998 when drummer Roxy Petrucci and lead singer Janet Gardner recorded the album Tangerine with guitarist Gina Stile instead of original guitarist Jan Kuehnemund (1953-2013) who didn’t want to participate – and a session bass player instead of Share Pedersen. Jan, in her turn, formed her version of Vixen with three other girls in 2006 and released the underwhelming album Live & Learn. But in 2013 it was decided that the original line-up would reunite, but those plans were scrapped when poor Jan lost her battle with cancer. Gina Stile took her place once more but has since left the band again and is now replaced by one Britt Lightning. What will happen with Vixen – new album or not – is something we just have to wait and see.
In the meantime, lead singer Janet Gardner put her creativity out there and together with her hubby, guitarist/producer Justin James (Stained, Tyketto, Collective Soul), she wrote her first ever solo album. According to Gardner, the album was a collaboration between her and James and there was thoughts about releasing the album under a band / duo name, but then they both decided on releasing it under the Janet Gardner moniker. Since I thought Vixen’s two first records were really good – and that Tangerine is very underrated – I was keen to hear what Gardner had accomplished on her debut solo disc – would she head back to the AOR / arena rock sound that were Vixen or would she go in a totally different direction?
Janet opens heavily with “Rat Hole”, a dark and aggressive hard rocker that borders to metal. At the same time it sports a pretty poppy melody and parts of the tune are even punky. It’s very catchy with a na-na-na pre-chorus. It’s a good song but the pop-punk vibes are something I have some issues with. “Hippycrite” is heavy, groovy, bouncy and riff-happy but still very melodic. It’s not direct as in radio-hit but it sure grows on you – a good tune without being exceptional. “If You Want Me” comes with a heavy rhythm and a darker atmosphere but there’s a striking melody on top and the AOR vibes – not a far cry from the old Vixen albums – are all over the song. It’s a very catchy tune, clearly single material and it’s a great song. “Candle” runs in a slower pace. It’s quite heavy yet laid-back and even soft and the chorus has a brilliant hook that makes the tune stick right away. There’s also a solo-break where the song speeds up a bit and really rocks before it goes back to the way it started – a brilliant tune. “Your Problem Now” starts out a bit 90’s alternative sounding but heavies up quite fast. It’s a bit grungy but it also has a metal influence and the refrain is even a bit sleazy. It’s an ok song, but not a favorite.
Janet and Justin stretches things further with “Let It Be Over”, a groover that starts out with only drums and a lot of voices filling in as instruments. But the song soon turns all-electric and develops into a spaced-out heavy half-ballad with a brilliant melody and a refrain that really hits home. A very good tune that stands out. “Lost” mixes heavy guitars and thunderous drums but also holds a very melodic, Beatles-esque arrangement as an influence. On top of that the main riff reminds me of Nickelback and since I dig that band, it’s not a problem for me. The chorus is also very catchy – one of my favorite tracks on the album. “The Grind” is heavy with a kicking groove and an industrial influenced vibe that has me thinking of Rob Zombie. It’s angry and dark but still with a very prominent melody – yes, this is very good. “Best Friend” is an acoustic ballad, soft and beautiful with a lot of soul. It reminds me a lot of Heart, actually. Closing track “The Good Or The Bye” is a real belter, an in-your-face classic rock’n’roll stomper that kicks up some dust – punky, raw and kicking and lots of attitude. Great ending.
Apart from the record being a good one, I think Janet (and her hubby) has done the right thing here – an album that differs quite the bit from Vixen. I mean, why make a solo album if it sounds exactly like the mother-band? It’s heavier and darker than Vixen and holds a lot of metal influences. The production is raw, down-to-earth and crunchy with a lot of punch. What falters a bit is actually the production, it’s a bit too stripped and sometimes it actually sounds unproduced, like it is actually a pre-production demo or something. Also, there are some songs here that, without being bad per se, just don’t reach ‘great’ and stays on only being ‘good’ or ‘ok’. But it shows lots of potential which makes me long for both a new Vixen album and another solo effort from Janet herself.
1. Rat Hole
3. If You Want Me
5. Your Problem Now
6. Let It Be Over
8. The Grind
9. Best Friend
10. The Good Or The Bye