Anyone out there remember these guys? Actually, does anyone out there even know who Shark Island are? I discovered the band back in 1989 when a friend of mine bought their second album and major record-label debut Law Of The Order head over heels – because he thought the name was cool – and I was hooked immediately. The band was a part of the American melodic Arena Rock that was popular back then but to their credit, they sported their own sound and identity, much because of singer Richard Black’s personal sounding voice and their way to twitch their melodies, phrasings and arrangements which made them stand out from many of the new bands that started out around that time. Unfortunately, the album didn’t exactly set the world on fire and the band split up in the early 90’s. Richard Black tried to reunite the band with a new line-up back in 1994 but to no avail.
Also worth noting is that Black appeared in the short-lived supergroup Contraband which featured Michael Schenker and Tracii Guns (L.A. Guns) on guitars, Share Pedersen (Vixen) on bass and Bobby Blotzer (Ratt) on drums who released an eponymous album back in 1991 that went nowhere despite the album being really good. Without a reunion, two albums of demos called Deep Cuts – Demos Vol 1. and 2. was also released in 1999 but in 2005, Black brought Shark Island back for another new-line-up reunion and the underwhelming Gathering Of The Faithful was released without making any fuss at all. And now Black gives it one more shot – and he does it in a different way. Together with guitarists Alex Kane and Damir Simic Shime, bassist Christian Heilmann and drummer Alen F, he has written and recorded a new record but as a limited edition – only 1111 copies will see the light of day.
I immediately recognize Shark Island’s sound when opener “Make A Move” bursted loose. Despite Black being the only original member, it’s quite easy to spot which band is playing, much because of Black’s voice, of course. The tune is a clear nod back to the Law Of The Order days. It’s a straight-forward, party-catchy rocker, quite in-your-face with a refrain that sticks. I dig the energy of the song but it’s not as strong as they songs from back when. It’s ok, though. Second single “Fire In The House” is upbeat in a mid-pace but holds a darker twist. It’s good on the groove, rhythmic and a bit raunchy and the refrain goes right for the throat, Shark Island style. It’s a good enough tune but doesn’t really cut it all the way through.
Next up is the album’s leading single, a cover of Depeche Mode’s “Policy Of Truth”. It’s quite laid-back and sullen but also quite rhythmic with a sound that goes back to the sharkies’ days of old. The verses makes a calming impression while the chorus takes on a more upbeat outlook. I admit I’m not especially familiar with the song but I can say that Shark Island has made it their own – if I didn’t know it was a Depeche Mode song I could never have guessed. It’s ok but it’s a bit forgettable and falls on the way-side. “Aktion Is” comes with an upbeat, tough groove and some darker pop-vibes in the verses. The electronic drums in the beginning want to convince me it’s still 1987 but as the tune goes more gritty and crispy in the chorus, it’s clear it’s not. There’s a slight nod back to the debut but all in all the song doesn’t really stick without being a bad song as such.
Latest single “7 Tears” sounds introvert and sullen, laid-back with an 90’s alternative, melancholic twist in the verses. The tune bounces back in the chorus where it gets more raunchy and tough. This is a mixture of the old sound and alternative, 90’s Rock, a decent song at best. Third single “Crazy Eights” is up next and as a single, it’s a puzzling one. That the tune is punchy, gritty and rough is one thing but it’s also unstructured, messy and it goes on and on lacking all nuances which makes it impossible to grab – nothing sticks at all. I’m sorry, but this is not a good song – a complete skipper. But things lightens up with the gritty rock-riffing “Rocks On The Rocks” which throws a slight Rolling Stones vibe our way. It’s upbeat and straight-ahead with a hook-laden, catchy refrain. Very good. With some AC/DC style riffing on a fat rhythm section, “Butterfly” is even better. This is straight ahead Classic Rock with an edge and a melodic and very catchy refrain. Very good again.
The band goes for a more Melodic Rock outlook when “When She Cries” shows up. That said, the tune holds a sombre crunch, it’s a bit laid-back with a saddening arrangement in the vocal-melodies but it speeds up and gets more raucous in the refrain that holds a style that takes us back to the debut. Good one. Not only because of its title but “Law Of The Order” must be a new recording of an old song – it sound exactly that they did on that album. Propulsive and in-your-face on a bumpy groove with edgy guitars and a solid, catchy yet not radio-flirting chorus that got me hooked from hello. Easily the album’s finest track. They round things off with the ballad “On And On”. It’s slow, slightly jazzy, melancholic and held-back. With the song’s title on repeat more or less throughout the song, it gets somewhat monotone but somehow it works. That arrangement is actually kinda cool and the smooth melody-arrangement is gorgeous without being slick. Very good.
At times, Shark Island seems desperate to repeat the debut and do another version of it while at other times, they seem to want to do the exact opposite. All of this gives the album a split-personality vibe – and I really have no issues with that. My problem with this record is that, while there are some really good songs on here, most of them aren’t. Also, the production isn’t all that much to write home about. It’s messy, daft and cavernous and at times it comes across as a rushed demo, something an experienced outside producer probably could have helped them with. Without a doubt, there are potential for bigger things within the band and Richard Black is still a killer singer with his voice intact. I’m not gonna count Shark Island out because of this but I doubt this album will be on heavy rotation at my place like Law Of The Order once was. That is still a great record!
1. Make A Move
2. Fire In The House
3. Policy Of Truth
4. Aktion Is
5. 7 Tears
6. Crazy Eights
7. Rocks On The Rocks
9. When She Cries
10. Law Of The Order
11. On And On