I clearly remember when I first heard of Spread Eagle. Headbanger’s Ball Europe premiered their debut video for “Scratch Like A Cat”, the first single off their self-titled debut album back in 1990 and Vanessa Warwick was specific that these guys were the new hot shit from NYC. I understood nada. I didn’t like the song one bit. Later on they also viewed their second single “Switchblade Serenade”. That was slightly better so I borrowed the CD from a friend. I didn’t like it and my relationship with Spread Eagle ended there. I didn’t even know until just now that they had a follow-up, Open To The Public in 1993. But Spread Eagle never made the big time and in 1995 they called it a day and it seemed like the band would for ever be a parenthesis in Hard Rock history. But fate would come to have a say in the matter and in 2006, original members, singer Ray West and bassist Rob De Luca – who’d be making a living playing with acts like Sebastian Bach, Joan Jett and is now a touring member of UFO – decided to do a few reunion shows.
West and De Luca was joined by drummer John Macaluso (TNT, Yngwie Malmsteen, Lynch Mob Starbreaker) and guitarist Chris Caffery (Savatage, Dr Butcher, Trans Siberian Orchestra) in place of the original members, guitarist Paul DiBartolo and drummer Tommi Gallo, for those shows but it would take a few years for the reunion to become full-blown, all the way to 2010 to be more exact. That’s when they found guitarist Dennis Kimak and Rob’s drumming cousin Rik De Luca, but a new album was many years down the line even then and in 2012 Kimak quit. Replaced by guitarist Ziv Shalev, Spread Eagle took their first steps to be the band we have today with a few shows. In 2017, they announced a short tour of Europe which led them to signing a record contract with Frontiers records – who else? – and the result of that is what we have in our hands right now. Personally, I had no idea what to expect of it as I was never that impressed in the first place. Would they convince now, 26 years after the release of their debut album?
The opening title-track is reminiscent of what I remember Spread Eagle sounded like from way back when. It’s an uptempo, raw, raunchy and straight-forward Hard Rock tune with a sleazy outlook. It opens with the doors of a train opening up for the passengers to get on, who are, I guess, us. From then on we get a rough and streetsy rocker with an edgy punch but a bit on the monotone side. It’s potent but also not memorable enough. It’s not bad but it doesn’t last either. Next stop is “29th Of February”, a rhythmic groover with crunchy guitars and a solid beat. Whatever happened on that date, I’m unsure of, but apparently it was worth writing a song about. It’s bouncy and kicking with a striking refrain but it fails to grab a hold of me. First video/single “Speed Of Sound” is fast, edgy, kicking and in-your-face and the chugging guitar riffs are really catchy. It’s quite heavy with memorable melodies and the refrain is catchy the way “Switchblade Serenade” was. The best one so far.
Dark, heavy and bouncy, the Metal tinged “Dead Air” comes along punchy with a striking groove, slightly alternative, melodic yet hard. The quite memorable melodies over the heavier ground makes me wanna stay on the ride for a few more stops. A decent song. “Grand Scam” is fast, rowdy, hard and aggressive – a kick-ass hard-rocker that’s very in-your-face. While that sure sounds promising, the tune isn’t really memorable enough and it goes more for attitude than hooks which means it doesn’t really last. Ok at best. So I look out the window to see what the next stop looks like. It’s not time to get off just yet, I reckon because the title “More Wolf Than Lamb” sounds interesting enough to check out. It’s slower in pace, dark and heavy, even a bit grungy, in a modern Alice In Chains way. It’s a bit monotone with a pumping rhythm, quite headbang-friendly with a memorable main-melody yet not catchy as such. It’s a pretty good tune and I decide to stay on the train for a while.
The upbeat, punchy and kicking Hard Rock groover “Cut Through” does its best to floor me but fails. It’s dark and mellow but punchy and straight-forward. Unfortunately, it’s a filler and a skipper and I get up from my seat to exit and to wait at the station for the next train. That’s when “Little Serpentina” shows up in a mid pace, with a big groove, chugging riffing, rolling bass-lines and a steady, meaty beat. It really takes on a course towards mid 90’s, more alternative Hard Rock and therefore I shouldn’t like it. But I do. A lot. Because it’s melodic as hell yet dark and heavy with a damn hooky refrain. And since I find it one of the album’s finest tracks I decide I have to finish this ride to the end because even though one station might be tore down, bedraggled and even forlorn, who knows what’s to be found at the next stop. Curiosity might have killed the cat but I know how defend myself…
Who dares wins and if you dare you’ll sometimes get rewarded and that’s what it feels like when “Antisocial Butterfly” gets on the train. Because this buttefly’s even better than Serpentina, on the seat next to me. It’s a raunchy, beefy and tough rocker, very big on hooks and melodies filled with super-glue, catchy yet raw and rough where the big chorus brings the track to a homerun and the album’s best track is a fact. Well done. The train-ride is almost over when doors open for “Gutter Rhymes For valentines”, a straight-forward rocker that’s upbeat with a rolling groove, slightly pop-laden but chunky on a good, driving beat. A really catchy tune with lots of hooks. Must be a single at some point. The train leaves for the end-station when closing track “Solitaire” joins in. It’s a softer laden, dramatic and stripped acoustic ballad on the laid-back side. It’s a bit taciturn and subdued with a slightly pop-influenced refrain. A breather that should have been stuck in in the middle of the album. The record ends on a good note.
As I get off the train at the end-station, I’m a bit confused and not sure which way to go. With a few really good tracks at the end of the line, I want to enjoy this ride but unfortunately the ride had a rocky start where the tracks didn’t felt laid down correctly, going off in directions where I couldn’t make it last. Before pushing play on this record, I looked at this album as their debut, shaking off all thoughts I had of this band in the 90’s. But with too many tunes turning out too forgettable and as fillers – that included even a few that I kind of liked – Spread Eagle’s reunion album is obviously not for me even though they raised the bar with the last few songs. Unfortunately that was not enough. If Spread Eagle’s subway will be take them to the stars and I have to eat my words remains to be seen but I wouldn’t bet a larger sum of dough on it. That said, for the guys’ sake, I hope I’m wrong.
1. Subway To The Stars
2. 29th Of February
3. Sound Of Speed
4. Dead Air
5. Grand Scam
6. More Wolf Than Lamb
7. Cut Through
8. Little Serpentina
9. Antisocial Butterfly
10. Gutter Rhymes For Valentines