I first heard of this American Rock band back in the late 80’s when their video, “Walkin’ Shoes”, taken from their debut album Surprise Attack (1989) was played on Headbanger’s Ball every now and then. I thought the song was ok but I never gave the band much notice. The same thing happened when Vanessa Warwick started to plug the leading single “Amnesia” from their 1992 follow-up Wild America. To me, that song sounded like a grittier Great White and I really dug it so I had a friend making me a copy of that album. Even though I found it ok, that copy never got played that often and I soon forgot about it. When I found out that Tora Tora – the band name taken either from a Van Halen song or a Japanese movie from 1970 – had reunited, I decided to dig Wild America up for another taste – and lo and behold, this time it really hit home. It’s a damn good record full of crunchy Hard Rock with its feet in the 70’s but with a sleazy 80’s vibe.
The band – Anthony Corder on vocals, guitarist Keith Douglas, bassist Patrick Francis and drummer John Patterson – formed in Memphis, Tennessee back in 1985 and released an independent E.P. called To Rock, To Roll in 1987 before signing to A&M Records the following year. A third record, Revolution Day, was recorded in 1994 but was shelved, probably because Grunge ruled the world by then, and didn’t see the light of day until 2011. Me, I was oblivious to that release until I started writing this. I was also oblivious of the release of three albums of unreleased songs – Before & After, Bombs Away (both from 2009) and Miss B Haven (2010) and the fact that they have reunited once in 2008 for a few gigs. But now, 27 years since the release of their last “real” album release, it’s time for Tora Tora to pick up from where they left and give it another go. Since I have re-discovered Wild America, I was hopeful that the guys would come up with something really cool and convincing.
The album opens with the raunchy and earthy rocker “Sons Of Zebedee”, a quite organic and guitar-driven rocker in mid tempo. A bit sleazy with a kind of bluesy edge, the tune is pretty good but falls short because of the insipid refrain that don’t reach out and grab me. The following “Giants Fall” is better though. A groovy stomper, tough and crunchy with an early 90’s hard rock stomp but without the Arena Rock twists that was so popular back then. With a lot of hooks, a Classic Rock touch and a catchy refrain, the song grabs me – good one. “Everbright” holds a good, beefy groove that mixes Classic Rock with a slice of Southern Rock, rowdy and riff-happy with a big live-feel. A slight Led Zeppelin vibe and a loose swagger brings the song home. Yes, I dig this. “Silence The Sirens” starts out a bit laid-back but soon brings on a meaty and heavier groove with some tasty rock-riffing an uptempo. The refrain slows things down a bit but still very in-your face – and it’s big on hooks. A good tune.
The single “Son Of A Prodigal Son” is heavy and fat in a mid-pace with stompy groove and a rhythmic rhythm-section that underlies some chunky riffing and a punchy chorus. There’s also a twist of Country here and with Country, I’m talking about the more gritty and raw-edged kind that a guy like Steve Earle brings on. That said, this is very much a biting rocker with a ton of hooks added. It’s a great song, the best one so far and by now, I’m really getting my hopes up. The quality isn’t going down by the slow, stripped and down-to earth Rock ballad “Lights Up The River” either. Sure it’s laid-back and quite mellow but it’s still raunchy and raw without any signs of cheese or power balladry. It’s soulful and powerful with a stellar refrain that makes it stick. Great! “Let Us Be the One” says hello to the early 90’s. It’s sleazy, direct and punchy with enough dirt under its fingernails but unfortunately the tune is a complete filler that goes in one ear and out the other and makes no impact whatsoever.
“All Good Things” brings the rowdy Hard Rock back with a juicy crunch and quite the swing, upbeat on a steady rhythm. It’s a ballsy boogie-rock stomper but again, it fails to bring me along, much to the fact the tune’s chorus is bland and weak. With “Rose Of Jericho”, the same thing. An uptempo rocker with a sleazy outlook and a raunchy swagger, groovy and rough but despite that, I’m not hooked and the melodies and the refrain passes me by quite unnoticed and I can’t remember a note when the tune fades out. Only add to injury we get “Vertigo”, a sleaze-rock instrumental with a slight effort to go a bit progressive with some heavier parts. But the song doesn’t go anywhere and feels totally pointless. They close the album with the title-track and luckily enough, it’s a damn good one. It’s upbeat, hard Rock’n’Roll with a sleazy American Hard Rock vibe that goes for a big live-feel and a crowd-pleasing sing-along refrain that sticks right away.
So. Where there clearly are some really good songs showing up here, there are also too many fillers which makes the whole experience of listening to this record somewhat forgettable. I also have issues with the production as it sounds to mushy and low-budget – I get feeling of a pre-production or a demo than a finished product. I guess they have gone for an earthy and stripped sound but – and I usually never complains about this – the guitars are way too high in the mix and almost drowns the vocals which also leaves the rhythm section in the background. It’s almost like they went into a room all together with a tape-recorder, pushed rec and went for it. While that can be charming, a more nuanced and bigger sound would have made this album a more enjoyable experience. But what this album did do good was that it made me want to see this band live because I have a feeling Tora Tora will be a much entertaining live-act where many of these songs would probably find their true home.
1. Sons Of Zebedee
2. Giants Fall
4. Silence The Sirens
5. Son Of A Prodigal Son
6. Lights Up The River
7. Let Us Be One
8. All Good Things
9. Rose Of Jericho
11. Bastards Of Beale