A solo album from Phil Lanzon!!? That was unexpected, to say the least. I’m not sure how big a name Phil Lanzon is but I suspect that there are many rock fans out there who aren’t really aware of who he is and therefore I also suspect that this record won’t ship itself platinum anytime soon. I first heard of Lanzon when I read the back cover of Irish/British AOR rockers Grand Prix’s awesome record Samurai (1983), a band in which singer Robin McAuley (MSG, Survivor) was featured. Lanzon wasn’t featured that much as a song writer – he’s a keyboard player – on said album but he did write the album’s best and most progressive tune, the title track. Grand Prix released two albums prior to that – the self titled debut in 1980 and There For None To See (1982) – none of which I have heard a note of.
Lanzon was recruited to Andy Scott’s Sweet in 1985 but he left them back in 1986 when he was asked to replace John Sinclair in Uriah Heep and he has been with them since then. Heep will be releasing a new album – Living The Dream – later this year. But now Lanzon have a solo record out and since I have never been much of a Heep fan, this album comes with no expectations what so ever. Of course, Lanzon doesn’t do everything himself on this album and the record is full of guest singers, but more on that later on. The production is supervised by none other than Simon Hanhart, who have produced such acts as Asia, Marillion and 21 Guns, which bodes well. Musicians on this album includes Richard Cottle (arranger, orchestrator, 2nd keys), drummer Craig Blundell, bassist Laurence Cottle, James Graydon (acoustic guitar), Sarah Joy (pedal steel, banjo) and Joe Atkins (piccolo trumpet).
Lanzon & co opens the album on a softer note. “Mind Over Matter” is a big, pompous and somewhat symphonic half-ballad. The song is quite grandiose and orchestrated with a nice Pop/Prog arrangement and it holds a very memorable main melody. John Mitchell (It Bites) who has the spot as lead guitarist on the album also handles the lead vocals here. Mitchell’s voice is homey and brings a feel-good vibe on the track. It’s a weird choice as an opener but it is also a damn good tune so I’ll let it slip. “Kelly Gang” follows with a bit of an Irish vibe and this uptempo tune comes with both Pop, AOR and symphonic undertones complete with strings and some big backing vocals. A huge melody and a very catchy refrain makes the tune stick like glue and it’s not a very far cry from Grand Prix melody wise. Andy Makin (Psycho Motel) takes the lead vocal here and he does a very good job doing so. I have never heard of the guy before so he’s a nice, new acquaintance for me. Brilliant tune!
Mitchell is back at the mike for “I Knew I Was Dreaming”, a soft and cozy uptempo ballad. It’s big on orchestration, sports a Gospel vibe and a Hammond sounding keyboard. It’s an entrancing tune with an exceptionally catchy refrain and the arrangement in the choir makes the tune grand. This is just plain awesome! “I Saw Two Englands” takes a whole different turn as it brings on a Country feel complete with a steel guitar and a banjo. It’s acoustically driven but also comes with a steady beat and I find the whole tune very memorable with a chorus that is so catchy it borders to sugary. I really like the song, though. Lanzon takes the lead vocals himself for this song and he does it well. The instrumental “Step Overture” is up next. It’s a progressive, keyboard-driven rocker that grooves up with a heavy organ sound that brings Uriah Heep to mind but it’s also a sound used frequently by Arjen Anthony Lucassen in his projects, mainly Ayreon comes to mind. A really cool tune and very good.
The progressive and symphonic “Lover’s Highway” is a heavy yet melodic piece with big vocals and I hear similarities to both Dream Theater and Ayreon here but also a nod to Melodic Rock. A cool stomper with a big sound and a really good lead vocal performance from Makin. “Donna & Joe” is a rock ballad with a big sound scape that mixes Pop, AOR and Symphonic Rock but also throws a look back to 70’s pomp. The tempo is slower but there’s an atmospheric aura all around the tune and the tune sticks by first listen. Again, Makin nails it with big assurance – very good. “Carolin” is an AOR-influenced Pop song that comes off as very radio friendly and catchy. The steel guitar is back and so are the Country vibes. It’s a feel-good track and I like it but it’s a bit too smooth and saccharine. One Andy Caine sings it without leaving very much of an impression. He’s not bad though.
Next up is “The Bells”. Sung by Makin, it sports a big groove, a steady rhythm and it brings on a Celtic vibe that brings my mind to Gary Moore back in his Wild Frontier (1987) days. The tune is very 70’s laden and rocks things up with a big feel of both Deep Purple and Uriah Heep. The melodic chorus is striking and very catchy and it is the song that rocks the hardest on the album. Brilliant. Lanzon takes the mike himself for the second and last time on the album’s last track “Forest”. It’s a Prog/Pomp track with both feet in 70’s Rock. It’s an epic track that starts out as a piano ballad and the verses are slow and even quiet but the chorus strikes in a grandiose and overblown, symphonic manner. A taciturn middle-break makes the song breathe a bit before it turns huge again. A very atmospheric and dynamic piece of music that to me is the best of the best on this record.
I must say that this record really stunned me. I mean, I had no expectations and to be honest, I thought that this record would be an ok listen but I can’t find one bad song on this here. Sure, at times the album is a bit too cozy, nice, smooth and easy-listened but for me, as long as the songs delivers quality, I’m game – and the song here really do just that. What we get here is progressive and symphonic rock music with a lot of both Pop and AOR influences waved together brilliantly. The whole sound scape is big and the production is flawless – a reminder of Hanhart’s Asia past, actually. Despite the quite large chunk of Pop and AOR, the music is never cheesy, syrupy or mainstream chart-pop like – and it grows with each listen. Phil Lanzon as a solo artist… who would have thought?
1. Mind Over Matter
2. Kelly Gang
3. I Knew I Was Dreaming
4. I Saw Two Englands
5. Step Overture
6. Lover’s Highway
7. Donna & Joe
9. The Bells