Back in 2016, Finnish arena rockers Shiraz Lane released their debut album For Crying Out Loud. The band got some pretty good and interesting reviews of that record and since I’m a fan of the brand of music they play, I had to check it out. But to me, the album was underwhelming and to be frank, pretty dull. That album got me thinking of all the Melodic Rock / Arena Rock bands that jumped on that band wagon a couple of years too late, around 1992 – 1993, when the genre had killed itself with too many copy cats like Roxy Blue, Southgang, Tainted Angel and such, bands that didn’t brought anything worthwhile to the table and therefore never made it out of the clubs – or even into them. I found the album mainstream and without both attitude or identity. Needless to say, I haven’t exactly listened myself to death to that record. That also meant that when the guys – vocalist Hannes Kett, guitarists Jani Laine and Miki Kalske, bassist Joel Alex and drummer Ana Willman – now releases the follow-up, I can’t say that my expectations were shooting through the roof.
So imagine my surprise when the title track kicks off the album with an Aerosmith like groove, a jazzy cabaret/dance-hall vibe complete with a raging saxophone on top, swinging and upbeat with a positive and even happy feel all over. The song is also catchy as f**k and deserves to be a gigantic hit. Brilliant! The following “The Crown” is more back to the basics of the debut, a pretty raunchy Melodic Rock track, attitude-laden with a good enough melody and an über-catchy refrain – a total time machine back to 1991. But it’s a grittier and bettered version of the debut album. “Harder To Breathe” blasts out some Hard Rock riffing which makes it distinct and rough. It do belong in the Melodic Rock file but with a slightly darker feel in the very catchy chorus. Really good. The guys get into party mood with “Tidal Wave”. It’s upbeat, fun-loving, rhythmic groovy with enough hooks to sell. And the horn section is back which makes the tune even neater. But it also comes with huge Pop vibe that will make you hum the damn thing for days. Gotta love it.
“Gotta Be Real” is a slightly jazzy, Pop/Rock ballad with a late 80’s vibe. The saxophone makes an entrance again and it takes the tune away from the standard power balladry. It’s a laid-back tune with a quite cozy feel where the melody is very memorable but not exactly a hit-laden number. I really like the fact that it goes outside the Melodic Rock box and takes its own path. “People Like Us” is an upbeat, melodic rocker with a big AOR twist and a really hot swing. It brings forward a piano that fits the tune like a tailor-made suit and the big Pop vibe makes the song sound positive and it also contains a majorly catchy chorus. Very good stuff, this. The mid-paced “Shangri-La” have one foot in ballad territory but for the most, it’s an AOR-ish rocker that brings out a late 80’s Arena Rock feel. A good song that doesn’t go out on a limb to be different. Heaviest yet is “War Of Mine” that even moves towards Metal. It’s a vigorous rocker with a darker touch but that said, it comes with a bona fide Melodic Rock melody that’s very catchy. Great song!
“Shot Of Life” is an uptempo Melodic Rock song, highly energetic to the point of getting an ADHD diagnose. It’s not really bad but it feels a bit messy and it kinda makes me a bit nervous. It would have benefitted from calming down a bit. “Hope” is a pure power ballad that in many ways sounds like a 2018 take on Aerosmith’s “Cryin'” or “Amazing”. Songs like that, carbon copies of other bands songs usually makes me cringe but for some reason I like this one. It’s shamelessly catchy with a huge hit feel and back in 1990, this song would have given all the Warrants and Slaughters of the world a run for their money. Closing track “Reincarnation” is easily the song that breaks out the most. It starts out with a Blues/Jazz swing in a ballad-like mood but soon turns into a Hard Rock number only to break out into a Reggae middle-break. On top of that, the contrast of the AOR-ish refrain makes the tune very unpredictable and interesting. It do show maturity and invention. Very good.
In my review for the debut I wrote that I saw potential in the band even though I didn’t love the album and that potential is sure blooming here. I also wrote that the band needed a producer that could steer them away from all the Glam/Sleaze stereotypes and the lack of identity and I guess they have found that guy. Per Aldeheim is his name and he used to work in the hit factory Cheiron together with Max Martin (the two of them were in the Funk-Metal band Its Alive where Per was the guitarist and Max Martin, then known as Martin White, was the singer) and he has worked with everyone from Def Leppard to Five to Lambretta to Darin to Soilwork. Together the guys have shaped the band in the right direction and stepped out of their comfort zone – and the development really shows, even though I believe that they could probably take it one step further. This is a way better album than the debut and the biggest surprise 2018 have provided us with yet, together with the new Reach album. A job well done!
More Shiraz Lane reviews:
1. Carnival Days
2. The Crown
3. Harder To Breathe
4. Tidal Wave
5. Gotta Be Real
6. People Like Us
8. War Of Mine
9. Shot Of Life