NIGHT RANGER – High Road

Night Ranger - High RoadHappy Metal. If there ever was a genre called that, then Night Ranger would own that genre. Because there is something really happy and natural over their music that makes you smile and feel good. It really doesn’t matter if they write a really tough rocker or a big ballad, they just sound happy – and boy, do I love that. Night Ranger started out back in 1982 and scored a big hit with their debut single “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” from their debut album Dawn Patrol and when the band had an even bigger hit with the power ballad “Sister Christian” the following year, which led to their second album Midnight Madness shipping  platinum in the States (1 000 000 sold albums) and 1985’s Seven Wishes did the same, Night Ranger had become one of the biggest bands in America, touring arenas all over the country. But with those three albums being produced by Pat Glasser, a man who do not like his music hard, who had given the band a polished and commercial touch, but still with the rock elements left, bringing in Journey producer Kevin Elson (also responsible for the lightweight and sterile sound on Europe’s The Final Countdown a year earlier) for 1987’s Big Life turned out a bad idea. The album was full brilliant tunes and they scored a hit with the soundtrack “The Secret Of My Success” for the movie by the same name (starring Michael J Fox), but the production was too pop and too light weight and instead of scoring another platinum record, Big Life “only” went gold (500 000 copies). Not bad, but still showed a downward spiral for the band. Jack Blades (lead vocals, bass), Brad Gillis and Jeff Watson (lead guitars) and Kelly Keagy (drums, lead vocals)(Alan “Fitz” Gerald (keyboards) had left the band by then) tried to make up for that a year later with the much rockier and hard-edged Man In Motion, produced by Keith Olsen (Whitesnake, Magnum), but the train had already left the station and the album bombed. Too bad as it was a brilliant record, but I have a feeling that the band tried too hard and that the album was too hard and dark for their fans. The band split shortly afterwards and Jack Blades went on to form the highly successful Damn Yankees with Tommy Shaw (Styx) and Ted Nugent. Night Ranger made a come back in 1995 as a trio with only Gillis and Keagy left, hiring Gary Moon to handle lead vocals and bass duties, but to no avail. It wasn’t the Night Ranger anybody wanted and that line-up failed to survive as well. But only two years later the original band resurfaced with the classic Night Ranger sounding album Neverland and the more modern, but fantastic Seven in 1998, but the time wasn’t right. Grunge had just went down on knock-out by nu-metal and the happy rock of Night Ranger wasn’t received well and the band spent another nine years on hiatus before they recorded the ill-fated Hole In The Sun (2007) with Great White’s Michael Lardie as a replacement for Gerald who jumped the ship for the second time. Said album had its moments but didn’t sound like a true Night Ranger record and it would take them four years to get back on track properly. But when they did so, they damn well did so.

Somewhere In California was released in 2011 and had not only Eric Levy as a replacement for Lardie who had been busy with Great White again, but also original – and awesome – guitarist Jeff Watson had been fired / left with Joel Hoeckstra (Trans Siberian Orchestra) taking his place. It turned out that the change hadn’t done anything negative sound wise, because Somewhere In California hit bullseye on every aspect. The songs and the sound was back to how the band should sound and not only that – the songs were damn brilliant, almost all of them and Somewhere In California turned out to be the band’s best album since the mid-eighties. What a return. With a comeback like that, the band could also go out and tour and this time the fans were back supporting the band again and all of a sudden, Night Ranger had a career again. And to show the fans that Somewhere In California was just a one-off, they decided it was time to release another killer. But that also meant that for the first time in ages, the band had some pretty big pressure on their shoulders to create a great record once again. A flop here and Night Ranger would probably be over. I remember the first time I saw the video for their last album’s first single “Growin’ Up In California”. Everything about that song and video made my smile ten miles wide and to me that song was the proof that they were back for real. I got exactly the same feeling when they posted the video for their new single and title track of this record online. The two songs doesn’t sound alike or the same, but the general feel of them is exactly the same and to me, this is the whole essence of what Night Ranger are all about. A pop rocker with a contagious melody and with more hooks than in a fisherman’s shed. Talk about raising the stakes for the rest of the album. But their second single, for the song “Knock Knock Never Stop”, out just in time for album release, showed that the first single was no fluke. A bit rockier, but just as catchy and after watching that video, there was no doubt in my mind that Night Ranger would release another killer. “Rollin’ On” has some Led Zeppelin influenced riffing mixed with a classic Night Ranger pose, “Only For You Only” is another one of those amazing Night Ranger ballads, just cheesy enough, but always extremely emotional and both “Hang On” and “St Bartholomew” are two brilliant rockers with those big choruses and the fantastic melodies that has always been pivotal in Night Ranger’s music. “Brothers” starts out as a 80’s power ballad, but it turns into a Beatles “Hey Jude”- ish kinda ballad. So damn brilliant.

I would also recommend the de luxe edition of the album as you’ll get “Mountain Song” if you get that edition. And you want that song, I tell you. Night Ranger moves into Deep Purple territory, all with the Night Ranger sound all over it. It’s also complete with a Jon Lord sounding Hammond. So awesome – you don’t want to miss out on that. If you’re into the kind of feel-good, ballsy and high energetic rock ‘n’ roll that Night Ranger are known for, I can’t see any reason at all why you shouldn’t own this album. Great songs, a great sound, great performances by great musicians – things could be worse, right? Oh, and if they stop by your home town for a concert, go see them. They also happen to be a superb live act.

Jon Wilmenius (8/10)

Tracklist:

1. High Road
2. Knock Knock Never Stop
3. Rollin’ On
4. Don’t Live Here Any More
5. I’m Coming Home
6. X Generation
7. Only For You Only
8. Hang On
9. St. Bartholomew
10. Brothers
11. L.A. No Name
12. The Mountain Song

 

3 comments on “NIGHT RANGER – High Road

  1. Happy Metal I like that term Jon bang on!
    I’m in the minority but Man In Motion was a killer record and yeah it stiffed too bad it was a solid record esp the title track and Reason To Be. I guess for me back in the 80s they were my metals guilty pleasure whereas nowadays for people it would be Nickleback!
    Hahaha….
    But seriously when Nightranger wanted to crank it up they could esp a few yrs back when I heard there version of Highway Star sandwiched in This Boy Needs To Rock…
    Good band ….
    May have to,check this one as well….

    • Oh, man , me and my brother played MIM to death when it came out. Halfway To the Sun was another killer.
      Yeah, if you’re into NR you really should check this one out. And Somewhere In California as well, that one is almost better than this one.

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