hardline-2016

HARDLINE – Human Nature

hardline-16Right in a time – 1992 – when grunge was about to take over the music scene completely, a band called Hardline released their debut album Double Eclipse, an album today seen as a melodic rock / AOR classic. It was the two brothers, Johnny (vocals) and Joey Gioeli (guitar) who had joined forces with bass player Ted Jensen (Harlow) for a new band. Fresh from a two album sejour with the band Bad English, former Journey guitar player Neal Schon and drummer Deen Castronovo (Journey, Revolution Saints) joined forces with the threesome and formed the band Hardline. In 1992 there was still a melodic hard rock scene, but both record sales and concert attendance had started to drop for bands in that genre, but Hardline managed to ship the album platinum and getting really big hits with the songs “Hot Cherie” and the ballad “Can’t Find My Way Home”. Despite the success, the band fell apart after just one tour with Schon and Castronovo reuniting Journey and when that happened brother Joey and Jensen also left, which meant that Hardline were no more. In 1998, Johnny Gioeli resurfaced as the singer in German guitarist Axel Rudi Pell’s band, replacing singers Jeff Scott Soto and Rob Rock, a position he still holds to this day. In 2002, Johnny decided to bring Hardline back as a side project to his day job with Pell. The new Hardline featured his brother Joey and Josh Ramos on guitar and ex- Vinnie Vincent Invasion / Nelson drummer Bobby Rock and they released II the same year, a very weak and bland effort, unfortunately. Since then, brother Joey has left the band once more, leaving Johnny as the sole “real” member of Hardline – with some assistance from Ramos here and there – on albums such as  Leaving The End Open (2009) and Danger Zone (2012). In all honesty, Hardline today is more or less Gioeli’s solo project, with a big involvement from his record company Frontiers and it has very little to do with the band that released the brilliant debut in ’92. That said, the albums have become better and better since the bombing II, so I was hoping that this album would be yet another step in the right direction.

The album opens with first single “Where Do We Go From Here”, a straight forward melodic rocker with a pretty punchy chorus and some catchy melodies. Still, it’s only a decent opener and even though it’s a pretty good song, it’s really nothing special. For a first single, it’s surprisingly unmemorable. The following track “Nobody’s Fool” raises the stake and brings it home, a bit heavier than the single and also a nod back to the debut. There’s a really good groove present and the chorus is very catchy – maybe this should have been the first single instead. The title track is a big power ballad complete with piano and a classical guitar. The chorus has a powerful edge and it’s very memorable. It also contains a brilliant string (keyboard?) arrangement that makes the tune a bombastic one. “Trapped In Muddy Waters” is a slower paced,  heavy blues based hard rock ballad. It moves somewhere along the lines of Whitesnake meets Axel Rudi Pell and its powerful and down-to-earth vocals arrangements fits Gioeli’s voice like a glove – great stuff. “Running On Empty” brings the quality down a notch as it is nothing more than a decent, standard, straight forward melodic rocker that lacks catchiness and it just passes by unnoticed.”The World Is Falling Down” is an uptempo rocker with a nice touch of both Rainbow and Deep Purple and the mix of 80’s melodic hard rock and the big 70’s feel suits the song really well –  a good song.

Second single, “Take You Home”, is a ballad that features only vocals and piano – very authentic and naked and Gioeli’s vocal performance is nothing but stunning – one of the true highlights of the album. “Where The North Winds Blows” is real pearl – a rocking pop song with a huge AOR connection. The whole song is catchy as Hell and the chorus isn’t even close to missing the goal – this is the stuff that I believe this band should be doing a lot more of. The high quality continues with “In The Dead Of Night”, a more European sounding steady rocker with a steady beat and a fantastic arrangement. The whole tune is very memorable and I can see this as a single as well – awesome! The slower paced, but very groovy “United We Stand” is another track that is moving around in hit territory with its catchier than catchy chorus and powerhouse vocals from Gioeli. It’s not a ballad but it lies somewhere in ballad border country – I love it! Closing track “Fighting The Battle” is an ok mid-paced 80’s rocker with the odd mood swing here and there – good, but not great.

As a whole, this is an ok album where some song are great, but still with one too many of the mediocre kind. Where Hardline reach the biggest points are with the ballads and the more AOR and poppy stuff, but many of the harder edged tracks fail to raise some real interest. The production is smooth, slick and well mixed, but ironically there is also where the problem lies – the record lacks identity. In no way did Double Eclipse reinvent the wheel, but it showed character and it had a sound that sounded like Hardline and no one else, which can’t be said of the rest of Hardline’s albums. Sure, Johnny Gioeli is an amazing singer and his range is as intact as ever, but on the instrumental parts of the songs, this could be an album by any melodic rock / AOR band out there – it’s just too anonymous. That is another reason for Hardline sounding more like a Frontiers created Johnny Gioeli solo thing than an actual band. A good album, for sure, but there are signs that proves that it could have been a great one.

6/10

Other Hardline reviews:

Danger Zone

Tracklist:

1. Where Will We Go From Here
2. Nobody’s Fool
3. Human Nature
4. Trapped In Muddy Waters
5. Running On Empty
6. The World Is Falling Down
7. Take You Home
8. Where The North Wind Blows
9. In The Dead Of The Night
10. United We Stand
11. Fighting The Battle