To me, it feels like singer Jeff Scott Soto have been around forever, you know like Deep Purple or Kiss. Maybe it’s because he’s been doing so many different things during his long career because let’s face it, the guy is hardly a newie in the business. But he haven’t been around THAT long. When I first heard his voice, on Yngwie Malmsteen’s almost instrumental debut solo album from 1984, I didn’t have a clue who he was. I didn’t even know what the guy looked like. But what I heard made me melt – what a voice! And when he one year later sang on Yngwie’s Rising Force album Marching Out, I thought his voice was just as important to the songs as Yngwie’s guitar playing. But Jeff was gone already by the release of the album, a real shame as I hold Jeff and Mats Levén (Candlemass, Treat) as Yngwie’s top two vocalists, and it got very quiet around Jeff for many years. It would take five years for Jeff’s voice to pop up once again – and it did so twice.
The radio was playing a song called “I’ll Be Waiting” and I couldn’t figure out who that splendid voice belonged to. After a while the penny dropped and the news that Jeff had formed a new band with former Yngwie bass player Marcel Jacob (1964 – 2009) was great news indeed. The band, Talisman, and their self titled debut album became a huge hit in Sweden and Jeff continued to sing in Talisman up until 2009 when Jacob passed away. In 1990, Jeff also sang on the debut album by an American band called Eyes, an album I really like and since then Jeff has been busy with bands/artists such as Axel Rudi Pell, Takara, Soul SirkUS, Trans Siberian Orchestra, a short stint in Journey as their live singer, Human Clay, Humanimal and Joel Hoeckstra’s 13 – and of course shitloads of solo albums. In later years he has released two albums with his own metal band Soto, live gigs with Talisman as a tribute to Marcel and last month, an album with progressive metal act Sons Of Apollo. And now it’s time for yet another solo album, his first since Damage Control back in 2012.
Soto and his band – guitarist / bassist Simon Howie and drummer Edu Cominato – kicks off the album with the title track as the opener and what we’re given is thunderous drums, a slammin’ bass and razor blade sharp guitars before the metal riffing takes the song into a slower pace – very heavy, aggressive and punchy but the vocal melody is very catchy and melodic all throughout the song. This song could easily have fitted one of his Soto albums. A great opener. “Inside/Outside” starts off with a kicking and biting intro – very metal – but the song soon turns into a more regular melodic hard rock tune, the way we’re used to hear Soto’s solo stuff. The tune sure has a big groove and it’s quite heavy but it is the catchy melodies that makes the song a true winner. Melodic rock meets metal – that’s what we get in “Rage Of The Year”, a song that’s big on both fat riffs and catchy melodies – and a kicking groove. At times, the song reminds me of a heavier Talisman and what’s not to love about that? Great tune!
With a title like “Reign Again”, one could get the impression that we have a furious metal tune on our hands but not with this one. Instead we get a bona fide hard rock tune with lots and lots of AOR elements, big pop melodies and an 80’s sounding synthesizer sound, both groovy and catchy. If that’s your keg of beer, then you’ll love this one. I say it’s a good track. You’re into power ballads model 1988? Well, then the single “Feels Like Forever” will go down like a charm at your place. This AOR-laden little pearl could easily have been a Talisman song from one of their last albums. The refrain is so catchy it hurts and in 1988 – 1990, this would have been all over MTV. Since I have a weak spot for songs like this, I say it’s a clear winner and deserves to be a hit even in 2017. The pop-rock continues with the hook laden “Last Time”, only in a rougher and raunchier way. But even though the refrain is pretty good, the tune is too standard and it doesn’t move me at all. It’s ok but I find it forgettable.
“Bullet For My Baby” comes with quite a sleazy beat and a nice groove and some jazz-like undertones and it is a catchy tune but at the same time, the chorus feels just a bit too middle-of-the-road for comfort and it just don’t want to stick with me at all. It’s an ok song that leaves a little too much to be desired. The ballad “Song For Joey” is about Jeff’s brother Joey who was taken ill some time ago. It’s quiet, melancholic, emotional and taciturn, a far cry from the power balladry of “Feels Like Forever”. It’s still very powerful and it’s easy to hear in Jeff’s voice just how personal this song is. Brilliant. “Breakout” picks up the faster paced hard rock again and it’s a meat and potatoes, straight forward hard rocker but to me it’s a bit too ordinary and does nothing for me at all – a filler. “Dedicate To You” is more of a pop song in a hard rock disguise, a happy and positive tune in uptempo with a very catchy refrain – very much Jeff Scott Soto AOR rock. A great tune. Closing track “Autumn” is a laid-back, slightly melancholic acoustic ballad with a feelgood vibe all over it. A good tune without being exceptional.
For a Jeff Scott Soto solo album, this is a bit heavier than I expected but I think this kind of music only benefits from it. It starts out great but falters some along the way and even though there are no bad songs on here, there’s a filler or two too many here. Style wise, there are lots of classic hard rock and even metal on the record but almost every song comes with a lot of hooks and AOR-laden arrangements and catchy melodies. Jeff’s voice is in a very good shape as well and the talk I heard of range issues seems to be highly exaggerated. So to wrap this up, I think that Jeff has released a really good album where the fillers draws the score down a notch or two.
More Jeff Scott Soto reviews:
3. Rage Of The Year
4. Reign Again
5. Feels Like Forever
6. Last Time
7. Bullet For My Baby
8. Song For Joey
10. Dedicate To You