NIGHT RANGER – Don’t Let Up

The fact that Californian melodic rockers Night Ranger never made it huge back in the 80’s is one of (many) mysteries in hard rock. The band’s sound was a perfect fit for that decade and the fact that the band wrote shitloads of high quality songs with all the hooks in the world, that they were all brilliant musicians and singers and that they had an identity and sound of their own didn’t make matters worse. The band came close when their ballad “Sister Christian” (Midnight Madness, 1983) became a huge hit (#5 in the US charts) and shipped said album platinum (1 000 000 000 sold albums in the US), something both its predecessor Dawn Patrol (1982) and the follow-up Seven Wishes (1985) also did. 1987’s underrated killer album Big Life only shipped gold (500 000 copies) and when the, also extremely underrated, but rougher sounding Man In Motion (1988) only managed to reach #88 on the Billboard chart, the ride was over and Night Ranger split. Sure, Night Ranger did have some pretty big success at home but outside of the US, they were a small band and never sold any large quantities of records. Which is weird when you consider the huge success of similar bands such as Bon Jovi and Def Leppard around that time – Night Ranger should have played in the same league in a fair world.

Bassist and lead singer Jack Blades then formed Damn Yankees with Tommy Shaw (Styx) and Ted Nugent and released two great albums and guitarist Brad Gillis and drummer / lead singer Kelly Keagy formed a new version of Night Ranger with bassist / singer Gary Moon and released the album Feeding Off The Mojo (1995) which, of course, bombed completely. The first Night Ranger reunion took place in 1997 with the albums Neverland and the follow-up Seven (1998), both great albums, but the timing was wrong – grunge and nu-metal were all that mattered back then. But as melodic rock resurrected itself after the new millennium, Night Ranger did what so many other bands in the same genre did and reunited once more – now with Michael Lardie (Great White) as a keyboard player instead of Alan Gerald and the album Hole In The Sun. The album was good enough but it didn’t sell much, but it did show that Night Ranger were back again. The two latest efforts Somewhere In California (2011) and High Road (2014) – this time with guitarist Joel Hoeckstra (ex- Trans Siberian Orchestra, Jeff Scott Soto) as the replacement for the departed Jeff Watson and new keyboarder Eric Levy, were two brilliant albums that had everything a Night Ranger fan could have wished for in quality and sound.

That means, of course, that the expectations on the new record is sky-high for me and also, since Hoeckstra left the band in 2015 to join Whitesnake and was replaced by Keri Kelli (Ratt, Pretty Boy Floyd, Vince Neil, Alice Cooper, Slash, L.A. Guns, Warrant, Bulletboys, Adler’s Appetite and a million others…) I was wondering if there would be a change in sound as well. I mean, Kelli’s earlier employers are more in the dirtier and sleazier vein whereas Night Ranger is more of a melodic rock act. Opener and first single “Somehow Someway” is proof that Night Ranger still sounds just like Night Ranger should. It’s a classic, uptempo Night Ranger pop rocker with the twin guitars that this band is known for. To me, the song sounds like an updated version of the Seven Wishes album – brilliant. “Running Out Of Time” is equally brilliant with its hard rock riffing, hard-hitting drumming and a memorable melody that completely explodes when the ridiculously catchy chorus brings it all home – Hell Yeah! “Truth” is an uptempo half-ballad that sports a guitar arrangement that is almost alternative sounding. The song is not very direct but sticks after a couple of spins. The floating feel and the big melody makes it a feel-good track.

“Day And Night” showed up on last year’s double-live album 35 Years And A Night In Chicago and when I heard it there, it didn’t really speak to me at all. Which is weird because it is a heavy and dirty hard rocker that almost borders to metal at times and should work well live. It has a live feel on this album as well and it sure kicks up some dust, but for some reason it just won’t grab me here either. It’s an ok song but they can do better than this. The title track is a brilliantly catchy pop tune that makes me wish for hot summer nights. The chorus is a million bucks and totally addictive and resplendent. The melody and arrangement are totally classic Night Ranger. “(Won’t Be Your) Fool Again” is a stellar classic rock groover complete with a honky-tonk piano. The early – mid 70’s Rolling Stones / David Bowie style rock ‘n’ roll marries brilliantly with the classic Night Ranger way of writing a melody. A winner that will go down great live. “Say What You Want” is a good time, upbeat melodic rocker, perfect for the party and for the stage. The main melody got me thinking of Damn Yankees style wise even though it’s Keagy’s lead vocals on it. Great track.

“We Can Work It Out” is not a cover of the Beatles track but it is a softer song with a big 60’s influence and it is hard not to think about the Beatles here. It’s mellow and laid back with a gorgeous melody – very good. “Comfort Me” is so much classic Night Ranger in sound that it could have been a leftover from any of their classic 80’s albums – and that is meant in a positive way. It’s an awesome pop-rocker complete with some guitar duelling from Gillis and Kelli. “Jamie” is Night Ranger big rock – rough with attitude and punch but still with the in-your-face melodies and a captivating refrain. Closing track “Nothing Left Of Yesterday” is an uptempo ballad with a huge chorus that screams Night Ranger all the way. With an addictive groove and hooks to kill for, this song is a total winner!

First off, the change from Joel Hoeckstra to Kerri Kelli hasn’t changed one single thing when it comes to the Night Ranger sound, in fact it sounds more as if Kelli has been given strict orders how to play to make sure all the twin guitars and double leads that are Night Ranger’s trademark are still intact. So no worries there – Night ranger still sounds exactly like Night Ranger should. And just like many other reunited 80’s hard rock bands, Night Ranger’s music today is easily as good as it was back in the day – if not even better. Don’t Let Up is the third album since the latest reunion and one can only be impressed by the fact that these elderly gentlemen still manages to write so many tunes in the highest quality and produce albums with all the arrangements and melodies that once made them popular without sounding dated one tiny bit. For fans of melodic hard rock – not only hard-core Night Ranger fans – this album is highly recommended.

P.S. The videos shown here are bootleg and made by fans but since no official video has been made for this record, I have chosen to add them here for promotional purposes. D.S.

8/10

Other Night Ranger reviews:

High Road

Tracklist:

1. Somehow Someway
2. Running Out Of Time
3. Truth
4. Day And Night
5. Don’t Let Up
6. (Won’t Be Your) Fool Again
7. Say What You Want
8. We Can Work It Out
9. Comfort Me
10. Jamie
11. Nothing Left Of Yesterday

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