Release Date: 6th June 2014
Gary 'Rockulus' Clarke
These guys always seemed to be more popular in their native nation of the USA than in the UK, although that's not to take anything away from their smooth delivery or the quality of their consummate professional approach to their craft.
When I spoke to Jack Blades recently, he came across upbeat and proud of what was accomplished with this 11th studio album. In fact my first question to the good man was along the lines of what's it like approaching the recording process of an 11th album, haven't you said it all already?!
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Since their profile was re-established with the critically acclaimed 'Somewhere In California' in 2011, it might be fair to say there's a sense of expectation surrounding the release of 'High Road'. When you crank your music playing machine up and hear the first three tracks, you'll be smiling from ear-to-ear I strongly suspect.
Upbeat, energetic and hook-laden magic assaults the ears with no apology and I ain't complainin'. 'Knock Knock Never Stop' is irresistible and 'Rollin' On' contains a chant-a-long "Hey-Hey-Hey-Yeah" moment which cheese fans will nod in approval with.
'Don't Live Here Anymore' signals a change in approach and tempo from the opening salvo of the first three tracks. Lyrically it tackles the subject matter of addiction and how it is possible to change. The main melody line running through this song gives it a presence as it builds the drama and unfolds in to a blossoming power ballad with an epic heart at its core.
Talking of such sentiments, 'Only For You Only' waves a candle in the air thanks to some beautiful piano and emotive lyrics. This would have been a huge hit single back in the late 80s in the U.S. but in this day and age is a quality ballad to discover on the album.
The line-up which still includes the original three members of Brad Gillis (lead and rhythm guitars), Kelly Keagy (drums and vocals) plus Blades on bass and vocals retain the direction that's associated with the Night Ranger sound. Joined by Joel Hoekstra on lead and rhythm guitar and Eric Levy on keys, the band is tight. Such examples can be witnessed on tracks like the rockin' 'St. Bartholomews' and the slightly rousing 'X Generation'.
Personally I prefer 'Somewhere In California' to this album, but that isn't to say this is anything like bad. You can experience different levels of good quality music if you know what I mean. 'Hang On' produces a luscious chorus but the general arrangement wrapped around it feels a little too elaborate as it incorporates strings and various sections.
That same laborious vibe filters through on 'I'm Coming Home' which tries to establish where it wants to begin, before eventually settling in to a cool and somewhat familiar groove building toward a chorus. The song tackles how it feels when the band are close to home after being on the road for a length of time, and the chorus is okay although not one of their strongest.
By popular acknowledgement, they have a patchy back catalogue in places but in recent years have re-discovered their mojo. This album is good, but not their best. Outstanding moments arrive when the band are trimming the fat off their tracks and deliver a strong hook and tight musicianship. Thankfully there is more on this album to celebrate than to criticise so 'High Road' gets a healthy rating.
Knock Knock Never Stop
Don't Live Here Anymore
I'm Coming Home
Only For You Only
L.A. No Name (Bonus Track)