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Articles Home » 1981 Articles » Challenger - 1981 First Round
Challenger - 1981 First Round

ARTIST: Challenger
ALBUM: First Round
SERIAL: PL 37544
YEAR: 1981


LINEUP: Denis Drieu - vocals * Remy Devillard, Serge Hendrix - guitars * Pierrot Roussel - bass * Jean Pierre Pollet - drums

Guest: Patrick Gauthier - piano

TRACK LISTING: 01 Running For A Child * 02 Miss Backstage * 03 Sweet Sally * 04 Vagabond * 05 Just A Rock * 06 Stars Maker * 07 (Here Come The) Outlaws * 08 I Need Someone * 09 Dance With Me

Readers and students of the legendary International Encyclopedia of Heavy Metal should remember the entry for French rockers Challenger. This was a short-lived band who operated between 1980 (when they were formed) and 1982 when they were dropped by their label RCA. In between times Challenger released the fantastic 'First Round' LP which should appeal to those into melodic southern rock, a la The Outlaws, Molly Hatchet, Doc Holliday. Oh yes, it really is that good, and from a bunch of French blokes, that's even more astounding. As much as I liked the Dutch band Bodine who also operated in southern rock territory for their first album, I think Challenger are even more of the real deal. Hell, if these guys had guested on an American arena tour during 1981 they would've been instant hits! I guarantee you that!

The Songs
The songs here are first rate. Singer Denis Drieu gives it his all, but it's the twin guitar attack of Remy Devillard and Serge Hendrix that top everything, the French equivalent of Freddie Salem, Billy Jones and Hughie Thomasson, or perhaps Duane Roland, Steve Holland and Dave Hlubek rolled in from three into two. 'Running For A Child' is a tremendous opener, more in the vein of a NWOBHM band than southern. Think Diamond Head or Grand Prix. But this image soon changes, with threatening guitar work sounding as if it's breaking out of Florida or Georgia, instead of Paris! Listen to those southern approved guitar solos for evidence, not forgetting those rich vocal harmonies on the chorus. Great start! Things get even more raucous with the incredible Molly Hatchet styled boogie of 'Miss Backstage'. Take a listen, the comparison is hands down. 'Sweet Sally' also belts out hard, more of a blues tinged effort, while 'Vagabond' is a coarse rocker that stomps big time, and keeps it tempo up all the way through. Things get even better with the commercial sounding 'Just A Rock' which could be Krokus on any day. 'Stars Maker' contains some of that rabidness that made early Blue Oyster Cult such a force to be reckoned with. '(Here Come The) Outlaws' is a track that has a Jekyll and Hyde personality; trying hard to be truly authentically southern rock, but has difficulty shrugging off its European origins. Not a complaint, just an aural observation. The tempo is given a boost on 'I Need Someone' which jumps around with a punk/pop attitude, which so many bands in Europe were including in their music during this timeframe. The only thing which keeps Challenger clear of that comparison is the distinct southern rock guitar playing, giving them a distinct point of difference. 'Dance With Me' is the album finale, and at 6 and a half minutes, the albums longest track. It's a pumping guitar dominant track, fusing the aforementioned NWOBHM elements with southern rock aspects. An intriguing fusion, and these Frenchmen make it work seamlessly!

In Summary
RCA had high hopes for the band and this album, but ultimately were let down by poor sales. Actually, we could put the shoe on the other foot and say the band were let down by poor label management! I'm sure if given 'proper' support and exposure back in the day, this could've done better. RCA let the band go after just this first round, which is a pity as this lot had great promise. For me, this is an album which has stood the test of time, and has yet to be released on CD. The songs here could all use a digital make-over, and considering this is an album from the prime glory daze period, surely it would make for a Rock Candy contender into the future? Bass player Pierre Roussel (named as Pierrot on the album and his website) has some extra information about the band, including before and after stints with Schizo and Chrome (who also included Fabienne Shine from Shakin' Street). Challenger should be addressed by all keen GD readers post haste!

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