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Best Of - 2017 Explorer

ARTICLE: Best Of 2017, Explorer
YEAR: 2017


So, there goes 2017, in musical terms it won't go down as a classic, but there's been enough quality around to keep this old fart interested.

On a personal note there were plenty of highlights, two trips to America, the first being a family holiday to New York. WOW, just WOW, and the second, a weekend in New England to see the mighty New England live and at very close quarters at that, a truly unforgettable experience and thirdly and probably most important taking my youngest son to his first ever gig, KISS at the Birmingham Arena. Yes I know they are a circus act nowadays can you sense the hint of sarcasm there? But seeing the sheer joy on my young son's face as the riffs poured out, the confetti rained down and explosions went off brought tears to my eyes, but that's what you get when you become a parent I guess, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

I have also been very fortunate to have been afforded the opportunity to write for Fireworks Rock Magazine here in the UK too, and I've managed to interview one of my early musical heroes, the one and only Suzi Quatro, who was so sweet and a real professional too, now there's someone to really look up to, and as well as interviewing my very good friend Hirsh Gardner and various other musical luminaries, it's been a blast.

Best And Not so Best of 2017
Right, so onto the music, as I said not a classic year but there has been some real highs and some unexpected lows too.

Let's get the turkeys out the way first eh. I had some real high hopes for the new World Trade album, but blimey, there was nothing I heard that warranted repeated plays. I did try but it was just a lifeless, dreary affair, such a shame, we go. Another album (Oh, I can hear the protests now!!) is the new Houston record, sorry folks, it really is the Magnolia of AOR, I found it to be bland on all levels and I really just don't get it.. take a few chances guys eh, please!, and as for state of AOR in general, I personally think it's in desperate need of a new energy. If I can use a medical analogy, right now it's on life support but not yet terminal, there's still a pulse. Just, and there's every chance it'll turn around and get back on its feet again soon, I seriously really do hope so.

Postscript, I've been introduced to the wonderful world of Synth wave/Retro wave.. whatever. FM-84's 'Never Stop' is the single most exhilarating piece of music I've heard in quite a while and a late release by The Midnight is gorgeous too, I might go as far as to say this is the real AOR, here we have artists that seemingly understand the music of the early 80's perfectly and produce music worthy of the glory days.. ahem.

Ok, so what's been floating my boat this past 12 months? This is in no particular order by the way but I'll come to my album(s) of the year at the very end.

Releases in the early part of the year such as The Mute Gods and White Willow showed me that Progressive Rock is in rude health. Both are quite lovely albums, full of turns, twists and lots of melody too but still keeping that certain Progressive Aesthetic. Oh, and while I'm talking about Prog, I can't move on without mentioning Steven Wilson. His latest offering, 'To The Bone' has seen him move into the mainstream somewhat with his most successful album to date. I really do like it, but, and there's always a but, it's just not on the level of his previous releases. I think he's suffered a little from over exposure, I would personally like to see a return to darker more melancholic themes. A happy Steven Wilson doesn't seem quite right does it? And also the latest PFM offering is quite an album too, everything that the World Trade album isn't.

I mentioned the (sorry) state of AOR earlier, but there have been some highlights, the latest Cats In Space offering 'Scarecrow' initially left me disappointed but I've grown to like it and although not on a par with their debut it's still a good album and I look forward to their Live release in the new year. Another offering that comes under the AOR/Melodic Rock umbrella is Brit Rockers Iconic Eye, who have endured quite a year with tragedy striking the band and the upheaval of getting in a new (Female) vocalist, but they've come out of it all the better with a rock solid album 'Into the Light'. Other albums that have been worthy of my attention this year include Styx 'The Mission', a return to that classic Styx sound, it works.. mostly, Todd Rundgren's 'White Knight', which as is Todd's want, delights and horrifies all within the same album, and also Incura, with their second release which is as powerful and demonstrative as their illustrious debut. There was also a welcome return to the fray for Face Dancer too, a short album but still a classy affair, and the live offering from The Raspberries 'Pop Art' which is just magnificent, a Power Pop master class. A special mention must also go out to Brit glamsters ROX who released a top notch EP early in the year and there is the promise of a full album in 2018 and if the tracks I've already heard are anything to go by its going to be a stunner.

On the reissue front, there have been the 3 Flag albums which main man Arthur Offen has overseen, and what an absolute dream they are too, a Pomp Rockers delight. The Rex Smith box set was also very welcome, and to hear those first 2 REX albums again in all their glory.. well..

But the best for me? Firstly the Rush 'A Farewell To Kings' 40th year set (those Rush gigs at the Birmingham Odeon back in the day were something very special) but the crowning glory.. sorry, is Queen's 'News Of The World', a sumptuous box set that is really something to behold, the last great Queen album.. oh wait there was 'Innuendo' of course, and If I can hang around on this planet long enough I might see the band release a 50th anniversary set of 'Queen II', now that would be something!

Here's a side story to the above. I was at the show (Stafford Bingley Hall) where Brian May got the inspiration to write 'We Will Rock You', the audience participation that night really was the stuff of legend and yep we had females taking off underwear and allsorts right in front of me and throwing all inhabitations out of the window, unforgettable, and my future wife was there at my side too and she still remembers it to this day

.So, I come to my favourite albums of the year. Hirsh Gardner with his 'My Brain Needs a Holiday' opus, which sees him move away from the classic New England sound somewhat and produce a varied and accomplished album, and shows some of these young pretenders how to do it properly.

Dutch multi instrumentalist Valensia, also returns after a few years away and as usual has come up with an eclectic mix, funded through a kick-starter type campaign, the albums were unfortunately download only but he has signed a deal for the new year so all bodes well there, an acquired taste for many but I love his work and 'Eden and the Second Serpent/Secret Album' are no exceptions.

Next up, a real surprise, the QSP album, that's Suzi Quatro, Andy Scott (Sweet) and Don Powell (Slade) to you, and they have come up trumps with a solid gold piece of mature rock, with 2 tracks in particular 'Pain' and 'Broken Pieces Suite' being amongst the very best I've heard all year.

Which brings me to my top 3, and it's difficult to get a cigarette paper between them all, so in no particular order, there's Jono with their sublime 'Life' album, they really do get that Prog/Melodic hybrid just right, and Argentina's wonderfully named Geishas in Vitro have come up with a stunning album full of Queen like histrionics, but with a really unique take on it all. An English language album from the boys should/would enable them to break out internationally (Frontiers et al, are you listening?), and last but not least Schooltree and the 'Heterotopia' epic, an album that I've had for just over a year now and is still as fresh and vibrant as it was on its first play. An accompanying book released in the autumn was really the icing on the cake for this whole project, simply superb.

In Summary
A bit of a ramble I know, but that's how I see it. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but as I see it GDM is still my go to music resource with its well informed, mature audience. Hell, I'm just getting the shoulder pads ready after the Houston comments! Happy New Year everyone!

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#1 | Cimozzen on January 14 2018 03:24:40
I'm glad I'm not the only one who didnt like the new Houston album. I thought the production was TERRIBLE and the songs were bland. Good list!
#2 | gdazegod on January 14 2018 04:40:39
I agree that AOR in the modern day is definitely on life support. Others will probably go off and listen to other genres of music. For me, I've gone back to my first love.. heavy metal.
#3 | dangerzone on January 14 2018 07:55:36
I listened to the Houston album a few days ago, simply out of curiosity. Suffice to say it’s utter bollocks. For me it’s the wimpiest kind of AOR imaginable.
#4 | gdazegod on January 14 2018 07:58:40
Well, I guess we won't be reviewing any Houston albums anytime soon. fromthegrave
#5 | RobLynott on January 14 2018 12:14:05
Exactly what I think about modern aor. Bland, one dimensional, lacking any punch and dynamics, horrible production in most cases.

Thanks for pointing out FM-84 and The Midnight. Great stuff! clap
#6 | melodiapositiva on January 14 2018 16:20:10
I didn´t like Houston and i can´t say it is a bad album ,simply there are a hundred of Swedish,finnish ,danish bands doing the same album over and over .Retro aor , pseudo totojourneystyx bands argh
In the 90´s nordic bands were great ,Masquerade ,clockwise,crystal blue (detour is maybe the best aor melodic rock album from the decade ,and still no reviewhmm!)but Frontiers need to change the way of making things ,and change the people who writes always the same songsShock
#7 | reyno-roxx on January 14 2018 17:02:08
I'd certainly agree that there appears to be a bit more originality to the Scandinavian bands of the 80's and 90's, it's fair to say the reason was possibly due to a wider array of musicians being involved. With regards the current crop, the musicians all seem to be interchangeable. I really liked the Palace album though.
#8 | gdazegod on January 14 2018 18:05:06
I am astounded by the feedback here. If that is the case, then we will put a blanket ban on modern AOR, seeing as you all dislike it so much. Is that what you want? Just say so. It will certainly free up my writing time and my bandwidth. helpless
#9 | reyno-roxx on January 14 2018 18:52:45
I think in this instance the Houston album appears to have been a disappointment for some. I can't comment on it personally because I've yet to hear it, but I certainly wouldn't stop writing about modern AOR because there have always been good releases and bad releases over the years. The early post millennium years were worse.
#10 | Explorer on January 14 2018 18:55:31
Absolutely not, it still needs writing about, good, bad or indifferent, how else are we to know about some of the stuff out there?.GDM I believe should be an open house to talk about every genre, AOR's best years may belong in the past, but that's not to say it's saviour isn't out there right now just waiting in the wings.As I pointed out there are still bands out there making decent AOR (Cats in Space). I'll be voting to keep it.
#11 | Cimozzen on January 14 2018 21:49:50
I would not cancel modern AOR for the site. For me, there is still a lot I love. (2017 albums such as Brother Firetribe, Stan Bush, Raintimes, Scherer/Batten, and even elements from Crazy Lixx were all great albums)
#12 | dtabachn on January 15 2018 01:21:06
I would continue writing about current AOR. In my view, GDM would become sort of a nostalgia site otherwise. We all love the glory days, however a certain degree of current releases' reviews is desirable IMO.
#13 | jeffrey343 on January 15 2018 04:02:29
I'm putting the finishing touches on my list. Judging from these comments, I'm in the minority of a lot of my opinions. One of the albums that's getting panned quite a bit is rather high on my list...
#14 | Explorer on January 15 2018 16:23:36
I've been genuinely surprised at some of the comments surrounding the Houston album, as I really did think I would be in the minority with this release (hence my closing remarks in my piece), but I do think we should continue reviewing the latest AOR regardless of it`s quality, good or bad.As has been pointed out elsewhere debate is healthy and GDM would, I believe be a poorer place if we chose to ignore the current AOR acts. I really didn't expect to open such a can of worms when I sat down to write this piece!!computer work
#15 | melodiapositiva on January 15 2018 16:45:00
It´s necessary to review new albums ,not all is bad .But maybe some releases don´t deserve it.
Aor is my favourite style ,but i recognise it can be very generic and repetitive ,and it´s sad because we have a lot of the better musicians in the world.
Why aren´t they more creative and create their own sound?...
I think of Mike slamer ,everything he does has his seal ,quality and you can recognise his sound ,even nowadays.
#16 | englandashes on January 15 2018 22:22:33
I am still in the process of listening to Houston III, but is it as simple as that Freddie Allen and Ricky Delin are not involved in the latest album.?
#17 | RobLynott on January 16 2018 12:39:16
No no, don't cancel Modern AOR, because there are still some highpoints here and there (White Widdow for me). But as pointed out, labels like Frontiers really should change there production standards. All the stuff sounds the same...

George, speaking about your first love... Personally I would like to read more about these young bands playing classic heavy metal with classic production: Enforcer, Striker etc.
#18 | gdazegod on January 16 2018 13:26:10
Well personally, I won't be touching any of the usual labels that we have covered over the years, with the exception of Rock Candy's reissues. Time for a change, from me at least.
#19 | Eric on January 16 2018 17:47:39
Interesting responses from everyone. I voted 'no' on new AOR but I gave up on most of the scene many moons ago for a variety of reasons. It is nice to see support for the genre is still fueled with lot's of passion, but for me I've heard enough 80's Journey sound-alikes to last a lifetime.
#20 | melodiapositiva on January 16 2018 19:41:04
I would have voted "no" also, but I still like the old bands´ new stuff, Lucifer´s friend, Styx, Kansas, Seventh Key, Uriah Heep, Joe Satriani etc... and I like to read the reviews of their new albums, the comments and opinions. I think the same as you Eric, I'm bored of those bands trying to sound like Journey or Toto, but there´s a little percentage of bands doing it with class, The night flight orchestra, Heat, sonic station, Jono, State of Salazar and a few others that deserve their place here.
#21 | gdazegod on January 16 2018 19:56:43
Thanks Jose. However, many of the artists you mention aren't really categorized as 'modern AOR', (apart from Seventh Key, Sonic Station, State of Salazar), but we ger the picture. Thumbs Up
#22 | Nick C on January 17 2018 10:55:06
The problem with AOR as a genre and I've been saying this for a few years now, is that it has completely lost it's way, it has run out of ideas and bands peddling it have lost the desire to experiment sticking to the same old blueprint done so many times before (and better) as Kansas sing "They know a few will try to gain by trying to live like their teachers", but trying to live on the coattails of what has gone before gets dull, dull desperately dull. I find most bands are very cynical in their approach "we're gonna be an AOR band" - the "legendary" AOR bands didn't start out trying to be AOR, they just started out as rock bands playing the music they loved and it was maybe a little more melodic than some of the bands of the day as such the style developed and was labelled as such. Now AOR bands don't seem to look beyond their circle of influence. I'm not saying all AOR is stuck in a rut a few shine a light, Cats in Space immediately spring to mind but for the majority....well what killed AOR/Hair metal off back in the late 80's? There were loads of bands and they all sounded the same, it was becoming stagnant, the bands that were trying to do something a little different got overlooked because they maybe looked the same and got lumped with the great tsunami of mediocrity, grunge offered rock fans a breath of fresh air...but then suffered a similar fate...I think once you get the mainstream media latching onto a theme and the fashion world doing grunge fashion lines then a particular movement is in it's death throes. But yes I still think we should keep an eye on new AOR because otherwise the bands that do stand out will pass us by, it's just disheartening digging for diamonds and coming up with coal all the time.
#23 | ThomasCoastline on January 17 2018 13:08:45
As a musician and avid listener I don't mind hearing about new bands in this genre and other genres too. I love the old stuff of course and there are still acts from that era to be disovered and written about but solely vintage corksniffing isn't my cup of tea.

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