Album Review: Night Ranger - Hole in the Sun

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As an avid fan of 80s hair bands for a number of reasons including the emotional highs of power ballads, the bombastic choruses, and, most importantly, clean, high male vocals (the cleaner and higher the better, at least for this subgenre of metal), I was quite anxious to see what the newest Night Ranger album, Hole in the Sun held. Overall, this album is a very decent effort that delivers a good amount of solid rock, some heavy guitars, and catchy vocal patterns, even if the new songs don't ultimately de-throne NR classics like Don't Tell Me You Love Me and Sister Christian (aka the song from the most intense scene from Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights. As a brief aside, the CD does include bonus tracks of these two songs done in acoustic style, and while this is a nice addition and the songs translate equally well to the alternate form, their inclusion on an album of otherwise new songs makes one question the confidence that Jack Blade and crew have in their most recent material.

This cautionary observation notwithstanding, Hole in the Sun does a fairly good job of retaining a groove that characterized 80s rock while ensuring that the songs do not sound dated, aided in many places by surprisingly heavy guitar riffs, especially in the album opener, Tell Your Vision, even if the songs themselves are ultimately less heavy than these riffs may hint at. In this regard, the album avoids the pitfalls of other hair bands that tried to shift their sound too drastically, like Warrant's Belly to Belly Vol. 1 debacle, or most famously, the John Corabi Mötley Crüe album. This is not to say that bands should not experiment or that said albums are qualitatively inferior to other albums in the respective bands' oeuvres (the Mötley Corabi album kicks serious tail!), but 80s rock/metal, and perhaps metal more broadly, is a genre defined by purity and boundaries by its fans. Not only are some metal fans quick to deride bands that appear in some ways to be metal, but, according to these fans, are not metal, but metal fans are very weary when a band they have grown to love takes too drastic a turn (the "purist" Metallica fans' reactions to Load and Reload are instructional here). As such, it is unsurprising that the weakest songs on Hole in the Sun are the ones that noticeably depart from the hard rock groove that made bands like Night Ranger so appealing to a particular group of fans. Whatever Happened sounds slightly out of place on this album, intimating an Everclear-esque vibe which will likely be resisted by those searching out the latest Night Ranger CD because let's be honest -- people buying the latest Night Ranger CD in 2008 are those who probably like Night Ranger already, and it is doubtful that an alt-pop-lover will be won over by such a song.

But regardless, most of the songs on Hole in the Sun are solid rock tunes. Tell Your Vision opens the album and boasts a surprisingly heavy guitar riffs and a catchy chorus that I caught myself humming after only one listen. You're Gonna Hear From Me is the first single from Hole in the Sun and has enough "Whoa-oh"s and "Hey!"s to capture the feel of the 80s metal crowd participatory sing-along, but feels updated enough to not revert to nostalgic mimicry (although I may be too forgiving in this regard, and the snarky Drama Queen brings back a little bit the sleaze that made 1986 Sunset Strip so appealing. Unfortunately, There is Life, as the token power ballad, does not do justice for the band that gave us such spine-tingling ditties as Sister Christian and Goodbye. The acoustic-driven pseudo-ballad Fool in Me is better as a song, reveling in its mellowness, but is ultimately unmemorable. Also somewhat disappointing is Rockstar, which boasts a really a nice catchy chorus with multiple vocal track layers, but whose verses sound more like outtakes from an intentionally ironic alternative-country song -- maybe like the Rednex? Again, the chorus of this song is great, but the verses just pull the whole song down. Revelation 4AM opens with a guitar that evokes Bon Jovi's Wanted Dead or Alive and moves into a decent mellow-verse, heavy-chorus structure that is satisfying. The rest of the album is solid and will, for a large part, appeal to fans of Night Ranger, and more generally, 80s rock. But this will not win over any new fans, or inspire unrequited belief that Night Ranger "is back" in the same way that say Judas Priest's Angel of Retribution announced Rob Halford's return to the band with a CD where every song basically makes you want to go preach the gospel of heavy metal to every musical heretic out there. Final verdict -- decent, but unremarkable.

Tags: Night Ranger, 80s metal, hair metal, Hole in the Sun

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