Classics never die.
It is rare that a conversation about guitar-oriented rock occurs without the name Night Ranger being dropped early on. As one of the bands that typified the 80s concept of two equally yoked shredders cutting heads alongside Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, they were nevertheless more in line with the accessible hard rock sensibilities that would dominate the radio waves of the decade. As such, one wouldn’t be out of line in suggesting that the consequential exploits of six-string virtuosos Brad Gillis and Jeff Watson were at least as visible as that of Eddie Van Halen and George Lynch given the charismatic vocal persona of front man Jack Blades and the more streamlined stylistic approach that was their songwriting template. Now with more than 30 years standing between such iconic anthems as “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me”, “Sister Christian” and “(You Can Still) Rock In America” and the present day, not to mention some major lineup shifts, this same outfit is primed to teach the 2020s how to rock.
For those who may not have been keeping up with this San Francisco-based hard rock staple since their initial split in the late 80s, two-fifths of the original quintet that rounded out Night Ranger’s classic era has since been changed out. In the place of 8-finger tapping pioneer and showman Jeff Watson now stands California glam rocking guitarist Keri Kelli, who is himself no slouch in making a respectable ruckus with the instrument, while a slightly older newcomer in Eric Levy is now handling the keyboards, which continue to play an important role in shaping the entire arrangement. The resulting sound that emerges on the eleven songs that round out 2021’s “ATBPO” (which stands for And The Band Played On) is a grittier one when compared against their mid-80s classics, bearing some pronounced similarities to some of the recent output of other 80s icons such as Michael Sweet and George Lynch’s recent collaborative project and Tom Keifer’s solo work, but still contains flourishes of their olden days.
The presentation that emerges here is a dynamic one, often dancing back and forth between a heavier, impact-based blend of bluesy attitude and a crunchy rocking edge, and a more anthem-driven approach primed for the arena. This duality becomes immediately apparent with the driving, speed opening number “Coming For You”, which rides an aggressive riff set while painting the upper end of the arrangement with plenty of rich vocal harmonies, only to be upstaged by a wild guitar solo display about two-thirds of the way through. To state that this song starts things on a raunchy note would be an understatement, as with the exception of the punchy cruiser “Monkey”, most of the remaining material heard on here cuts a bit closer to the mid-paced, lofty sing-along romps that made this outfit a regular on rock radio during the medium’s golden age. Though it should be made clear that apart from the lone power ballad “The Hardest Road”, this is not an album that tones down the hard rocking edge either.
In a similar sense to the majority of acts that have found themselves in the Frontiers Records family, the majority of the songs found on here are tailor made to stick to one’s long-term memory like a special adhesive for the cerebrum. Tuneful goodies such as “Bring It All Home to Me” and “Hard To Make It Easy” are streaming with consonant guitar harmonies and witty lyrical input, with Blades showcasing a well-tempered blend of clean cut, soulful notes and more soaring 70s rock-infused power. Meanwhile, the more driving blend of heavy metal impact and guitar gymnastics that is “Breakout” hearkens pretty closely to the band’s earliest hit “Don’t Tell Me You Lovely”, almost to the point of being an unnamed sequel. Likewise, one can’t help but listen to the nostalgic acoustic power balladry of “Can’t Afford A Hero” and get the impression that Blades and company are taking a few pages out of his stint with the Damn Yankees, culminating in the most memorable entry on a highly infectious collection.
It’s a common mistake these days to assume that veteran acts such as Night Ranger are simply riding the coattails of former glory, and one that a single listen to this album should help to dispel quickly. With a very current production quality and a mixture of influences broader than the ones that originally made this band a household name, this is definitely an outfit that is continuing to progress. In an age where the guitar is continuing to be seen as an optional instrument to bolster the star power of the singer, this stands as one of the more concentrated repudiations to such notions to occur within an accessible, hard rock context. Contrary to what some cynical talking heads in the online media will suggest, rock is far from dead, and those who still crave it will find a filling, 11 course meal’s worth here to fuel the choir of voices shouting out that you can still rock in America.
Released By: Frontiers Music SLR
Released On: August 6th, 2021
Genre: Hard Rock
- Jack Blades / Bass, vocals
- Kelly Keagy / Drums, vocals
- Brad Gillis / Lead and rhythm guitars
- Eric Levy / Keyboards)
- Keri Kelli / Lead and rhythm guitars
“ATBPO” track listing:
1. Coming For You
2. Bring It All Home To Me
4. Hard To Make It Easy
5. Can’t Afford A Hero
6. Cold As December
8. The Hardest Road
10. A Lucky Man
12. Savior (bonus track; CD and LP versions only)
An 80s icon and pioneer of the dueling guitar gods format, flying under the banner of AOR and melodic metal revivalist label Frontiers Records, proves once more that the old guard is not beyond embracing a present day rock aesthetic