Americans fortunate enough to have reached a certain age are familiar with a cherished and yet nigh-endangered lifestyle known as “cruising.” Arising in harmony with Route 66, and practiced from Detroit’s Woodward Avenue to West Hollywood’s Sunset Strip, the premise is simple; one jumps into one’s cherished ride, perhaps grabs a couple buddies or a special gal, and just rolls down the road on a warm summer Friday night looking for food, laughs, memories, and maybe the odd traffic light burnout along the way. One entry-level field guide can be found in the form of George Lucas’ classic “American Graffiti.”
Every so often, an album arrives upon the rock scene perfectly suited to cruising on such Friday nights. Previous examples could be “Van Halen” 1, “Appetite for Destruction,” or Whitesnake’s “1987.” Granted, these are inherently more aligned with the Sunset Strip of 1988 than the Woodward Avenue of 1962, but the fact remains, some music is better suited for good times on the open road.
Never let it be said 2020 breathed its last cursed breath without giving us something good along the way. A memorable and brilliant cruising album has arrived in the form of Michael Palace’s “Rock and Roll Radio” album, available December 4 on Frontiers Music.
Sweden’s Michael Palace is one of those multi-instrumentalists like Prince or Arjen who just takes DIY album-making to an extreme. In the album notes, Palace is credited as playing “everything.” Unless there are cameos we are unaware of at publication, that’s pretty impressive, considering there is everything happening from singing to keys to lead guitars to a freaking saxophone. So let’s back up just a little bit. In 2016, Palace released his “Master of the Universe” album, followed two years later by his “Binary Music” album. While these albums were inventive and good by most reasonable standards, it is apparent he wanted to push things in a particular direction in 2020, and Rock-and-Roll Radio (let’s just call it “R3”) certainly does that.
Now, there does exist a certain fine line when it comes to invoking the 80s, between campy hijacking (think when Homer Simpson assumes the role of “Miami Vice” in the form of “La-Z-Rider”) and a tasteful homage, fueled by authentic sentiment. Although the album cover looks about as restrained as a 1989 “Nintendo Power” magazine cover (Exclusive First-Look at “Power Glove” on page 37), the sounds within are the best real trip to the golden age we’ve had since Airrace and “Untold Stories.” Palace has a deeply-felt understanding of what made feelgood 80s AOR without being a mockumentary of Guest-McKean-Shearer proportion in the process. From the titular opening track, it feels like waking up as the protagonist in some 1980s summertime blockbuster, right down to the lyric, “it’s Friday night and he’s looking for love.” Sounds like even our song’s protagonist is going cruising as well.
The single “Castaway” may not have FedEx packages or humanized volleyballs, but it has more than enough hooks and great vibes to make up the difference. “Way Up Here” is arguably also single material, enough so that Frontiers put together a music video, although it’s somewhat more restrained than the two previous tracks. What it does have is a classic soaring AOR chorus. “Cold Ones” has enough Survivor and Vince DiCola vibes to be a Rocky sequel all by itself. The ballad “Eleonora” dials things back a little bit again, but damn if it isn’t well-written and chock-full of sweet vibes. The second half of the album remains in keeping with the theme of melodic 80s AOR rock, with some rising and falling action, and a few interesting twists you’ll need to discover for yourself.
As a whole, R3 from Palace remains one of the best surprises of 2020. It’s truly impressive one man can produce something with such impressive drumming, vocals, lead and rhythm guitars, keyboards, bass, and who knows what else. It isn’t just functional. It’s good. Really good. The songwriting is impressive, and the mix itself makes it a treat for the ears, and hopefully for the years. It’s almost a crime this guy keeps all his great writing to himself. Perhaps Frontiers should partner him up with some of their other heavyweights like Alessandro del Vecchio or Simone Mularoni and give us some more of, well, this. It’s great stuff. So next time it’s a warm Saturday evening, go searching for sliders and a milkshake delivered by rollerskates, and don’t forget your copy of Palace “Rock and Roll Radio.”
Released By: Frontiers Music Srl
Release Date: December 4th, 2020
Genre: Melodic Rock
- Oscar Bromvall / Guitar solo on “Hot Steel”
- Jordan Cox / Backing vocals on “Castaway”
“Rock and Roll Radio” Track-Listing:
- Rock And Roll Radio
- Way Up Here
- Cold Ones
- Hot Steel
- My Gray Cloud
- Origin Of Love
- She’s So Original
- Strictly By The Rules
- When It’s Over
Note: After speaking with Michael Palace, he wanted to give credit to some of the other great musicians who helped make this record possible. The guitar solo on “Hot Steel” is played by Oscar Bromvall, and Jordan Cox provided backing vocals on “Castaway”. And no, Palace might be talented, but he hired a local session guy to cover saxophone duties. Thanks Mike for the info.
Michael Palace has delivered a surprise smash hit for 80s AOR melodic hard rock. It may not top any charts, but it has heart and soul, and offers an authentic sampling of good-times radio rock-and-roll at its finest. If any of that sounds like your scene, don’t miss this one.