An iconic voice of the past reemerges.
Whenever a veteran of the rock or metal world makes a long awaited comeback to the studio, this reviewer can’t help but be taken back to that classic quote attributed to Beethoven in the 1992 HBO original biopic Beethoven Lives upstairs, stating “Music isn’t something that you can just quit”. The specific case of founder and now former vocalist of the multi-platinum selling and larger than life 80s act Cinderella Tom Keifer is a bit unique in that while his act maintained a touring schedule throughout the bad old days of the mid-90s up until 2014, no studio material emerged following 1994’s “Still Climbing”. To be fair, Keifer has not been fully estranged from the studio and did release a highly impressive solo debut LP in 2013’s “The Way Life Goes”, which received positive reviews and charted respectably considering the music-listening public’s waning interest in old school, blues-driven rock. All the same, his sophomore solo effort “Rise” showcases an artist who, come hell, high water, or yet another generation foolishly mistaking Kurt Cobain for a guitar god, is still wailing away with both a youthful exuberance and an experienced eye for what works.
To any prospective listeners who have only a passing familiarity with the legacy of Cinderella’s heyday, the direction that Keifer’s solo work has tended towards is more along the line of the latter day, older rocking character of their 90s output rather than the heavier, quasi-metallic bluster of their debut offering “Night Songs”. Naturally this isn’t a radical departure from the stylistic consensus that typified the 80s rock sound, as influences such as AC/DC and Led Zeppelin were always buried beneath the teased hair and mascara, but it is notably more stripped down and rough around the edges compared to the arena-oriented sound of “Long Cold Winter”, having more of a gritty character that’s mildly reminiscent of the late 80s reaction to the commercial excess of the glam scene embodied in Guns N’ Roses. To be fair, Keifer’s jagged, high-pitched shouts have always exuded a character of working class credibility worthy of being dubbed the Brian Johnson of the glam era, but here the more stripped down, guitar-driven arrangement finds him full embodying that hard rock persona to masterful effect.
Though possessed of a more rustic character, “Rise” is not wholly beyond throwing a few curveballs at the listener. One of these comes right at the album’s very onset, as opening number “Touching The Divine” introduces itself in a manner similar to the famed Dire Straits hit “Money For Nothing”, featuring an atmospheric intro with a melodic vocal chant and some spacey percussive sounds before landing in a grooving, bluesy rocking swagger like a band of bearded fishermen emerging from the Louisiana bayou. In a similarly surprising manner, the easy-going balladry of “Waiting On The Demons” and “You Believe In Me” showcase Keifer going into a smoother sounding low croon that was a rarity during the high age of Cinderella, showing more affinity for the old bluesmen of the pre-rock era and only occasionally veering into outright banshee territory amid a restful acoustic guitar presentation. Yet the biggest surprise proves to be among the heavier offerings of the bunch in “Hype” and “The Death Of Me”, which have more of a muddy groove that is dark and forbidding enough to rival the heaviest fair heard on Motley Crue’s mid-90s eponymous quasi-grunge opus.
When all is said and done, this album truly finds its footing by dealing in more familiar territory, reassuring the old time fan base that this is still the same guy who gave us classics like “Gypsy Road” and “The Last Mile”. Though presented in a more humble character, rocking anthems like “All Amped Up”, the mildly profane rocker “Breaking Down” and “Life Was Here” have that quintessential AC/DC sense of punch and accessibility that was a staple of the second wave of 80s hard rock that was dominating the airwaves and MTV (then a hub for actual music rather than brain-killing Reality TV rot) for the latter half of the decade in question. Though as a total package this album gives off the impression of being a mixed affair, it leaves a final impression of an album that hits that essential sweet spot between classicism and modernity that is needed to appeal to the old guard and newcomers. In a time where trends seem to come and go at the rate of a 5 year old’s attention span, Tom Keifer puts forth a performance in his late 50s that is more energetic than a lot of mainline rock types of today pull off while still in their 20s. The old times were the good times, and yet they never really left us.
Released by: Cleopatra Records
Released Date: September 13th, 2019
Genre: Hard Rock
- Tom Keifer / Vocals, guitar, keys
- Savannah Keifer / Vocals, percussion, piano
- Tony Higbee / Guitar, vocals
- Billy Mercer / Bass guitar, vocals
- Kendra Chantelle / Vocals, percussion
- Jarred Pope / Drums, vocals
- Kory Myers / Keyboards, vocals
1. Touching The Divine
2. The Death Of Me
3. Waiting On The Demons
7. All Amped Up
8. Breaking Down
9. Taste For The Pain
10. Life Was Here
11. You Believe In Me
Keeping a stiff upper lip in a word of ephemeral trends and seemingly directionless fads, one of the more distinctive voices of the 80s opts to remind the world of how to rock hard and stay true to the past while living in the present