Once upon a time, Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull mused lyrically about being “too old to rock and roll, and too young to die.” Don’t panic, Kip, this is not about you. Actually, this is a commentary on the strange twilight state of being where we often find some things, like a sort of Fish-on-a-Bicycle, where yes, that’s neat, but what’s it do? Winger, the band, despite incredible mammoth talent, has always suffered from being too good at too many things at the same time. A bit like the Ray Lomas character of the aforementioned Tull album, Winger is too prog for rock and roll, and a bit too rock-and-roll for a Cruise to the Edge. This somewhat unique juxtaposition, paired with a few other wrong place/wrong time factors, led to Kip Winger’s eponymous rock/metal project becoming one of the first and most heinous sacrifices to the nihilistic volcano god of 90s the music scene. Thankfully, the band only had to keep their heads down and stay busy with other projects for about ten years before reuniting to do their “IV” album, a rocket-fueled monster which continued to direction of “Pull” but with more polish and maturity. In the subsequent years, the band went on to do the equally substantive “Karma” and “Better Days Comin” albums, and while the 90s exile and hiatus remain the most defining moment of Winger history, it is interesting to note the band has done more recording and touring since their 2006 reunion than they did before the hiatus. The “heyday” of Winger was really not all that long, and, arguendo, the music has improved in the years since.
And so it is that we come to 2023 and the release of “Seven,” the latest and possibly greatest Winger album. Good news first; as is mostly the tradition of this band, the lineup remains intact. Kip remains not only the namesake of the band, but the voice, the bass, and the principal songwriter. The one, the only Reb Beach resumes his duties as lead and rhythm guitar wizard. Rod Morgenstein, another proggy luminary in the band, alumnus of acts such as Dixie Dregs and Tabor/Myung’s Jelly Jam, commands the drums as well as ever. Paul Taylor and John Roth continue to round out the keyboard and rhythm guitar functions, often doing the heavy lifting as the unsung heroes of the band’s massive sound.
Winger’s seventh album comes right out with its hard-hitting first single, “Proud Desperado.” There is no steady buildup here; from the moment the needle hits the wax, Rod is slamming the drums, and all instruments are pounding away with a heavy riff. This goes through four repetitions before surprisingly disgruntled gang vocals join the fray with some “heave, ho” sort of action going on. When the first verse of Kip’s vocals is added, it is apparent by the time the first chorus arrives that Kip Winger is very much in control of his voice. Already possessed with world-class pipes, it is clear he has taken care of them, or been very fortunate, but whatever the case, he is still firing on cylinders at least 90% as well as he was in 1990. Speaking such things, the whammy-wizard Reb Beach has all his chops intact, as is evident from the Floyd Rose abuse he delivers in the solo on the first track, a technical yet tastefully concise little number. Speaking of brevity, the track itself comes in just under four minutes, making it a perfectly bite-sized introduction to the band’s 2023 sound. The music video for this one is worth a watch. Not only is it worth watching for the high-value production, but the thematic elements underscore the lyrical content, some authentically rock-and-roll stuff about rebellion and political deception. Pissed-off anarchist content is always welcome.
This is followed with “Heaven’s Falling,” a mid-tempo minor-key rocker that could have been right at home on the “IV” comeback album. It is unfair to classify much material on this record as filler, since it’s all good, but there are a few tracks that don’t necessarily raise the bar, but nonetheless deliver solid songwriting and musicianship with cool riffs and melodies to keep the record going. This is one of those tracks. Of course, in Winger tradition, its apparent simplicity belies some of the interesting keyboard work, drumming, and guitar bits that would never be found in the filler material of lesser bands.
In fact, if you want interesting flavor and inventiveness, “Tears of Blood” will be much more to your liking. From the almost “Hells Bells” sort of dissected semi-dirty guitar chords in the beginning, the track has a fresh vibe. Once the song advances to the first chorus, Kip’s vocals are pushed, tight, high, and aggressive. “Cause your Judas mind betrays your Jesus heart / and the skeptic’s words tear your soul apart,” and etc. The song carries a certain pained heaviness, with more gravitas than some metal tracks that are just sort of angry for the hell of it. By the time the second chorus leads into a quiet interlude with whispering voiceover, sound bites, and swirling synth atmosphere, it really plants the seeds of anticipation for Reb to lead the way with a great little lead part to subsequently set up Kip for one last chorus session and really hammer the rest of the song home. Really superb stuff.
“Resurrect Me” is more of a straightforward rocker, a la the “Pull” album (are the guitars dropped to D tuning?) with a steady chugga-chugga riff structure. The harmonized guitar parts throughout, doing some call-and-response business with the vocals, add a lot of unique character to this one. Of course, for anyone wondering if Kip could still build a song around bass guitar, look no further than “Voodoo Fire,” which actually probably has a lot of “In the Heart of the Young” vibes, tempered with the evolution of the band in the time since. It’s strange to hear a track that could easily be pictured being delivered by Kip onstage in 1989 in leather pants and a perm, and yet, still does not sound musically out of place today, aside from the entire genre being a bit of an anachronism today, for the worse. The final thirty seconds are actually an interesting way to close the track, but you’ll have to hear it for yourself.
To talk about the sixth track, “Broken Glass,” it is important to understand and acknowledge the solo work of C.F. Kip Winger. Following the unfortunate dissolution/retirement of Winger the rock band, Kip spent time studying at UNM, trying to reorient himself and work on solo material. The first product from this time, “This Conversation Seems Like a Dream,” was a bit less hair metal, and a bit more introspectively alternative, like if Kip sat down to write music with Peter Gabriel and Tori Amos. Following the loss of his wife in a tragic 1996 car accident, there was a tonal shift in his 2001 “Songs from the Ocean Floor,” where lyrics had a melancholy sort of maturity, ranging from the tenderness of “Here Two Lovers Stand,” to the pain of “Only One Word,” a song regretting the loss of a loved one, and the longing to share even one last word. Lyrics like “a river of Novocain / could never ease the pain,” and “no words were spoken / your body lay broken” made it clear where Kip’s thoughts were during this period.
While the tonal shift of Winger has been clear since about 1993’s “Pull,” Kip’s solo work has had a profound effect upon the sound of the band since the 2006 reunion. Not only are the lyrics less about partying with the opposite sex, and more about philosophical pursuits, but instrumentally the music has matured significantly as well. This brings us back to “Broken Glass.” Everything about this track feels like something that would have merged in with Kip’s 2008 “Moon to the Sun” solo album. Who knows what he has planned for additional solo work, but this is a song he clearly wanted to get out right here, and we are better for it. It is a low-tempo ballad, driven by piano, acoustic guitar, and synth elements, but it’s the tragic chorus that feels like it’s musically bleeding all its emotions out in a minor key. Even Reb’s guitar solo is only a few notes over about ten seconds, but it slots right into this restrained little slice of introspection.
Bringing things more or less back to the usual, we have the rocker “It’s Okay.” Ignoring the Bon Jovian talkbox/wah pedal thing happening, what might be most interesting is the sheer volume of vocal responsibilities handled entirely by one Reb Beach. Of course, this writer could be wrong, in which case Reb is owed an apology and a case of Coors Light. Well, if it is Reb, he’s sounding good, and vocal variety can be a bit of fun. It might not be Dennis DeYoung and Tommy Shaw or anything, but a little spice is always welcome. In the interest of keeping this review to a manageable size, we won’t spend too much time on the next couple tracks, but it is worth noting that they are fairly standard Winger rock material, although “Do or Die” has some interesting rising and falling action, alternating between solo Kip Winger unplugged vibes, and straight-up angry metal.
A very strong argument could be made that the strongest track of the album is the last: “It All Comes Back Around.” Its majesty is going to be a little hard to convey in words, so definitely just pull up the outstanding music video for the single. It opens with nothing but piano, and soft Kip Winger vocals, delivering a slow quiet rendition of the chorus. This leads into Kip vocalizing, softly at first, and then loudly, leading into the entire band joining in with a big riffing section comprised of keys and high gain guitars. The first verse section is Kip singing over Rod tapping away on the rim of his snare, before the vocalization comes back from the beginning, and then we get the first “knobs to 11” rendition of the chorus. The song really hits its stride around 3:30, when the vocals fall away, Rod gets to a military sort of march on the snare, the keyboards become almost a swirling ethereal force, surrounding Reb’s lead guitar as he sets the mood and offers up a small teaser for what’s to come later in the song. Kip does the chorus a bit more, but the last 2 to 3 minutes of the track is just a blank canvas waiting for Reb to do what he does best, which is to compose and deliver a thoughtful guitar solo which walks the line nicely between soulful and technically impressive. The track wraps with some chorused “ooh ooh” vocals, and Kip bringing it all back around one more time for the chorus, before fading to the conclusion of the record.
Kip and the band have delivered a very solid, and very listenable album in “Seven.” While it can be debated whether the strong moments of this album can top other recent heavyweight tracks like “Your Great Escape/Disappear,” “Can’t Take It Back,” “Supernova,” “Witness,” or “Tin Soldier,” as a complete collection of works, this album is every bit the equal to the previous three, all of which were very strong. The musicianship, including singing performance, is all strong, all across the board. Reb, Rod, and the rest of the band remain among the best in the music scene, to the point where it is nigh-criminal to lump them in as “hair metal” with other less talented acts of old. Of course, what makes a great album is less about musicianship and more about songwriting, and this album does it well. It’s heavy, it’s delicate, it’s loud, it’s soft, it’s angry, and it’s sad. Unless Extreme has a serious rabbit in their hat, it is hard to imagine any 2023 album in this genre, that can top Winger’s “Seven.” Look for it on Cinco de Mayo.
Release Date: May 5th, 2023
Record Label: Frontiers Music SLR
Genre: Melodic Hard Rock
Kip Winger / Lead vocals, bass, acoustic guitar, keyboards, piano
Reb Beach / Lead and rhythm guitar, backing vocals, harmonica, keyboards, piano
Rod Morgenstein / Drums, percussion, backing vocals, piano
Paul Taylor / Keyboards, rhythm and lead guitar, backing vocals, piano
John Roth / Rhythm and lead guitar, backing vocals, bass, keyboards
1. Proud Desperado
2. Heaven’s Falling
3. Tears Of Blood
4. Resurrect Me
5. Voodoo Fire
6. Broken Glass
7. It’s Okay
8. Stick The Knife In And Twist
9. One Light To Burn
10. Do Or Die
11. Time Bomb
12. It All Comes Back Around
Pre-order/save “Seven” on CD/LP/Digital HERE.
Winger may have been one of the first acts to fall prey to the hard rock whiplash of the 90s, but today, they remain one of the only acts to not only remain relevant, but continue to evolve and make better music. Kip Winger and Company have matched and possibly exceeded their previous album, with a variety of well-written songs and world-class musicianship. Great singing, catchy choruses, wicked guitar solos. This one really has it all.