When the news came in early 2010 that vocalist Terry Brock was to re-join Strangeways, AOR fans were given a rather good reason to get excited. Brock’s previous releases with the band (1987’s ‘Native Sons’ and 1989’s ‘Walk In The Fire’) are considered cult classics and are maybe two of the finest examples of the genre (Kerrang! Magazine, in fact, voted the former one of the greatest AOR albums of all time, back when they cared about such things). After Brock’s departure, Strangeways carried on, with guitarist Ian Stewart taking on the role of vocalist in addition to his usual guitar based duties.
The next Strangeways releases (1994’s ‘And The Horse’ and 1997’s ‘Any Day Now’) moved away from the classic sounding AOR of the Brock years, opting for a voyage further into pomp and prog, with Stewart’s wandering guitar work becoming far more of a feature. Although the change in direction alienated some of the previous Strangeways fans, both albums are great in their field. Another album, ‘Gravitational Pull’ followed at the turn of the millennium, but still, most fans hankered after that “classic” approach to song writing and the stadium rock sound at which Strangeways had excelled in the late 80s.
In theory, Brock’s return should have brought with it a great album, especially considering the strength of his 2010 solo release ‘Diamond Blue’. Sadly, with ‘Perfect World’, this isn’t the case. Some of the songs may be well constructed, but the album is so poorly recorded it makes it really hard to tell. The vocals are okay, but the rest of the band sound like they’re in another room. The drums are so quiet they barely exist, while Ian Stewart’s guitar work sounds almost woolly. Imagine something which sounds like you’re listening to your stereo while wearing ear-plugs. Even through great speakers it’s a sonic disaster…
Attempting to pick out any separation between the instruments is almost impossible, but it sounds as if the atmospheric ‘Crackin’ Up Baby’ finishes with a corker of a guitar solo (the kind Stewart filled the later Strangeways albums with), but it sounds like it was recorded underwater. ‘Liberty’ features a reasonably big chorus and a good performance from Brock, but the end result is compressed to absolute fuck. In ‘One More Day’ you have what should have been a classic mid-paced power ballad, but the (lack of) production values means it’s reduced to a plodding mess. As for the rockier numbers ‘Movin’ On’ and ‘Bushfire’, they’re no better. ‘Bushfire’ in particular is the audio equivalent of wading through treacle for a particularly uninspiring six minutes. It’s all fuzzy noise and no edge.
Faced with such an appalling audio experience, as a listener, you’ll find any decent moments to be heard are almost completely lost in the swamp and attempting to pick out many standout moments seems like a waste of time. As one of the cult classic melodic rock bands, Strangeways deserves much better treatment than this. And frankly, being one of the best known AOR/melodic rock labels, Frontiers Records really needs to stop releasing demo quality material and passing it off as a finished product.
If you wanted a return to ‘Native Sons’ and ‘Walk In The Fire’ territory, honestly, you won’t get that here. Pick up Terry Brock’s ‘Diamond Blue’ instead: not only does it feature great songs, but it features a production value approximating something this kind of rock music deserves.