In 2004, Crossfade’s debut album, ‘White On Blue’ was extremely well received by melodic rock fans and critics. Although Swedish, the band’s music celebrated the late 70s and early 80s sounds of American westcoast music, with a particularly strong nod to the styles set out by Toto’s earlier works. Joining guitarist Lars Hallbäck and keyboard player Richard Stenström, renowned melodic rock vocalist Göran Edman completed the core of the band’s line-up. Having normally been associated with harder rock styles, often in a very Scandinavian style, Crossfade’s smoother edges allowed Edman to really show off his range as a vocalist, making an album which more than deserved the praise it received.
Seven years in the making, Crossfade’s second release, ‘Secret Love’ picks up where ‘White On Blue’ left off, with Edman, Hallbäck and Stenström joined by session players Per and Sven Lindstrom (bass and drums respectively), with Wotjek Goral on saxes. Following a sax intro, the band launch head-on into their opening number ‘A Wonderful Illusion’ which borrows a great amount of style from Toto and other westcoast luminaries Airplay along the way. The guitar playing is smooth and very tasteful and the overall arrangement shows a great tightness, while Edman proves strong vocally. A mid section offers some great orchestration, with the band hinting that they could be capable of flying off on a slightly jazzy tangent. They never do, however, preferring instead to keep things focused on songs rather than muso-based wanderings. This is a very strong opening number on all fronts, with a strong sense of melody, helped immensely by a hooky chorus fleshed out with female harmonies.
That sets the mood for the bulk of the disc, although if anything, the title track moves even farther into the late 70s/early 80s westcoast vibe. Led by a fluid bass, augmented by tinkling keys, the song plays host to another decent chorus and even better playing: guitar leads which would make Steve Lukather proud provide some good moments, but they aren’t ever as impressive as the track’s bass-lines. High in the end mix, Per Lindstrom sets a strong basis for the rest of the band to work around; his bass so often pivotal to this band’s best work. Another bevvy of female voices fills a chorus, over which Edman’s lead is possibly stronger than before. The slightly funky arrangement lends itself well to the instrumental sections; something never more obvious than on the instrumental play out, where Hallbäck finds a great space with his guitar leads.
Slightly soulier in places, ‘Heart of a Hero’ presents a shuffling arrangement. With that bass at the centre yet again, there’s a key difference here in that a harmonica often takes a dominant role over the keys and guitars. There are Crossfade’s usual musical features in abundance, of course: on this track, during the slightly more upbeat moments, the mood is right for a handful of top-notch guitar leads and a slightly ugly keyboard solo. Yes, that keyboard sound could be described as dated, but it’s perfectly in keeping with the “1982 time-capsule” so many of these tunes sound like they’ve culled from. Not to labour a point but, once again, if you love Toto, Jay Graydon and perhaps a little Bill Champlin, there’s plenty to enjoy here. Fusing a smooth AOR vibe with an almost reggae pulse from the keyboards, ‘In My Mind’ gets off to a slightly wobbly start. As such, it could have been this album’s weak link, but a killer chorus makes up for the verse’s slightly off-kilter nature. It doesn’t actually anything you haven’t heard before from Crossfade at this point, but Edman is in particular fine voice, while an occasional twin guitar sound during the featured solo adds a slight edge. Judged on chorus alone, this represents lots of Crossfade’s strengths.
‘Waiting For a Miracle’ is an extended arrangement which really finds its feet during a lengthy instrumental passage, utilising a muted trumpet as its lead voice. Leading up to those moments, however, it’s business as usual: Edman stretches his vocal to its limit – though, sounding like the consummate professional he never resorts to over-singing anything to make an impression – while the rest of the band offer great performances, be they vibrato guitar leads, jazzy basswork or even jazzier pianos. It may be a little too smooth jazz oriented for the AOR purists, but for those approaching this album from a classic westcoast perspective it’s surely one of the album’s most essential listens.
The only time Crossfade breaks away from their beloved westcoast sound is during the atmospheric instrumental ‘Borrowdale’, a track which appears here as both a full length number and reprise. Featuring a vibrato-filled lead guitar smoothly played over a blanket of eighties synths, this owes a huge debt to Jeff Beck (in particular, parts of his ‘Guitar Shop’ from 1989). It shows Hallbäck off as a wonderful guitarist, with a great tone to his work, even when pushed outside his usual AOR and westcoast boundaries. It may be the odd man out here, musically speaking, but it’s still far better than anything you could ever consider filler material.
Although it’s slightly rockier nature in a couple of places means that Crossfade’s ‘Secret Love’ is not quite as perfect as the 2010 debut from State Cows, this album still presents something immensely enjoyable in its musical field. It could be accused of being a little Toto obsessed, but when was that ever a bad thing?! This is a superb second album from Crossfade, one which fans will consider well worth the seven year wait.