While Rob Moratti is well known as the frontman for AOR band Final Frontier, with whom he released a handful of well-respected albums between 2002-2006, the Canadian vocalist has a couple of other notable jobs on his musical CV.  In the mid 90s, he fronted an eponymously named hard rock band, with which he released ‘Desolation’ in 1995, with a follow-up ‘Legends of Tomorrow’ appearing a couple of years later.  With the first issued on the small German label Seagull Records and the second available as a pricy Japanese import, both albums are now quite hard to find.  ‘Desolation’ in particular really captured the power in his vocal delivery; a voice which sounded absolutely fantastic when set against the Led Zeppelin inspired riffs which fuelled the album’s best moments.

There came a surprise in the late 00’s, when Rob Moratti replaced Michael Sadler as the vocalist with Canadian prog legends Saga.  It was unusual that the band would even consider replacing Sadler since he’d held his position for three decades. However, Moratti bravely stepped in, releasing an album with them, in addition to performing at various live dates.  [Michael Sadler rejoined Saga in 2011].

After leaving Saga, Moratti resumed solo work.  The first release from this phase of his career – ‘Victory’ – is an AOR record, similar in style to his work with Final Frontier.  To help him bring his songs to life, Moratti has hired a selection of top-notch session musicians, including ex-Whitesnake/The Firm bassist Tony Franklin and Winger/Whitesnake guitarist Reb Beach.

‘Victory’ features no filler material, and as such, it comes as a somewhat of a surprise that it wasn’t snapped up by Moratti’s old label Frontiers.  Be warned though: while the songs are of a high standard with regards to AOR, the production is way too shiny.  Yes, melodic rock should always have good production values, but like most of Final Frontier’s songs, this album has been polished within inches of its life in the vocal department.  So much so, that the voice sounds way too smooth, too filtered and occasionally really unnatural.  This niggle is often notable on the album’s choruses, where Moratti goes from being a gifted rock vocalist to sounding like a chipmunk.  That often worked to the detriment of Final Frontier’s output and it’s the same here.  If, however, you had no problem with the squealy, over-processed nature of Moratti’s former band, you’ll love this.

After a quirky intro featuring a stabbing keyboard and scratching noise, ‘Life On The Line’ opens the disc with a soft rocker, full of melody.  Reb Beach’s rhythm guitar lines have just enough edge to give the song a certain sharpness, and the harmonies which flesh out the chorus are from the classic AOR mould.  As said, the end sound makes Moratti’s vocal sound a little high, but once you’re past that, it’s a good performance.  Even better is ‘Everything But Goodbye’, a Survivor-esque workout which showcases Franklin’s simple bass style and has enough space for Moratti to weave some great (albeit tried and tested) vocal patterns.  ‘On and On’ is another elegant rocker with a solid keyboard line and guitar riffs, leading up to an equally strong chorus.  Although all contributions are admirable, Reb Beach’s guitar work is cracking.  He’s a musician who seems to be able to turn his hand to all rock styles and judge the mood accordingly, and here, it really shows.  Even though his second solo is really showy and full of whammy-bar, his moment in the spotlight doesn’t sound at all out of place.  The most extreme guitar lines here are given a sense of balance by a few bars of atmospheric playing in the build up.

With keyboards straight out of 1986, ‘Hold That Light’ features a very infectious chorus and an arrangement which would really suit ‘Frontiers’ era Journey.  While Moratti seems to have lost that slightly harder rock edge which suited him so well in the mid 90s, here he delivers plenty of Steve Perry inspired inflections which ought to please a lot of AOR fans.  Also featuring plenty of classic AOR hallmarks, ‘Lifetime’ takes things down a notch. Beach’s clean toned guitar lines lay a very familiar base over which Moratti stretches his vocal…though this time maybe a little too far.  Quite waily in places, his delivery almost sounds like a self-parody; and once that’s been subjected to a little smoothing out, the vocal just becomes a high-pitched noise, making it hard to decipher the lyrics.  If this song had been taken down a notch and featured a more Dave Bickler-esque delivery, it would have been improved a great deal.  Somehow, despite this, it’s still a great tune – and it’s made even better with an expertly played solo from Beach that’s full of wonderful sweeping notes.  With its rock balladry delivered with a firm 80s vibe, ‘I Promise You’ is more than commendable.  As before, Beach’s soloing is top notch; Moratti’s lead vocal has moments where he sounds like he should be absolutely made for stuff like this…and in many ways he is – it’s just made a little difficult to take in due to its high pitch and almost unnatural studio sound (ironically, all vocals were recorded at “Natural Sound Studios”!).

With eleven decent songs, great playing and a style often favouring rockers over ballads, ‘Victory’ is worth hearing.   Make no mistake, as it stands, it’s good – with the potential to be very good in places.  However, had Rob Moratti used his more natural vocal style as heard in the mid 90s, it would’ve been a hundred times better.


June 2011