COASTLAND RIDE – On Top Of The World

Nine years is a long time between albums by anyone’s standards, but that’s exactly how long it took the Swedish AOR trio Coastland Ride to follow up their 2003 debut.  Now signed to the German label Avenue of Allies (home to the superb State Cows), ‘On Top of the World’ features a brilliant selection of well-written tunes, bolstered father by some classy musicianship.  Like fellow Scandinavians Crossfade – whose second release had a similarly extended gestation period – it could easily be said that this was a band worth waiting for.  Some things just cannot be rushed.

Giving the album a strong start, ‘Act of Faith’, has all the hallmarks of great melodic rock from the early 90s. Coastland Ride choose begin with all guns blazing, offering a brilliantly played lead guitar break during the intro (courtesy of fellow Swede Sven Larsson of Street Talk fame), before settling into the bulk of the song.  Here, you’ll find a blanket of keyboards, some very melodic vocals and a killer chorus.  You’ve heard it all time and again, but when done well, such retro rock chops cannot be beaten.  The track is topped off with a great solo – again, the work of Larsson – to create an opener which guarantees you’ll keep listening.  ‘Wait’ explores similarly tried and tested formulas, but – if anything – achieves a much better result.  The featured chorus is a match for most of the supposedly “classic” tracks of the genre, dripping with harmonies and the kind of key-changes which guarantee enjoyment.

‘Wait’, as a stand-alone track, would be enough alone to recommend checking out this release, but this is a band with even more great music waiting to be heard.  The title cut dispenses with some of the guitars, concentrating instead on keyboard work; a mix of 80s keys and old-fashioned 70s electric piano provide the basis of a great piece of Westcoast pop which sounds like a tune which could have graced a Hall & Oates album from the 1980s.  Harmonies abound, it proves the band to be great singers as well as songwriters and arrangers.  ‘Nail Me To The Cross’ showcases a much harder side to Coastland Ride.  We’re not talking anything metallic, per se, since it’s still delivered in a very adult and melodic fashion; it’s just the guitars are much chuggier and the general attitude a little harder all round.  In all, it’s all rather more Toto’s ‘Kingdom of Desire’ as opposed to ‘Toto IV’, and of course, this doesn’t necessarily make it a bad track.  On the plus side, the vocal performances display a certain degree of rock edge and the featured guitar solo is another good one.  However, on the negative, the programmed drums seem a touch out of place.  Despite best intentions, it’s no match for the Coastland Ride’s very naturalistic performances heard elsewhere.

Following a rather clunky intro, ‘Save You From Yourself’ descends into yet another keyboard laden verse, over which Markus Nordenberg sounds extremely comfortable in his role as lead vocalist, hitting smooth, long notes with ease.  Just as you’re probably wondering what that odd intro was all about, it makes a return for the chorus: slightly edgy, very much at odds with the verses.  And yet, Coastland Ride balls it out, laying solid three part harmonies over the top in a way which really ought not to work, but somehow does.  The marching beat which drives ‘Lodestar’ appears a little throwaway at first, but the song is home to a pleasing, upfront bassline, over which Nordenberg adds another strong vocal.  By the time the chorus rolls around, the other chaps lay on the usual amount of harmonies to flesh out the sound.  Finding space for a guitar solo with a tone which hints at jazz-rock as opposed to AOR brings another nice touch.  Although this track may be more disposable than some of the other offerings, it would be a lie to suggest it isn’t enjoyable for what it is.

‘Second Chance’ makes great use of stabbing keyboards, which have an unashamed early 80s quality which would make Toto smile.  What quickly becomes an unmissably upbeat tune is then taken to new level of goodness when Coastland Ride’s bring their knack for choruses and harmonies back to the fore.  A particularly parpy saxophone solo does its utmost to spoil the brilliant mood, but thankfully makes a fairly swift exit.  Saxophone aside, this track could rival the aforementioned State Cows’ debut release for Westcoast loveliness.  Both this  track and ‘On Top of The World’ could be a different band to that featured on the opening pair of numbers, but both sides of Coastland Ride’s style are equally enjoyable for different reasons.

Boasting a big spoken word intro, ‘Jericho Falls’ is much bigger – much pompier – than your average Coastland Ride tune.  Quickly, the listener is immersed in a wave of mechanical rhythms and very 80s keyboards, while vocally, it retains a sense of the theatrical with the deep-toned spoken voice continuing to fill the verses in a similar mood.  This is counterbalanced by a female (sung) voice and the eventual appearance of regular vocalist Markus Nordenberg, delivering a chorus much like you’re expecting.  Kudos to Coastland Ride for attempting to create something a bit more adventurous; it might not have the long lasting appeal of their best work, but there are some great moments here.

If there’s any small criticism to be made regarding ‘On Top of The World’ as a whole album, it’s that more live sounding drums would have been a plus.  While there’s little doubt that a lot of the percussion is programmed – and to be fair, it doesn’t often present itself in a way which detracts from the overall of the music – a real drummer still cannot be beaten.  On the whole, though, this second release from Coastland Ride is a hugely, hugely enjoyable affair, with choruses aplenty and a generally great vibe throughout.  Some may sneer and call it unfashionable, but what the hell…for AOR/Westcoast devotees, this is an album which comes highly recommended indeed.

January 2012