Having never scoring a record deal or recording anything of note, Swedish glam rockers TrashQueen called it a day in 2015. Two thirds of the band then decided it was time to try a different style of rock music…and so bassist Dennis Butabi Borg and guitarist Anton Joensson formed Cruzh with vocalist Tony Andersson. The new band shunned the previous sleaze and glam sound in favour of AOR and melodic rock…music also not popular since 1990. If swimming against the tide were an Olympic sport, these guys would get a gold medal.
Fashionable or not, the eleven songs on this debut might have been great if Cruzh (nope, the band name is still horrible) adopted a straight down the line approach with a traditional 80s sound. However, lots of the potential is cruzhed (see, we can do that too) by a horrible mix and other iffy decisions. From the beginning, everything sounds really compressed. ‘In ‘N’ Out of Love’ has a killer pop chorus, but also little separation between the instruments, thus making everything sound really woolly. Top that with Andersson having had his already unremarkable voice run through various filters and pretty much all the edge is lost. On the plus side, there’s some reasonable guitar playing and a mid-section that works some shameless stabbing keys appropriated from 1985, so it’s not a dead loss. There’s just a feeling that – especially with such a great hook – everything should have turned out so much better. Taking an old Bryan Adams riff and a back and forth call and response vocal, ‘First Cruzh’ flaunts a love of Mutt Lange and Def Leppard with a world of unnatural sounding harmonies and a melodic soaring guitar solo. Melodically, it’s great if you like that first Tower City record. So what stops this from being great? Those vocal filters: so many of them, everything’s wishy-washy and the band are drowning in their own studio based syrup. Talk about making things unlistenable – this, and the rest of the album, sounds so unnatural, it’s almost painful.
The intro to ‘Aim For The Head’ is worse, where something that sounds like an autotuned Mike Tramp emerges, before the band launch into a sub Harem Scarem tune that’s so shined up, there’s genuinely no life left in it. The guitars occasionally remind the listener of those melodic rock intents, but the increased use of filters and deafening volume from the keyboards has the effect of making Cruzh seem hopelessly sanitised. Moving on, ‘Stay’ has another great guitar solo, but it’s buried so deep in the mix that half way through, a clanging piano chord actually has more presence. There’s a half decent chorus but the words are so swamped with multi-tracked Def Leppard-isms, it’s almost impossible to hear the lyrics and by the time a quiet mid-section appears, the result leans so far towards TV talent show pop, it’s saccharine effect is rather sickly. One of the album’s best offerings, ‘Hard To Get’ features a chorus melody that’s bordering ridiculously infectious, a sort of hybrid of Danger Danger and the theme tune to 70s British sex comedy Rosie Dixon, Night Nurse [and the song’s in the trailer, so there’s no need to torture yourself with the whole thing, should you even manage to find it. It’s surely not John Le Mesurier’s finest hour]. It’s timely reminder that Cruzh can write a tune – and a cracking one at that – and the balance between Leppardy backing vocals and Bryan Adams-ish drive (circa 1991, under the watchful eye of the Mutt) is almost perfect. If those lead guitar parts were more prominent and they could just turn Tony’s down a bit, it would almost reach classic status as far as this kind of musical pastiche is concerned. While the album as a whole isn’t worth suffering – this tune is worth four minutes of the listening time you’ve reserved for gorgonzola overload.
Moving on, ‘You’ opens with a big wash of keyboards, followed by a pleasing guitar chug, before blooming into a reasonable melodic rocker where Joensson’s natural guitar work is a high point even though the song itself is rather pedestrian in it’s aims to recycle a few AOR staples; ‘Before I Walk Alone’ cranks the tempo to bring the kind of upbeat vibe from classic Pat Benatar rehashed by a 90s AOR band (pick one, any one) but the vocals still retain their irritating qualities (or should that be lack of quality?) and via ‘Straight From The Heart’ the band close everything with a painfully predictable acoustic ballad. Arrangement wise, it’s much like a cut-price version of White Lion‘s ‘When The Children Cry’ before becoming a bit too close to an old Bad English number for comfort. Melodic rock is never about originality, especially this far down a well trodden path, but just a little spark really wouldn’t have gone amiss. These guys really sound like they’re going through the motions.
Occasionally, a band will come along and their demos will sound better than the finished product (as anyone who heard the rough mixes by AOR band GTS back in the 90s can attest). This may well be another of those times. Cruzh are such a product of the studio – filters on everything to the point of major annoyance – that, a few solos aside, there’s very little evidence that anyone associated with the band could even play live. If that many vocal filters are necessary to make Tony Andersson sound as required, why even hire him? There’s no evidence of any natural talent. The rhythm guitars and keys are so loud throughout the album that the better lead guitars occasionally get lost… There’s so much shine it positively pierces the eardrums, meaning anything enjoyable still leads to a bit of a headache. Even with the excellent ‘Hard To Get’ and a few other good stabs at melodic rock along the way, Cruzh – both band and album – aren’t as good as they should have been and, as such, are unlikely to reach out beyond those easily impressed AOR die-hards.