FIND ME – Angels In Blue

Combining the talents of Blanc Faces vocalist Robbie LaBlanc and Chilean multi-instrumentalist Daniel Flores, Find Me are a band that recycle classic 80s rock sounds with love. The musicians were brought together by Frontiers Records’ President Serifino Perugino in 2013 to try and fulfil his dream of creating “the perfect AOR record”. Their debut album ‘Wings of Love’ was an excellent example of the genre, though measured against many of the 80s classics, to call it “perfect” would, perhaps, be a little overzealous. The odd thing is that Perugino had something close to his dream under his nose the whole time with Work of Art’s 2008 debut ‘Artwork’, but nevertheless, he wanted more. The fans loved it, of course; the reviews were almost all positive and Find Me eventually recorded a second album at the end of 2015.

As the next couple of years ticked by, with Flores reconvening The Murder of My Sweet in 2017 and working with Palace in 2018 and no word from LeBlanc, a third Find Me record seemed increasingly unlikely. …And then, at the beginning of 2019, the band announced their big return…much to the delight of most who’d followed them previously.

This third album wastes no time in announcing itself in the most retro fashion, as ‘No Tears In Paradise’ opens with a bunch of keyboards that sound like a comb and paper combo (as per Europe’s ‘Final Countdown’), ushering in punchy verse that brings out the very best in LaBlanc’s voice. This is okay, of course, but the chorus – as expected – is where the real magic happens. A world of harmonies spill from the kind of arrangement that filled many a late 80s/early 90s disc, with a definite leaning towards the sounds of Issa’s fifth album ‘Run With The Pack’ and the whole band punching their way through the melodic riffs with ease. In a similar vein, ‘Chain of Love’ combines huge AOR hooks with a pomp-driven keyboard, falling somewhere between Blanc Faces and Seventh Key, providing LaBlanc with one of his best workouts, before ‘True Believer’ drops to a classic mid-pace, placing even more focus on the vocal. Eventually settling into a rousing hook that would have suited Mitch Malloy back in 1990, Find Me’s retro heart pumps harder than ever. With a fantastic driving melody, a slightly clichéd hook designed to thrill melodic rock die hards and some cracking guitar work from Michael Palace (a man who seemed like one of the hardest working faces in melodic rock at the time of release), it’s got everything…except a decent production job. Everything sounds as if it’s been pushed into the red and guy in charge of actually mixing everything has gone home. Things that should sound shiny and crisp just sound awfully loud and compressed; all subtlety is lost, with the keys and rhythm guitars being slightly distorted throughout. Great songs are wasted if, eventually, the loudness wars/brickwalling issues mar any long term enjoyment.

Sounding like something on loan from Work of Art, though with the guitars cranked, ‘Straight For Eternity’ is the album’s stand-out track with a world of impressive harmonies throughout alongside tinkling keys to counterbalance the tough but melodic guitar chops and the sort of chorus you loved back in 1987. Admittedly, on paper, this sounds like by-numbers fare for Find Me – and indeed, they coast through the track as if they’ve played it a thousand times before hitting the studio. Something fairly predictable still works, though, since it’s been given an extra lift by guest spots from State of Salazar’s Marcus Nygren offering support on those brilliant harmonies and his bandmate Johan Thuresson dropping in for a (far too brief) lead guitar solo that’s absolutely loaded with a string bending, melodic flair. Sure, most of it sounds like something on loan from three decades previously, but it ticks a lot of the necessary boxes for great AOR. Pretty much as essential, and again, having a slightly Swedish influence, ‘Show Me What You’d Die For’ plays like a punchier Work of Art and State of Salazar tune with a fantastic use of harmonies and bell-like keys underscoring a fat rhythm guitar. Although the lyric carries an unexpected religious vibe, it’s just about subtle enough to overlook (a far cry from having a Stryper Bible twat you on the head) and as LeBlanc calls for hands and voices in unison, the usage of harmonies sounds like AOR gold.

The arrangement on ‘Waiting For A Lifetime’ comes the closest to that 80s sound that Find Me were formed to create and while you’ll find nothing new, the chorus is another killer almost guaranteed to thrill lovers of previous Find Me records, as well as fans of Captive Heart, State of Salazar and the Harem Scarem debut. In this case, clichés be damned! The hook is the ultimate tribute to AOR’s glory years, which coupled with the more keyboard driven ‘You Are The Only One’ gives the second half of the album a major boost. ‘You Are The Only One’ reinstates the kind of keyboards from Europe circa 1986 and aids them with the massive honk of Keith Emerson from his “3” days, paving the way for a fine verse that places LeBlanc’s voice high in the mix. Topping that with a hook and melody that has traces of early 80s Kansas, it might be all very familiar, but the love for the style shines through at almost every turn.

Elsewhere, Living A Lie’ brings a whole world of pompy keys to the fore, with Soren Kronqvist stabbing away in an aggressive way, challenging the guitars for dominance throughout. No matter how big the music is, though, its the massive cheese-fest of a chorus that’s most important. Lovingly playing homage to old classics like Aviator, while simultaneously sounding like something that could stand proudly beside the Palace albums…it’s more than solid enough. Any Palace influences are hardly surprising considering Michael Palace is all over this disc. The title track clings on to a similarly huge hook and is almost as good in terms of sing-along abilities, but is perhaps just a little too big. While the old AOR influences are still obvious, the way LaBlanc tackles the vocal at full force leans more towards the huge style shown by Toby Hitchcock, while ‘Desperate Dreams’ blends a wall of keys with one of LaBlanc’s better performances on a track that comes across like Survivor meeting with Terry Brock. By numbers as it may be (again), the bell-like keys and twin leads that occasionally rise from the compressed wall of sound are enough to make it a genuine highlight.

Closing the record, ‘Only The Lonely’ has a mid pace and melodic punch that instantly recalls the likes of Airrace and a chorus straight from those old Boulvard records, but with LeBlanc putting in one of his career bests in terms of vocals, it’s over-familiarity ultimately works to its advantage. It’s a great shame, then, that half of the instrumentation ends up sounding like a fudgy mess. Like most of this album, the vocals and keys are far too loud, while everything else just sounds indistinct. If only AOR records were made with the kind of sheen and technical professionalism as twenty first century country albums, Find Me might have half a chance at appealing to a few people beyond the die-hard AOR fans…

With thirteen tracks and no obvious filler, ‘Angels In Blue’ is a great record. It’s not a perfect record – the most unsubtle lack of finesse in the production department has put paid to that though undoubtedly the die-hards will treat it like the resurrection of a deity. In comparison to the debut, it lacks sparkle in a couple of places, but features more than enough top grade AOR in others to see the weaker points don’t spoil the whole. Those who’ve bought the previous albums will almost certainly find this a worthwhile purchase, but first time listeners should check out ‘Wings Of Love’ first…and then perhaps move on to the Work of Art debut ‘Artwork’, to hear an absolutely fantastic example of everything Serafino ever craved.

February 2019