On her debut disc for Frontiers Records, British singer Chez Kane is absolutely unafraid of delivering some very retro material. With the help of Crazy Lixx guitarist Danny Rexon, she reawakens the classic sounds of 80s AOR, drawing influence from songwriters like Jeff Paris and Diane Warren, along with the sounds of Vixen, Lita Ford and Robin Beck to create a brilliant album that seems absolutely loaded with nostalgia without being lumbered with a bunch of easy cover tunes. There’s plenty about the album’s crisp sound and relentless stabbing keys that might even make you believe you’d stumbled across a lost recording from 1989. If you’re a fan of classic AOR, this is obviously a very good thing indeed.
Although Frontiers Records are very clearly pushing Kane with equally retro sleeve art and marketing her as “singing eye candy” much in the way Lita Ford and Fiona had been back in ’88, she deserves so much better, especially during the more enlightened climate at the time of release in 2021. It’s best to ignore the cheap looking sleeve as much as possible and head straight into the tunes. …And armed with ten chorus driven bangers across a vinyl friendly forty five minutes, Kane really doesn’t disappoint.
‘Better Than Love’ sets the tone with a barrage of stabbed keys pulled straight from old Survivor albums and offers the kind of arrangement you’d expect from peak Desmond Child & Diane Warren songs. Although rather more old fashioned than the work of Chez’s band Kane’D (often blending bits of Lacuna Coil with an AOR slant), it’s a style that suits the vocalist very well indeed. Moving from the over familiar intro into a quieter, keyboard led verse, the 80s feel holds firm, while the more subdued arrangement allows Kane’s voice to take the lead. Within a couple of bars, she brings back the sounds of bands like Vixen and hit-makers Robin Beck with ease, further suggesting an album that’s unafraid of flaunting a very retro style. It isn’t purely about that voice, of course – there’s far more here that pulls together great melodic rock. Between the way the chorus punches through with a clean guitar sound and the hook comes loaded with multi-tracked harmonies against yet another round of stabbed keys, it sounds like an old forgotten classic. A similarly retro approach works in Kane’s favour during ‘Defender of The Heart’ which sounds like a Pat Benetar deep cut overlaid with some great guitar harmonics. It might not be quite as catchy on first listen, but the slower tempo and slightly more grandiose approach allows Kane ample opportunity to stretch a very natural sounding voice which, again, leads to another fine slice of AOR cheese.
There have been a thousand melodic rock tunes written over the years about “Rock On The Radio”, but Kane takes things up another notch when ‘Rocket On The Radio’ cranks the guitars, aiming for something a little punchier. Although Kane sounds at her best when joined by shiny AOR keys, she also shows a great confidence when tackling this kind of Fiona-centric rock, especially when hitting a chorus absolutely drenched in gang vocals. As before, those who’ve retained a huge collection of melodic rock discs from the late 80s won’t find anything new here, but the potential for faux nostalgia is absolutely massive. There’s initial disappointment when ‘Too Late For Love’ turns out not to be a Def Leppard cover, but it quickly asserts itself as an album standout when a flurry of stabbed keys and choppy guitars launch into something that sounds like an old Jeff Paris number as interpreted by Vixen. A couple of the chord changes come pretty close to sounding like ‘Cryin’ (never a bad thing) and the simplicity of a pre-chorus where some very 80s guitar work underscores a heavily filtered group vocal (actually in the Def Leppard mould) helps this track become one of the album’s unmissable offerings. Throughout this over familiar musical backdrop, Kane sounds like a more melodic version of labelmate Issa, always offering a melodic rock performance that borders on the classic. It’s yet another reason why ‘Chez Kane’ (the album) sounds like a reworked collection of forgotten material from the late 80s; in this instance, it sounds so authentic, that full credit must be given to Rexon – his ability to recycle the past is almost second to none.
On the weaker side, a couple of the rockers veer too far towards the fully cheesy. ‘All of It’, a particularly obvious offender, couples the kind of gang vocals you’d find on Bon Jovi’s hideous ‘King of The Mountain’ with a similarly stompy arrangement. It’s just a little too heavy handed, despite Kane turning in a massive vocal performance that carries the entirety of the melody, while ‘Midnight Rendezvous’ cranks the rockier edges a little less effectively than most of this disc. By opting for a driving rock sound where shuffling drums underscore a dirtier guitar sound, it’s closer to Lee Aaron and Lita Ford than the usual buoyant AOR. It’s fine enough for what it is, but if you prefer the keyboard drenched, slightly poppier stuff, it probably won’t be a favourite. These tracks actually work better in isolation; it’s more a case of them not holding up as well as the pure AOR sounds elsewhere. That said, listeners who like these kind of sweaty rockers might still glean some enjoyment, especially with Kane in strong voice, there’s just a nagging feeling that they aren’t her strongest musical suit.
‘Get It On’ takes a sidestep into something that manages to be both busy and melodic when squelchy synths and choppy guitars often threaten to recreate the theme tune to Miami Vice. However, for all of its quirks, its another number with a massive AOR heart and the rousing chorus – absolutely loaded with gang vocals – hits upon a winning formula that often sounds like peak Robin Beck reworking something from the Winger debut. In terms of playing, Kane’s hired band are particularly on point – their recreations of decades gone by is certainly more authentic sounding than most – and Kane herself appears to relish being lost in a performance where she gets to push a very natural voice. Provided you can make it past a barrage of clichéd rock lyrics regarding a “backstreet romeo” and “good woman gone band”, this promises even more retro melodic rock gold.
It’s also worth noting that unlike many melodic rock albums, ‘Chez Kane’ isn’t front loaded and doesn’t tail off at the end. ‘Die In The Name of Love’ offers yet another highlight by opting for the purest ’89 vintage with slabs of keys joining choppy guitars. Even with a tried and tested arrangement in hand once more, it sounds anything but stale, and those hoping for something even more retro, the tinkling keys during the intro actually sound like they’ve been lifted from an old TV theme tune by Rod Argent & Peter Van Hooke for that extra dose of nostalgia. It isn’t cool, but then it never pretended to be. In terms of shameless, old style AOR, it’s great. …And at the end of it all, no amount of discussion or criticism can draw attention away from the fact that even with a couple of minor flaws, ‘Chez Kane’ (the album) is a pure joy. It’s the kind of album that aims for that feel-good factor and pretty much succeeds at every turn. Very much a case of “don’t judge an album on its sleeve”, this solo debut taps into a classic strain of melodic rock brilliantly and if you’re the kind of rock fan who loves female fronted 80s AOR, it’s a record you really won’t want to miss.