For a lot of melodic rock fans, Robin McAuley is a man who’ll need no introduction. He first came to fame as a member of Grand Prix during the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in the early 80s, before scoring a sizeable UK and US chart hit as a member of Far Corporation. In more recent years, he’s recorded solo works and emerged as frontman with Black Swan, a supergroup featuring ex-Whitesnake/Winger guitarist Reb Beach and Dokken bassist Jeff Pilson. Most people, of course, will know Robin through his long association with Michael Schenker. The German guitarist was so taken with the vocalist’s abilities, the Michael Schenker Group was rebranded the McAuley-Schenker Group for two excellent albums in the late 80s/early 90s, and when Schenker needed a roll-call of famous friends for his Michael Schenker Fest in the twenty first century, Robin was there, front and centre.
McAuley might not be the most prolific musician, but whenever he puts his name to something, the results are usually very strong. His 2021 solo release ‘Standing On The Edge’ is no exception. In fact, with a selection of massive choruses on a set of songs that could easily pass for a late 80s vintage, it could easily be one of his greatest achievements. The title track – released as a single ahead of the album – tells you all you need to know via a chunky AOR riff that could be a late 80s Uriah Heep number crossed with something from the early years of Winger. Throughout the four minutes, Robin clings onto some fine melodies when delivering big notes naturally, while guitarist Andrea Soveso drops in with a few great squeals and a top notch solo. It may all be overly familiar, but it’s a superb example of both this album’s shamelessly retro feel and of McAuley’s vocal abilities. Another instant highlight, the insanely catchy ‘Wanna Take A Ride’ taps into one of those great mid-paced riffs from 1989 and quickly hits upon a melody that sounds like Robbie Robb’s ‘In Time’ meeting an old John Waite classic. The following verse results in some terrific AOR sounds, but with Robin joined by a few harmonies and the addition of a few bell-like keys leading into a chorus, it’s almost like the ultimate trip back in time to when big hair reigned. Musically, it’s pretty faultless, and although the main hook is perhaps a bit too repetitive lyrically, McAuley takes the material firmly in hand and offers the kind of performance that’ll assure you that – despite there being a long time between the McAuley-Schenker Group and this present day – his voice is as strong as ever.
The power balladry of ‘Late December’ begins with a blanket of shiny keys complimented by a heavily filtered guitar, creating the kind of sounds that you’d expect from old Heart records from 1987, before blossoming into a Jimi Jameson-esque affair that really allows Robin to stretch out. Or at least that would be the case, had he not been filtered to absolute buggery here. Vocal filters are often problematic and, indeed, the sheen present in this track does have the ability to be a little distracting, but luckily the overriding melodies are so good, it can eventually be overlooked. ‘Chosen Few’, meanwhile, rocks things up once more with a grittier guitar sound chugging through a riff that could’ve been pulled off Kix’s ‘Blow My Fuse’, which works brilliantly with a punchy chorus that takes McAuley into the realms of Great White. It may all be very basic hard rock with a pop-ish edge, but it’s well played and a couple of spins is enough for the melodies to really stick. Of particular interest during this track is Andrea’s featured guitar solo. It’s quite an achievement that he manages to fill several bars with something that isn’t a million miles away from one of Joe Perry’s best sloppy string-benders (that solo from ‘Love In An Elevator’ springs to mind fairly quickly) without wrecking the song in the process!
‘Suppose To Do Now’ (a co-write with ex-Heart guitarist Howard Leese) opts for basic melodic rock fare, when a solid mid tempo groove underscores a strong vocal and a chorus that sounds like an overhang from Heart’s ‘Brigade’ LP. In AOR terms, the album offers much stronger, more instantly loveable material, but a couple of chunkier riffs, a fatter bass tone from the omnipresent Frontiers Records hired hand Alessandro Del Vecchio, plus a vaguely bluesy lead guitar break (supplied by Leese himself) adds a little extra depth. Elsewhere, ‘Run Away’ is loaded with shimmering acoustic sounds and bright keyboards, throwing the listener back to the mid 80s, and although the synth strings are distinctly demo-like, betweenan arrangement that blends overwrought emotions with guitars that shine and McAuley in good shape, it hangs together well without feeling the need to try too hard. ‘Thy Will Be Done’, meanwhile, gives fans yet another slab of classic sounding late 80s melodic rock where McAuley’s natural talents are pitched perfectly against a backdrop that could easily be on loan from a half dozen of your favourite 1987-89 classics. You own stuff like this a thousand times over, but when played as well as it is here, it’ll soon find its place among your (better known) favourites.
The closing number ‘Running Out of Time’ ends the album on a massive high, with Robin rocking out against an arrangement that introduces harder drums driving a riff that blends late 80s big hair hard rock with slightly more of a Euro influence. Hearing the way his voice darts in and out of more jagged guitars – particularly on the later parts of the verse – it isn’t a great stretch to imagine this as part of the Schenker live set. With an even bigger, very harmonious chorus that vaguely resembles Harem Scarem giving their all and a particularly busy lead guitar break from Soveso, it more than shows how McAuley and his band are as comfortable with no nonsense hard rock as the shinier, pop/rock style that often dominates this record.
There’s so much about ‘Standing On The Edge’ that clings to late 80s melodic rock/AOR traditions and, as such, a great deal of the material feels like stuff you already own, but that’s what makes it all so enjoyable. If you love traditional melodic rock ranging from Mike Slamer/Steelhouse Lane to Winger, from Survivor to Airrace and even that first Bill & Ted Soundtrack, this is one disc you really cannot be without.