Twelve years into their career, Vega continue to fly the flag for UK melodic rock. On their seventh album, ‘Anarchy and Unity’, long serving members Nick Workman (vocals), Tom Martin (bass), Marcus Thurston (guitar) and James Martin (keys) are joined by two new faces, but fans can be assured that the fairly dramatic shift in line-up really hasn’t caused too much of a shift in their overall sound. ‘Anarchy’ includes a couple of songs that are a little heavier than expected, but by and large, the bulk of the material builds upon the melodic rock/classic rock sound that Vega have forged since their early days, with the best tracks continuing to be a fine showcase for Workman’s voice, and the whole band’s abilities to hammer home a superb chorus or six.
‘Beautiful Lie’ opens the album with a huge riff where heaviness and melody collide. Almost instantly, Vega announce their arrival with a retro groove and a massive whoah, before the opening line “How do you do, how have you been?” appears to speak directly to the audience. Moving through the verse, the guitars maintain a crunchy presence, but it’s the even bigger hook that’ll sell most fans, with Vega unashamedly reaching for the kind of sounds that pumped the heart of the late 70s. There are moments where this feels slightly heavier than Vega of old, but those with keener ears will spot a great countermelody from the guitar during the bridging sections, along with a couple of other nice touches, suggesting that someone within the band has a knack for sprucing arrangements, often helping to lift them in subtle but impressive ways. Sure, there are elements of the riff and chorus that seem tried and tested – even cheesy to some listeners – but if nothing else, it’s very much the kind of workout that suggests that ex-Inglorious six-stringer Billy Taylor is a good fit for Vega; he’s more than able to bring a truckload of hard rock groove with his playing, yet without sacrificing any of the strong melodic sounds with which the band are associated.
‘Beautiful Lie’ gives the album a strong start, but it’s actually very much onwards and upwards from there with the short and sharp ‘Sooner Or Later’ coming across like an old 80s rocker retooled by Toby Jepson, with pounding rhythms, a celebratory chorus whoahs and busy lead guitar break. In terms of capturing Vega in full on rock mode, this does a great job. It might have even made them close peers of Gun at their peak had they been around thirty years earlier. The excellent ‘Had Enough’, meanwhile, introduces more melodic chops with a blanket of keys underscoring a solid guitar riff, before falling away to reveal a crunchy bass. Workman’s voice often dominates, but it’s always clear that Vega’s sound is very much the sum of its parts – whether new or old – and once a harmonious chorus rises and a second verse introduces some stabbing keys, this becomes bread and butter stuff for the band, but at the same time, they never sound as if they’re phoning it in. This is clear once the mid section the track casts aside the more predictable chops for a darker feel, with gothic organ work and fatter bass sound taking the reigns, while Workman reaches within himself for something a little more theatrical. Factoring in a perfect lead guitar break, this quickly becomes one of this album’s more interesting moments, and its moodier aspects also make the returning chorus seem both stronger and more uplifting. In terms of how to make old style melodic rock seem a little less stuck in a rut, this is a masterclass of arrangement. For those looking for something even more within the classic AOR sphere, however, ‘Kneel To You’ will be an instant standout. Opening with a jubilant riff overlaid by stabbed, clean piano lines, Vega tap into their inner FM as they work a classic opening riff. Dropping into the verse, things quieten, but a selection of muted guitar riffs underscored by some solid drumming from new man Pete Newdeck results in something equally wonderful, before a huge chorus calls back to the late 80s Magnum. By the time Thurston and Taylor trade off solos and Workman fills a bridge with a very Bob Catley-esque sense of pomp, this has all the makings of one of the greatest Vega tunes ever. Even a weird coda where guitars grumble and the closing beat seems to cut off prematurely doesn’t damage its overall brilliance.
Equally cool but in a different style, the chunky ‘Glow’ combines a semi-dirty riff with more huge AOR chops throughout. The presence of a few twin leads and a very confident vocal also add some great touches to an arrangement that would otherwise feel workmanlike. A fantastic, harmony filled chorus reinforces Vega’s growing musical legacy and, overall, there’s plenty to love about this piece of rock that gives each player a significant role to play. Likewise, a massive ballad ‘Live For Me’ brings back many 80s memories via a slightly overwrought piano/vocal arrangement that branches out into the kind of chunky sound beloved by Harem Scarem on their debut. It isn’t as instantly charming as some of this album’s tracks, since it’s a case of everything being fantastically arranged but lacking in imagination. …Until, that is, the big twist where Newdeck introduces a fast rattling rhythm to underscore an equally speedy riff, over which, a shredfest of a guitar solo changes the mood completely. Whether it works within the context of this song is a matter for debate, but this is a contender for one of the most unsubtle musical shifts since Pole Position unleashed their debut album back in 1993. ‘Welcome To Wherever’ quickly promises another massive melodic rock banger by opening with a big riff augmented by soaring notes, and it doesn’t disappoint. Its more spacious verse allows Tom’s bass to come through with a genuine clarity and Nick’s voice is superb, but if anything makes an indelible impression, it’s the pre-chorus utilising some fine, wordless harmonies and a huge crash into a massive chorus that borrows from a timeless melodic stock. With a wave of lyrical positivity and a few massive whoahs filling a great climax, it joins ‘Kneel To You’ as one of the best tracks this time out – possibly even one of the finest Vega numbers ever – whilst ‘Ain’t Who I Am’ works a few mechanical loops in with the melodic chops, suggesting a band who aren’t merely stuck in 1986, but with some great, clean toned guitar work and solid groove on the louder parts, will still offer enough goodness for the more “traditional” fan.
In an unexpected twist, ‘C’mon’ kicks off with a retro jazz rhythm, all bass and finger clicks. This is clearly influenced by Elvis Presley’s definitive take on Peggy Lee’s ‘Fever’ – something used effectively to break up the rock sections throughout – and a big chorus wields a sizeable and swaggering riff that fuses a trace of Little Angels’ cool with the confidence of the new breed of Britrock bands like The Treatment and Massive Wagons. The push and pull between the two styles is so striking that it’s almost possible to overlook the decent guitar solo and strong harmonies that give the number its muscle and heart. There’s a vocal and presence that’s easily recognisable as still being Vega, but it’s great to hear them experimenting with something a little different.
Despite such a prolific output – seven albums in eleven years is good going by most rock band’s standards, and especially so for one without a huge budget or major label backing – Workman and company sound as inspired as ever here. With no real duds to be found within its dozen tracks, ‘Anarchy and Unity’ is very much the kind of album that’ll please all extant fans with its strong hooks and melodic rock chops. Always showcasing a band who sound anything but tired, this comes highly recommended.