Fashion be damned! Swedish melodic rockers Streetlight champion a very commercial blend of AOR and melodic rock on their 2023 album ‘Ignition’. Capturing a perfect sound that celebrates some of the scene’s greatest bands and influences from those 1987-89 glory days, it’s an album packed with massive choruses, but comes with an even bigger concession to brilliantly played, shiny sounding keyboards. There are few musical surprises, but a whole world of giant hooks will ensure lovers of old school AOR will find a near instant liking of the Streetlight sound.
The opening of ‘Hit The Ground’ promises big things when some massive, pompy keyboards work up a big intro that falls somewhere between the more commercial sounds of Camel circa ‘I Can See Your House From Here’ – a mood that’s further accentuated via a very familiar 70s guitar sound – and the grander elements of State of Salazar. It isn’t long before Streetlight drop into an AOR sound that will become their forte, but with the aid of a very 80s riff and harmony driven chorus, this is equally brilliant in its own way. The core of the track definitely evokes the best of fellow Swedes State of Salazar once more, but with a slightly less effective vocal. That’s not to take anything away from Johannes Hager; his voice immediately presents itself as very strong, but a slightly accented delivery might, on occasion, make it more of an acquired taste for some. Nevertheless, it’s a great track; very much the pinnacle of an AOR revivalist sound, and as the album progresses, it becomes obvious that Hager is a brilliant interpreter of most of the material, and a great vocalist in his own right.
Having set a great sound in place, ‘Chutes & Ladders’ improves on it, wasting no time in bringing in a set of bright, punchy keys. Set against a strong guitar riff, there echoes of Shooting Star circa 1991’s ‘It’s Not Over’, which blended with the very Swedish AOR core, results in something very pleasing – and hugely familiar. From the outset, guitarist Filip Stenlund sounds impressive throwing out muted notes, over which the rest of the band build up another impressive throwback the world of 80s radio, with an array of harmony vocals and punchy pop-rock rhythm that never lets go. All of that, combined with a big hook, would make this one of the album’s immediate standouts, but Streetlight go the extra mile by sharing a massive climax where a semi proggy guitar soars above the AOR, before everything falls away to reveal a lovely clean piano. With another outing for a perfect chorus to finish, the band ensures this has the potential to become a genre classic for the twenty first century.
Perhaps due to ‘Chutes’ being so near-perfect, ‘Stay’, at least at first, sounds a little wobbly. A slightly heavier guitar initially threatens to draw the focus away from Streetlight’s great AOR sound, but after a few bars, a melodic chug – akin to many an 80s gem – takes on more of a dominant role, and once Johannes hits his stride, it’s almost business as usual. There’s still something a little off, though; there are times when he’s clearly stretching his voice to force a melody during the chorus, and although the music is solid, the over-simplistic hook means there’s less of a natural flow. That said, you’ll still find some good playing within these three minutes, with bassist Johan Tjernstrom anchoring a decent rhythm throughout, and guitarist Filip adding some fine, subtle countermelodies during the second half. This isn’t the best Streetlight number, but that’s partly due to the opening double whammy being so impressive. That said, it’s something of a grower over time.
In a change of mood, ‘Love Riot’ kicks off with a thin sounding guitar riff, drawing a little influence from the early 90s funk metal boom, and in keeping with the mood, a chunky melodic metal riff follows, allowing drummer Erik Nilssen to add a really punchy rhythm. You might expect Johannes to beef his vocals to suit, but there’s a mildly annoying filter at work, and the end result sounds more like an odd party rock anthem than the work of some budding AOR champions. The band’s affinity with a superb hook wins through, and for the chorus, the mood reverts to a more tried and tested AOR sound. As before, the band’s knack for a hook is clear, and a harmony driven approach really sells a late 80s melody, before Filip totally rescues everything further with an impressive lead break. It’s unlikely this will be anybody’s favourite Streetlight track, but kudos to them for trying something different. ‘Caught Up In A Dream’, meanwhile, opens with some perfect stabbing keys and more of a westcoast/Toto-ish vibe, which the band then pushes forth into a great pop rock verse that sounds like filler from an 80s movie soundtrack, before sliding into more of a lop-sided pomp hook. The journey between the busy intro and main hook isn’t entirely smooth, and it sounds like a few sketches glued together, but there’s something great trying to escape, and as usual, the harmonies are absolutely stellar. The number’s second half brings some great music, too, with more of the Toto-ish flair riding the groove, and eventually, a marvellous squirly keyboard solo – with a little more of a late 70s heart – leads everyone into the fade. It’s a kitchen sink arrangement, granted, but a few plays leads to something that sounds much better than first impressions might suggest, and something that sounds like the work of a band capable of bigger and more complex things.
A wonderful floating piano opens ‘Malibu Pier’, suggesting something grand, but it’s just a ruse. As the rest of the band kicks in, they embark on a blend of AOR and pop-rock that’s pure cheese. The punchy rhythm calls back to the soundtracks of yesteryear – ‘Flashdance’, ‘Over The Top’ and ‘Top Gun’ – and the busy rhythm is definitely inspired by something Kenny Loggins would’ve made a chart topper. True to form, though, Streetlight sound great, and when dropping in a little more punch on loan from Survivor and the pomp of early Toto, this becomes a genuine tour-de-force of retro fun. In comparison, the big, mid tempo AOR of ‘Overjoyed’, with its traces of bands like Aviator, is in danger of sounding a little flat. It isn’t the case, of course; when heard in isolation, it’s another strong workout where 80s keys and a wall of vocals happily re-enact those melodic sounds of the past, hoping that the ears of 2023 will care for them as much as they did back then. And with a solid, mid tempo groove paving the way for a superb vocal arrangement, there’s every reason why genre fans should love this.
‘Words For Mending Hearts’ gives the album its obligatory ballad, and taking notes straight from the Alias copybook, Streetlight deliver something perfect. Stately piano lines flow atop slow, throbbing bass, and although soaring guitar lines settle for the predictable, sounding like something you’ve heard a thousand times over, they still sounds great. If anything, this tune sounds like an unearthed classic rather than a new recording from 2023, but that, again, is credit to this band’s love of the genre. The very strong ‘Awake’ hints at an Eddie Van Halen guitar tone, but ultimately, settles for adding something a little punchier to another round of old AOR tropes where harmonies shine on a brilliant hook, and some very 80s keys dance joyfully beneath a mid tempo groove. Much like ‘Overjoyed’, this celebration of a classic style couldn’t be much more authentic, and with Filip sharing a similar restrained style to Strangeways’ guitarist Ian Stewart – in that the solo is always about melodic fills rather than showmanship – the instrumental breaks are similarly on point. On an album full of highlights, this has the potential to be the best Streetlight recording of all.
With a great selection of upbeat numbers driven by a strong, natural vocal, Streetlight push a lot of the right buttons on ‘Ignition’. It’s been said many times how the Swedes have a very natural affinity for old fashioned, classic sounding AOR, but honestly, this is unexpectedly good, and there are times when these guys are up there with the very best Scandinavian exports. Nostalgia rarely sounded better.
Buy the CD here: Streetlight – Ignition