The first three Honeymoon Suite albums are an essential part of any decent melodic rock/AOR album collection. Songs like ‘New Girl Now’, ‘Feel It Again’, ‘Bad Attitude’ and ‘Lookin’ Out For Number One’ should have made them as big as Journey and Survivor, but outside of the US and Canada, the band never achieved any more than cult status. Any relative lack of success elsewhere wasn’t for the want of trying, however. Millions of people have actually heard Honeymoon Suite without realising it, since their ‘Lethal Weapon’ graced the end credits of the film of the same name in 1987. Unfortunately, the end credits failed to mention this…robbing the band of some very easy publicity.

Fast forward to 2024, and ‘Alive’ – the band’s eighth proper studio album – shows a lot of the same spirit as the band’s earlier work. Its strongest tunes convey a love for a now unfashionable melodic rock style, but surely to the delight of fans, this will be a good thing. The title track – and lead single – isn’t shy in flaunting a very 80s sound with its mix of soaring AOR vocals and choppy guitars. Although it isn’t immediately obvious as a HS number, there are a few moments that bigger fans will take to immediately, especially in terms of Derry Grehan’s guitar work. A world of slightly reverbed, chopping riffs call back to bits of ‘The Big Prize’, and his featured solo, complete with a couple of very smart fills, has his unmistakable tones all over it. Joined by a solid drum part and a huge pop-oriented heart, it’s also a reasonable vehicle for Johnnie Dee, whose vocal sounds pretty much as it did during the band’s heyday. It’s a reasonable opener, but the lack of big harmony and a bit of a lazy chorus makes it feel as if the band are holding back just a little.

…And that proves to be the case, since ‘Find What You’re Looking For’ feels far more like a throwback to the classic Honeymoon Suite days. Its main riff is a little rockier, echoing moments from 1991’s ‘Monsters Under The Bed’, whilst the bulk of Dee’s vocal recalls the band’s work from further in the past. With a huge melodic riff used to drive the verse, Dee and Grehan bounce off each other with ease, and the way Dee shifts from a rock vocal into a huge, soaring melody is classic Honeymoon Suite. He’s quickly outshone by Grehan’s solo – a selection of vibratoed notes followed by an overly technical flurry of sound – but this very much feels like a band effort, with some huge drums filling a quieter moment or two en route and a huge chorus hook where a classic melodic rock style gets to really fly. It would sound even better without the few vocal filters present, but it’s a minor point; in terms of all round catchiness, this is the best HS song in a long while. Equally strong, ‘Tell Me What You Want’ kicks off with a round of very 80s keys, adds a rather shiny guitar part that makes everything sound like Honeymoon Suite channelling Mr. Mister, and then drops, somewhat oddly, into a few more contemporary beats. The musical detour is merely a ruse, as the rock that quickly emerges actually sounds like a punchier version of HS of old. A world of solid AOR guitar riffs meshing with a huge vocal has the air of an immediate classic, genre wise, and its great to hear Dee in such great vocal shape. The melody hints at something anthemic, but this hasn’t been contrived to be so; this is the sound of Honeymoon Suite doing what comes naturally. There’s so much to enjoy packed into these three minutes, but if anything stands out beyond the chorus, it’s the brief snatches of shiny guitar throwing out a huge wave of love for those bygone AOR days, and a keyboard counter melody which – although buried quite deeply – also appears to hanker after the past in the best possible way. In short, this is near perfect melodic rock.

Lightening up just a little, ‘Love Comes’ blends strong AOR melodies with a pop undercurrent on its opening verse, before drifting a little further into AOR power anthem on the chorus. All big drums and chorale vocals, it doesn’t sound much like Honeymoon Suite beyond Dee’s lead, but is still very enjoyable, whilst ‘Livin’ Out Loud’ opts for something much rockier, a stance that’s immediately clear right from the off with Derry launching straight into a choppy guitar riff, and drummer Dave Betts augmenting that with a big beat. As the tune gains momentum, it gradually works a great, classic rock sound, where the energy and production sheen isn’t a million miles away from Def Leppard circa 2015. It isn’t a track that tries to be smart or change the face of rock, but you can hear the band really latching onto a great vibe, making this a great update for the Honeymoon Suite sound. ‘Broken’, meanwhile, reintroduces Derry’s classic guitar tone from the 80s via some very filtered effects, and that kicks off a superb slice of AOR where a pop-ish heart beats furiously against a feel-good melody. In terms of chorus, things could perhaps be bigger, but there’s so many nice touches within the track’s arrangement, that’s easy to overlook. Long time fans will definitely love the tastefully played lead guitar break which tops a very melodic style with a massive upward sweep at the end, along with a strong melody that occasionally tips the hat to 80s pop, and another great vocal.

With ‘Done Doin’ Me’ featuring a heavier drum against a semi-bluesy groove, the number gives the album a huge curve ball, musically speaking, but Dee’s vocal presence and a harmony driven hook pulls everything closer to sounding like Honeymoon Suite. Although synthetic sounding horns are often a massive mistake, this stylistic choice (presumably by keys man Peter Nunn) gives the arrangement a very knowing 80s stance, so much so, that it wouldn’t be a massive leap to imagine this track propping up the second side of the classic ‘Big Prize’. For the more trad rock listener, the shiny core of the track is counterbalanced by one of Derry’s sharpest solos, ensuring that the number feels very well balanced. In another musical shift, ‘Not Afraid To Fall’ works a hard strummed guitar and a solid rock-pop vibe that feels very 90s, and with bassist Gary Lalonde adding a busy but still smooth melody, everything flows brilliantly. Exploding into a slightly rockier chorus, there are faint hints of radio friendly fare like Train and a rock oriented Five For Fighting, but another superb solo and a round of rousing “whoahs” will ensure that melodic rock fans will be more than happy.

‘Alive’ misses a tiny bit of that essential 80s shininess that made those early Honeymoon Suite albums sound so vibrant, but in terms of its best songs – especially ‘Tell Me What You Want’, ‘Find What You’re Looking For’,‘Broken’ and ‘Not Afraid To Fall – it’s pretty much a return to form. It’s more enjoyable than the few “later period” albums that crept through the cracks for the loyal fans after 2001, and more than demonstrates that the band still have plenty to give their audience. It isn’t going to make much of an impact beyond the die-hards, unfortunately, but that was always likely to be the case. Still, those “in the know” will certainly enjoy this, and it wouldn’t be remiss to call this the best Honeymoon Suite LP since the Canadian rockers delivered the underrated ‘Monsters Under The Bed’ all the way back in those grungy days of 1991. Recommended.

Buy the album here: HONEYMOON SUITE – Alive

February 2024