Originally released in 1986, Virginia Wolf’s self-titled album is the album which first introduced rock audiences to the vocal talents of British AOR legend Chris Ousey. Its place in rock history is assured, since it features a young Jason Bonham (the son of Led Zeppelin legend John Bonham) on drums. Interestingly though, given the absolute power behind his father’s style of drumming – a style in which Jason is also capable of playing – you’d hardly recognise the drum work on this album as being that of anyone with the Bonham name. Under the album’s 80s sheen, the drum sound is thin and has no real oomph behind it and (as with a lot of other rock albums from the period) the bass drum is non-existent; in fact, for the majority of the album, the drums are such a non-event, they may as well have been programmed). The finger of blame there should be pointed at producer Roger Taylor (yes, the Queen guy); although the slightly synthetic approach was very in keeping with the times.
Those complaints aside, some songs hold up fairly well. The opening number, ‘Are We Playing With Fire?’ offers a hard rhythmic workout. Nick Bold’s spiky guitar chops are well suited to Ousey’s vocal style. ‘Livin’ on a Knife Edge’ again finds Ousey in good form and aside from a pompy bridge section leading into the guitar solo, it’d be the track most comparable to his later musical direction. The punchy ‘Take a Chance’ offers a strong chorus and some great vocal harmonies as well as a great guitar solo from Nick Bold. Okay, some of the more heavy-handed keyboard sounds let the side down a little, but that’s a minor point. ‘Only Love’ utilises classic stabbing keyboards during the intro and chorus, balanced by quiet verses featuring subtle, ringing guitar work. Even by 1986 this approach was unoriginal in the world of melodic rock, but there’s a reason it’s considered classic.
The album’s strongest offering ‘Goodbye Don’t Mean Forever’ features Ousey’s greatest vocal performance; musically it hints at other melodic rock of the times. Elsewhere, the rock balladry of ‘It’s In Your Eyes’ provides a decent listen. Again, it’s melodic rock by numbers and I’ll even forgive the saxophone creeping in at the end. With 80s melodic rock, it’s the mid-paced tracks which hold up best and this is no exception. During the feel-good ‘Waiting For Your Love’, Ousey has moments where he sounds like Eric Martin (not as good though, obviously); it would also be up there with the album’s best moments, since it’s musical arrangement is strong, but some overblown female backing vocals let the side down.
The band followed this with a second album ‘Push’ in 1987, which offered more of the same (although with a slightly warmer feel, thanks to a better production). To be honest, even though both the Virginia Wolf albums have enjoyable moments, they’re not the greatest examples of British AOR. They sound a little weak when held up against the albums Magnum released during a similar period and they’re certainly nowhere near as great as Dare’s ‘Out of The Silence’ (rightly regarded as one of the best British examples of the genre).
After the band’s demise, Jason Bonham moved towards a harder musical direction with his own eponymously named band. As well documented, Chris Ousey became the vocalist with Heartland, whose musical journey continued on a similar path as Virginia Wolf.As a footnote, some CD reissues of the Virginia Wolf albums proudly state “featuring Jason Bonham” on the sleeves. It seems for some people, Jason is the band’s main attraction: frankly, if that’s your only reason for investigating them, you’re likely to be disappointed. For Chris Ousey and Heartland fans, though, the Virginia Wolf albums are well worth checking out, even though they’re both hit ‘n’ miss.