Not to be mistaken with the excellent Italian band Houston!, the Swedish band of the same name earned plenty of acclaim and deserved praise with their self-titled debut album. Consisting of melodically enflamed passion drenched songs the release soon found its place at the top spot on the Classic Rock Magazine’s top AOR albums of 2010, whilst Houston went on to garner further recognition through live performances including a successful tour of the UK the following year. Now they return with their imaginatively named second album II, building on that strong plateau with more potent melodic rock which will feed the needs of all AOR, Foreigner, Journey, and Survivor fans.
With producer/keyboard player Ricky Delin becoming a full band member for the new album alongside vocalist Hank Erix and drummer Freddie Allen, the album again sees the band bringing in some of the best Swedish melodic rock musicians including Tommy Denander for the majority of the guitar work and long-time band associate Soufian Ma’Aoui on bass. Also featured across the ten tracks are the likes of Calle Hammer and Jay Cutter, whist offering backing vocal talent there is Victor Lundberg, Geir Ronning, Jessa Slatter, Kristoffer Lagerstrom, and Catharina Lindqvist. Released via Livewire/Cargo Records, the album is a flourish of melodic might and striking songwriting from start to finish and as mentioned if their genre is your chosen pleasure, the release is like aural manna at best and poetic expression in its least dramatic breaths.
As the opener Glory shows, there is also plenty to entice for those of us with a heart stoked by more aggressive and intensive delights. The track immediately engulfs the ear with the outstanding keys and craft of Delin, their embrace a soaring pull of the senses into the heart and sky of the song where they find the fine vocals of Erix courted by accomplished guitar flames and an inviting bass stroll. Whether the song offers anything new or unexpected, which can be applied to the album as a whole, can be debated between AOR enthusiasts and the more casual visitor, but undoubtedly the skill of the band and poise of the song leaves the senses more than eager to indulge the album in greater depths.
The strong start is followed by I’m Coming Home, the recently released to strong responses first single from the album. Vocal harmonies and the ever persuasive keys shape a vibrant and emotive narrative to enjoy with real appetite though there is a strong familiarity to something elsewhere, though at this point in time it escapes definition. It makes a good appetiser for both Return My Heart and Talk To Me, the first a keen but restrained melodic blaze with anthemic lures whilst the second merges power ballad grandeur with a smouldering temptation with female backing vocals adding an extra kiss of warmth to the emotive embrace.
The likes of the expansive yet precisely honed 24 Hours and the radiant Losing with a great bass tone from Ma’Aoui marking its territory, leave the ear basking in pleasing heat and melodic prowess but all are blown away by Just Friends, the best track on the album. Led by the delicious tones of Minnah Karlsson, a Stevie Nicks lilt raising their potency, the song is a thrilling wind of dual vocals and harmonies, Karlssson and Erix complimenting perfectly to lift the passion and heights of the song to lofty levels whilst musically the track wraps their seduction with equally magnetic textures and charm.
With the easily accessible and infectious Believe closing off the album, II is a release which will leave AOR fans basking in its open triumphs and the rest of us admiring its craft and alluring presence though maybe more from afar than close up. Definitely for and recommended to every fan of Michael Bolton to Foreigner, Styx to Journey.
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