Night Ranger – Somewhere In California (2011)

Posted: June 14, 2011 in Music

Night Ranger’s original members Jack Blades, Kelley Keagy, and Brad Gillis are relentless. After forming the band in 1982, the band found huge success in the mid-to-late 80s in a time where rock ruled the world. But instead of resting on their laurels and disappearing when the hard rock scene took a back seat to a more alternative sound around 1990, the band has continued to fight the good fight. Granted, they took a three-year break at the end of the era, but never had any intention of hanging it up.

In fact, outside of their hiatus, the band has been putting out records, touring constantly, and playing anywhere and everywhere that would have them. There’s plenty of groups out there that lay claim to the “hardest working band in show business,” but for my money it’s Night Ranger.

What has made their efforts even more remarkable is that after their time off, when the rock sound was a mere echo in the distance, the band persevered through an age that – frankly – didn’t much care anymore. Sure they had their fans, but even many of those had defected towards the more modern, fresh, and “in” bands that have ruled music since.

There have been some changing of members along the way, but Blades, Keagy and Gillis have remained true to the band and their intentions – to keep hard rock alive. There’s tons of history to the band, and a laundry list of albums, singles, and successes that I could go and on about, but I’ll leave that to the Wikipedia link below (if you need the lesson), ecause we have a hell a lot to talk about with the band’s latest release, Somewhere In California.

If you follow this blog, you are more than aware of the resurgence of bands that are back strong in 2011 after having their biggest success in the late 80s/early 90s. We’ve covered almost every one of them. But this post isn’t about them – it’s about the band from San Francisco that might have outdone them all with this album.

Somewhere in California kicks of with a great energy and vibe. “Growin’ Up In California” lets you know immediately that not only does Night Ranger still have a pulse, the veins are truly throbbing. As a homage to their origin, the band starts the fun with the trademark guitars, keyboards, and vocal harmonies that you would expect – but something is different. There is a aura to this that we haven’t seen from Blades and the gang since the infectious “(You Can Still) Rock In America.” Blades said recently that this album would be more of a “return to the original sound with a bit more modern production,” but their ability to recapture that feel and sound is nothing short of amazing. Apparently these boys are still alive and well. More, please…

If you want something heavy laid on you, “Lay It On Me” is the perfect blanket. Most people don’t know that Brad Gillis had a brief stint years ago taking on guitar duties for the immortal Ozzy Osbourne. Apparently Mr. Gillis brought a little something back with him, as the intro to this track is heavy with the stomp and style of the Prince of Darkness himself. Even Blades get into the act, giving his best impression through the first minute or so of the song. The track returns back to a more traditional “Night Ranger” sound, but it still remains as heavy as anything the band has produced over their tenure, and I loved it. The drums went above and beyond the expected, and the guitar work was absolutely wicked. Two for two.

Judging by the title, I fully expected “Bye Bye Baby” to be the album’s first ballad. I knew it was coming – it was just a matter of when. Much to my surprise, the song was, instead, the best rocking “break up” song we’ve seen in a very long time. While Hoekstra and Gillis are razor-sharp throughout, the stand out effort here belongs to Blades, digging deep for an energy and conviction that has been absent over the last few albums. Whatever he needed to recapture his prowess, he found it. Still batting a thousand…

The near-progressive intro to “Follow Your Heart” puts the “ballad” issue on hold yet again. While the title lends itself to something lighter, this track is a great ballsy rocker. The lyrics take center stage here, reminding the listener that Night Ranger has alway been – and always will be – a band with a wholesome vibe and a positive message. While other bands of their time made their fortunes lamenting about sex, drugs, and general bad-assery, Night Ranger has always been something different. Today’s version holds true to that formula, showing that you can rock just as hard without sexual innuendos, cursing up a storm or glorifying women. Four out of four, and duly impressed.

The ballad monster finally rears its ugly head on the albums fifth track, “Time Of Our Lives.” I’ve always hated the inevitable ballad, as most of them were formed for one reason and only one reason – to sell the record to chicks and non-rockers. Somehow, though, the band manages to pull this off without the expected levels of cheese and sell-out. Yes, there is the obligatory piano and stringed instruments, and, yes, there is the faded drums and guitars, but Blades makes this feel personal. The lyrics are simple (as is the structure) but it comes across authentic. If “Sister Christian” (one of the band’s biggest hits) was an A, this was at least a B+ or better. Probably better, as the guitar solo near the end tears apart this soft cloud with a sharp bolt of lightning.

As much as “Time…” reminds you of the gentler sound of Night Ranger, “No Time To Lose Ya” brings back the memories of the anthematic arena-rock sound the band hung it’s collective hat on through their heyday. With a healthy sing-a-long chorus and predictable-yet-perfect structure, this song is made for the concert hall. It’s not complicated, which only adds to the appeal. Hoekstra and Gillis actually dial-down their double-pronged attack here, intentionally keeping the track accessible. It’s a great single – destined for radio play – that keeps everything magnificent about this album obvious, but at “dull-roar” levels. If you buy this album based on this song alone, which many will, the rest will blow you away. Good strategy, great track.

“Live For Today” hints at a blues influence that is a bit of a stretch for these guys. The bass pedal hitting the skin on the 1/2 note is a new twist, as is the song’s complex structure and sound. Didn’t I just get done complimenting the simplicity they bring? It’s not completely out of bounds for the band, but definitely brings a different flavor to the palate. While the instrumentation is as diverse as I’ve heard from Night Ranger, the lyrics and message remain true to form. “There will be plenty more to do – just live for today” echoes throughout the exit, long after Blades is done reciting it. Even when they try to get complex, they still bring out the most simple, honest feelings. That’s not easy to do.

This band may have been around for decades, and they know that the tank is closer to empty than full, but the message behind “It’s Not Over” has enough fuck-all attitude to make you think they’ll run on fumes until the engine dies. On the surface, it’s a song about keeping a relationship alive at all cost, but I think the message Blades is really sending is one of survivalism and continuity. Gillis shines bright here, and while the last few decades might have cost him his boyish good looks and a few strands of hair, it left his ability to shred completely unscathed. It felt like an album closer, but on an album this good, there has to be more right?

Gillis’ mastery is highlighted again on “End Of The Day,” but it finds the band abandoning the “feel good” atmosphere, for a much more serious feel. The message remains positive, but the sound lends itself to something more associated with early-day Dokken than anything else. It’s wandering a bit off the expected path for Blades and company, but that doesn’t mean it’s a misstep. Any band not named Yes that experiments with new styles and sounds after 30 years of doing the same thing should be applauded, and I give this one an ovation. Not because it was grand or THAT different, but because it proves that there is no “dial-it-in” or “play-it-safe” attitude. This will serve them well in the inevitable albums to come.

As riotous and loud as they’ve ever even hinted at, “Rock N’ Roll Tonite” sees the band putting their arena-rock boots back on to lead us through the rest of the album. The guitars chop and pick their way through this thing, almost creating a better toe-tapping rhythm than the bass and drums. The shout-outs come as obvious as the straightforward mention to The Jimi Hendrix Experience, to far more subtle hints towards the Stray Cats, Rush, Aerosmith, Kiss, to name a few. These guys know where they came from, and the fact that they choose now to pay their respects – three decades later – is a great representation of who these guys are.

My contention has always been that an album should be able to kick as much ass on the last track as it does the first. It’s the stuff that makes fans want more, and creates the anticipation for the next album in line. I’m calling “Say It With Love” the album closer, even though there is a bonus track that is the official last track. Up until now, Somewhere In California has rocked me on so many different levels, that it’s going to take repeated listens to put it digest it all. The album so far was near perfect, so I strapped in for the end, anticipating something palatable at worst, a re-do of the first track at best.

So much for that prediction. The best was saved for last here, as the track blew me away. It started with a tickling of the ivories that made me think we were getting sent off with yet another ballad, but the groove quickly changed and we were thrown smack-dab into the middle of another rocker. Everything is in perfect balance, and this one had a great message, as Blades and company are blatant in their intent. This one is a “thank you” to the fans, with the energy levels are so high you know they are being sincere. Blades’ line “try my best, to give you one last show” sounds like a final farewell, but don’t be fooled – Night Ranger will be back, and hopefully just as full of heart and power as they were this time around.

It’s not a comeback. It’s not a revival. It’s not a reunion tour. It’s just another chapter in the legacy that is Night Ranger – and if you haven’t been keeping up with the band lately, this is definitely the album to reconnect yourself. This album isn’t good, it’s triumphant. Every track is worth its weight in gold, and a testament to hard work and doing things right. The band will be supporting the album all year long on the road (with Journey), so get yourself out there and see them. At the very least, buy this album. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

9/10

Tracklist:
01. Growin’ Up in California
02. Lay It on Me
03. Bye Bye Baby (Not Tonight)
04. Follow Your Heart
05. Time of Our Lives
06. No Time to Lose Ya
07. Live for Today
08. It’s Not Over
09. End of the Day
10. Rock N’ Roll Tonite
11. Say It With Love
12. L.A. No Name (bonus track)

http://www.amazon.com/Somewhere-California-Night-Ranger/dp/B004VFYOMU/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1307980559&sr=8-2

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Comments
  1. Magnificent goods from you, man. I’ve understand your stuff previous to and you are just extremely magnificent. I actually like what you’ve acquired here, really like what you’re saying and the way in which you say it. You make it entertaining and you still take care of to keep it sensible. I can’t wait to read much more again from you. Thanks For Share.

  2. randyr says:

    Thanks for checking us out! Your kind words are appreciated.

  3. Mark Bedding says:

    Good well balanced review. Now on my third play today and loving the album more and more. I am a sucker for a good sign along ballad as much as a hard core rocker and this collection does not disappoint.

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