1. Virtual Brutality
2. Playing God
3. He Who Never Lived
4. Face of My Enemy
5. Not What You Think
6. Natural High
7. Who's Gonna Change
9. One Way to Rock
10. Enter Forevermore
|Recent Pretty Maids:
Carpe Diem (2000)
Anything Worth Doing is Worth Overdoing (1999)
Pretty Maids (1983)
Red, Hot and Heavy (1985)
Future World (1987)
Jump the Gun (1988)
|Pretty Maids are well known for re-inventing
themselves for every album. This can be unsettling for those hoping for a spot-on followup
sequel to their personal favorite 'Maids release, but it does help to retain that
freshness for every outing, a bonus for keeping their music out of stagnant waters. They
have shapeshifted throughout many forms over the years, starting with raw and untamed
straight up heavy metal, tempering it to a power/glam cross (what's up with that?) for
"Red, Hot and Heavy", then to many's favorite, the 80s Sci Fi vibes of
"Future World" with its pompous pop sensibilities and plethora of synthesizer
effects for a psychedelic flight through galaxies unknown. But that lasted one album and
was bent to catch up with the times for "Jump the Gun", a close relative match
to early Europe ("Wings of Tomorrow"). Then they went straight up hard rock 80s
cheese style with "Sin-Decade" which poked at many of the issues that ran
rampant in the 80s all under the disguise of sweet bouncy hard rock. Not satisifed, they
tampered with that to make it more laidback for "Scream", but still itched with
wanting to break out of the AOR mold and tighten up for the fluctuations in music by
laying on the alternative impressions (but not to the extent of alienating anyone, just
roughed up the edges). "Spooked" went in the opposite direction, ushering back
in their melodic rock side with open arms and embracing it with fondness. They slid back
into darkness for the bleaker "Anything Worth Doing is Worth Overdoing", where
maybe they did overdo the heaviness a bit. A few ballads lightened up the sonic assault
making a few tracks more platable for the mainstream. But they didn't learn their lesson,
speeded straight ahead with even heavier metal through "Carpe Diem" and now
suddenly we've breezed through a cool 20 years, give or take a few and have arrived in
2002 for "Planet Panic".
"PP" is not what was expected (of course you expect the UNexpected with this bunch!), and comes as a bit of a let down more often than not. The songs are too rough, raw and untamed, but that wouldn't be a problem if the rhythms and melodies were spot on. However, there's very little here flowing for us to catch upon, so the songs steam full forward ahead into the sunset without looking back to see if we're still hanging on for the ride. Most of us will probably end up on the sidelines wondering exactly where they think they are going with this and if its really a smart move for them. For the 'Maids have always been about hooks. Even on the material from the early days, the tracks were smokin' with firebred guitar and aggressive vocals but the clever melodies laying underneath brought the listener in and held them captive, causing the songs to be branded into the memory. They played this up for everything after, creating hefty songs with sizzling melodies bubbling underneath. "Carpe Diem" saw them slowly slipping from this very basis of their music, trying for heaviness by sacrificing the parts that held it all together. "Planet Panic" takes it one step further, thus loses alot in the end.
But there's still something to love, if you search far and wide enough for it. Ronnie Atkins is a powerhouse vocalist and remains to be one of those that flies under the radar. Rarely does this guy get the recognition that he deserves. Its a grave injustice, for he is quite flexible with two or three different distinctive sounds that bring variety to their albums. He changes force and alters textures to accomodate for the mood of each particular track, switching his colour like a chameleon on demand. There's the rough and gritty Atkins, who comes across aggressive and arrogant, in total control of the surroundings, awashing the songs in pain, determination and fury. And the soft, balladesque side, the grit knob turned way down, easing out the roughness to a feel that is light, smooth and reflective, breaking now and then into edgier territory to twist at the emotions. Last, but not least, is the delivery that's inbetween, made perfect for those mid tempo hard rock songs that "Scream" for this sort of thing, and would be "Spooked" by either of the extremes. Unfortunately, "PP" allows little opportunity to flex the range Atkins is capable of, fixing him solid into the abrasive 'metal mode' with few sentimental side journeys. The guitars are spot on as usual, Pretty Maids has never stepped out in a studio disc without some eardrum splitting axe antics that beg for attention or settle into the songs like a shadow: stark, sometimes stretched to the unusual, but always there. Here it has more bite than a chemical cleaner, with perhaps too much over processing. Ken Hammer's licks assault the listener from the get go and continues the beating until we feel black and blue before the disc's conclusion. It comes out of nowhere and pours down, eating away the melody like acid rain. His brilliant moments, are truly just that however, and like a hero arriving on the dusk of the darkest hour, is oftentimes a song's sole saving grace.
There are a few distasteful surprises, mainly pushed towards the front of the album (the end leaves alot of high quality material just waiting to be discovered) mainly "Playing God" and "He Who Never Lived", the latter which has the Black Sabbath doomsday heaviness lurking within. Why they have decided to ditch the AOR inspired tactics that have fueled their musical careers for the majority of the last 20 years in favor of this 'newfound' harshness remains a mystery. Is it a cliff leaping effort to stay relevant in changing times? But if you feel you must sell your soul to remain 'relevant' in the eyes of the disbelievers, who will most likely be critical anyway for both the band's age and chosen form of musical expression, then what is the point? They are just irking off the fanbase in the process. But for those with patience, there are several worthwhile tracks to be found that save the disc from an early death.
Instantly lobbing your head off with freakishly huge riffs and distorted vocals is this chilling tribute to the tragedy of that date now branded into the world's memory: 9/11. Yet its not exactly what one would imagine, with its strange, cyber-like twist. The shocking horror of it all is splashed clearly in all its stark anger filled glory. Its the state of the world as we know it, presented with awesome clarity. Musically: it rocks. There's alot of distortion and other bits that could have become a messy nastiness, but the strength of the melodies within burst forth, holding it all together, through the unbelieving anger to the soft interlude that intrudes upon the center, bringing a touching softness of reflection. This is the 'Maids we all know and love, just bent a little as always.
02.] "Playing God"
Too much knob playing for the opening, but once they settle into full throttle mode without all the unnecessary effects hindering it from reaching us in any sort of pure metal form it turns from disaster into a cheerfully chugging track with lyrics that are all but cheery. The shred section is splendid, brittle and bitter, seething with emotion which fits the theme.
03.] "He Who Never Lived"
Continuing the aural assault (oh my poor ears!) comes another sizzlin' tune that pounds with power and threatens to finally shout "finish them!" and leave us breathless and headless. But this light and fluffy melody zooms in for the rescue, lifting the song, infiltrating the barriers and spreading like a delightful disease that will hopefully consume us all. The haunting strumming of acoustic work hushes the song for several precious moments. Then it slams back into the harshness, pounding out the Black Sabbath inspired riffs, with thick vocals and corroding electric guitar. Well composed and put together, but not near their best.
04.] "Face of My Enemy"
More warped vocals and pummeling guitars in an American power hybrid a'la Blaze Bayley's solo material. Nice musicianship and breaks that ease up on the attack do not a song make. Despite some seriously cool sections, and a riff that's catchy as hell...well... its actually a winner. Ken Hammer must have sold his soul to the devil to whip out some of these guitar solos that can actually save a song from being almost 'flush worthy'.
05.] "Not What You Think"
Lumbering on along... its thick, heavy and abrasive with a massive shock of monster riffing and vocals that come ripped out of the throat. Too plodding, jeopardizing any hints of melody from leaking through the wide open cracks that are so raw they seem to ache and bleed. The futuristic synth sounds are a plus, but not enough to rescue it from mediocrity.
06.] "Natural High"
Winding down into more of a melodic - comfort level is this ballad-esque track with its punchy, heavy bottomed chorus that is all about what makes the world go 'round: love. The guitars are painfully sweet, electric nipping like a lovebug and the acoustic its stark contrast, riding in the background more for texture than to bask in the spotlight. Atkins' voice is strong and smoothed over on the top. Not quite as good as the laidback "Clay" from the previous album, "Carpe Diem", but a strong semi-ballad nontheless. Its not cheesy in that 80s way, and not quite classic status, still it slows the album down for a breather and is worth checking out.
07.] "Who's Gonna Change"
Wild drumming by Michael Fast and thrumming guitars chugging along into the endless road into forever. Another 'state of the world' track that tries to prove that love has been eaten by hate, its all going down the shitter, but one eye is kept open with hope playing on the mind...all in a hard'n'heavy 'almost' power metal setting that is reminiscent of "Psycho Time Bomb Planet Earth". The lightning quick guitars dart in and out, wrapped up in their rhythmic dance, rough and heavy, oblivious to the world. They single handedly carry the song throughout, the 'hook' that holds the song at the seams. Without it, it would have become undone and the threads blown to the wind. The song could have used a dose of melody there, though its not a 'bad' track at all, just isn't as memorable as it could have been.
More laidback here, with acoustic lapping at the edges for the opening and verses, creating a sparse wasteland of a soundscape to echo the hopelessness that lies waiting within. The chorus, however, is a different beast entirely, shocking us with its blood curdling emphasis on the soul shattering word: "worthless", the cue to whisk the listener from the relaxed, all-acoustic verses into a playground for electric axe slinging antics. Its a gimmick that has been used in many songs, but it always works, and definitely does here, making it one of the finer tunes from the disc. Not easy to digest, but the time spent getting to know the track pays off in the end. A fine piece of songwriting combined with high class musicianship.
09.] "One Way to Rock"
A cover song? OK. 'Maids usually does cover tracks pretty darn decently. Just to make that clear, we must bring up their all-time classic cover, "Please Don't Leave Me" from the equally delightful "Sin-Decade" album, a hard rock frolick among decadence. Anyway, "Please DLM" totally blew the original out of the water, and ended up being an instant classic for its pure emotion so rawly and openly expressed. "One Way To Rock" is not an emotional song by any means, its only a strutting 'lite' rock n'roller song from Sammy Hagar. It was a fun track then, and is given an extra heavy boost with Hammer's rough n' ready guitars nipping at the heels of the sandpaper edged vocals that belt out the lyrics with power and confidence. Nice but... still missing something.
10.] "Enter Forevermore"
Beautiful! Their ballads have always (hopefully for forevermore) been held in the highest esteem. Rich with emotion the size and depth of the bluest ocean, this one has an otherworldly quality and a unique hook that is so simple it could have come from the 50's. "Ah ah ah ahhhahhh...ah ah ah ahhhahhh" that opens the chorus up wide with its unrelenting catchiness. Backed by timekeeping drumwork and 'lost in a fairy world' keys, the rest of the song flies on melodic wings, a lovely frolick among the acoustics and simple electric chords. Not their best, but undeniably superb nontheless. It finishes the album up in grand style.
The first and foremost problem with "Planet Panic" is the music that's heavier than even their lyrics (which boast the fact they are definitely not on the 'lighter' side). Some of the songs come together well in the new format (such as "Virtual Brutality") but after several songs that stomp along at the same unforgiving pace, it wears on you after awhile and by the time "Not What You Think" comes around, it starts to flow together in one long tiresome string of monotony. Not to mention the fact that this is not the kind of music that we are itching to hear from the Danish band to begin with. "PP" may contain some political/state of the world commentary laying beneath the surface, just waiting to be unlocked, but it is doubtful that many past Maids fans will want to sit through the melody forgotten mess the outfit has concocted to truly appreciate the serious topics and lyrical depth. Its a virtual metal scrapheap of an album that shows some promise, but any hint of a flickering flame of hope for smooth AOR melodies is extinguished as swiftly as the first song appears, leaving only the smoking stink of the ashes behind. However, they do detour twice for two ballads that contain some of the sticky sweetness we crave from the band, although offered up in ways differently than imagined. The two come together to lend the last half of the album a more memorable quality, coupled with the solid depth of the bitter "Worthless". So all is not lost... Atkins is still a wonderfully versatile singer, Hammer a fantastic guitarist hidden in the guise of a darker sound, the rest of the band as equally talented as these two, but the songwriting...could definitely use a shot in the arm in places. Hopefully next time they will go more the "Scream"/"Spooked" route (the one-off '87 sound of "Future World" is simply too much to dream for) and lay off of this too heavy material with bonus hip hop scratchings that makes "PP" such a bitterly tasting disappointment at times. They might never have learned the saying: "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" but perhaps they will pick up on the equally valuable advice: "this sucks, change it."