It sure doesn’t seem like five years since the guys bestowed upon us the magnificent Born Again – still a regular visitor to my metaphorical turntable – but it absolutely is. Things have moved on for the band in more respects than the change of frontman which saw Robert Mason coming in for Jamie St. Jaime, following an ill-fated Jani Lane reunion, in those intervening years. Back in 2006, for instance, I had to order the new Warrant album online. This time, on the week of its release, I was able to walk into my local HMV and find a gleaming copy awaiting me on the racks. And while Born Again was damned with very faint praise in its Classic Rock review, the current opus was hailed in glowing terms in the same hallowed pages, with one of its tracks attaining the honour of ‘Track of the Day’ on the magazine’s website. As someone who has been proselytising for this criminally underrated outfit for years, it’s very gratifying indeed to see them finally getting some respect – and hopefully some well-deserved, renewed success.
So, what of the new album? The first thing to note is that it starts with two absolute belters, ‘Sex Ain’t Love’, representing the harder edges of the new line-up’s sound, and ‘Innocence Gone’, which reaffirms the outstanding ear for a killer hook that has characterised the band throughout their career. The former is an irresistible slab of vintage sleaze rock, performed with a piledriving intensity from all protagonists that leaves you in no doubt that Warrant 2011 seriously means business. And the latter, utterly infectious anthem, is infused with the kind of unbridled joie-de-vivre that, courtesy of classics like ‘Downboys’ and ‘Sure Feels Good to Me’, won the band a place in the affections of so many in the first place. On stage, these songs are sure to devastate! Equally at home amidst the classics of Warrant’s heyday are two addictive rockers nestled snugly in the middle of the track list, ‘What Love Can Do’ and ‘Life’s a Song’. As these songs attest, the gritty bluesy stylings of Born Again – which complimented so well St. Jaime’s more grizzled delivery – have largely been eschewed on this album for a more polished melodic rock sheen (though not abandoned completely; the brooding ‘Dusty’s Revenge’ taps the swampy spirit of ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ to admirable effect). Mason sounds terrific on these songs, while also having at his disposal a sleazy glam sneer that allows him to deliver the harder cuts convincingly. And, as far as the harder material is concerned, ‘Cocaine Freight Train’, ‘Show Must Go On’ and closer ‘The Last Straw’ – along with the aforementioned ‘Sex Ain’t Love’ – deserve special mention, being fired by a youthful energy that is authentically in the spirit of the eighties, bringing to mind the early offerings of Ratt and Crue as well as the D.R.F.S.R/Cherry Pie classics. It’s truly a delight to hear the Turner/Allen guitar axis – propelled as manfully as ever by the classic rhythm section of Steven Sweet and Jerry Dixon – firing on all cylinders, recalling a hard rocking tradition of lead and rhythm guitars played properly that the Stones-inspired Aerosmith and Guns ‘n’ Roses, in their halcyon early years, understood so well. Lastly, we couldn’t possibly envisage an album from the ultimate power ballad kings without, well, ballads . . . and so, we have the uncharacteristically melancholic, even angsty, ‘Tears in the City’, and the gentle, blissed out ‘Home’. Both songs are adorned with too many modern stylings (and lack the requisite bombast) to truly wear the label ‘power ballad’ – but both maintain the impeccably high standards of songwriting that shines throughout the album, and that has always set the band apart from so many of their peers.
And so, the verdict? Under normal circumstances, I’d do my absolute utmost to steer clear of a ghastly phrase like “The ultimate feel-good soundtrack to the summer”. But if the cap fits . . .