|Soul SirkUS World Play||Soul SirkUS Records/Warner Music|
Soul Sirkus is the first new hard rock supergroup along in some time. The band features legendary axeman Neal Schon, acclaimed vocalist Jeff Scott Soto and the meanest rhythm section in rock n roll Deen Castronovo on drums and Marco Mendoza on bass.|
World Play is an album that lives up to the high expectations a lot of people have been hoping for. It's a monster of an album, but not for the most obvious reasons.
This album showcases what rock n roll is all about. It is an untamed record and showcases four first class musicians playing how they were born to perform.
World Play is very loose and raw it's a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of record. It is recorded how it sounded as they guys belted the music out no high-tech polish, no endless overdubs, no piece-meal note by note over-thinking.
This isn't a perfect record, nor is it the best sounding release you will ever hear. But it is about as honest and as energetic as it gets.
Soul SirkUS is part Hardline, part Talisman, part JSS solo and part Journey. As one would expect, it's a true mix of the line-up's past experiences, blending together to bring something new to long time fans.
Rather than the hard edge stadium rock of Hardline, Soul Sirkus has a far bigger groove and is less constrained by structured songs and formulas.
The bulk of the album was recorded in just 4 days. Yes, you read correctly. It took several weeks to mix the album after that, but the music was recorded in very quick time and that's why you can feel the energy of the record feeding through the songs.
Neal Schon really gets to let fly, and plays with the energy and conviction of a man recording his debut album. Vocalist Jeff Scott Soto gets to showcase the full range of his vast talents from his booming hard rock vocals, to some high pitch screams, back to soft soulful balladry, with his trademark funk and groove fitting perfectly with the flawless rhythm of Mendoza and Castronovo.
The production might not be as crisp and clean as Journey, or as precise as the Hardline record, but the performances are electric.
There are some monster harmony vocals throughout, with Jeff utilizing his trademark layered harmonies in line with supplemental vocals from the rest of the guys.
I find myself liking different tracks from week to week, which proves two things the album is quite varied and it proves true depth, providing new experiences for listeners beyond the initial period of getting to know an album.
Track By Track:
Highest Ground is one of a couple of obvious Hardline-esque tracks and opens the album with an extended intro that bursts to life with a big Schon supplied riff. The mid-tempo hard rocker has a vibe similar to Hardline's Life's A Bitch, but a far groovier soul.
New Position bursts to life with a snap and doubles the pace of the opening track. This is a freely rocking track that features a real swagger and a dirty guitar riff from Schon. The highlight of the track is the chemistry between Soto and Schon, who's vocal and guitar lines dart in and around each other throughout, all while the rhythm section carries the groove. This track features some truly wild guitar work especially at the end of the track.
Another World returns the album back to a mid-tempo groove, but with a heavier and darker vibe than Highest Ground. Jeff's vocals offer something new for fans of his a growling, moody rasp that matches the smoldering guitar riffs. The track features another nice solo and some solid harmony vocals in the subtle chorus. This track isn't as instant as others on the album. I think it works well in the context of the album, but wouldn't rate it as highly when judged as a stand alone track.
The first taste of the softer side of the band comes with the 6 minute plus Soul Goes On. The title says it all this is a revelation for fans of both Schon and Soto as it features two killer performances. Jeff's vocals are some of the smoothest and most soulful of his career and Neal's slow, meticulous soloing is a joy to listen to. There's a definite Journey sound in his guitar work, especially in the song's longest solo, mid-way through the track.
Right about now I'm thinking a tempo lifter would be good and Peephole delivers. This song is one of two written by Schon and Sammy Hagar for the defunct Planet US project. It's the only one of those tracks featured here and suits the album and vocalist Soto to the ground.
This is a tough, aggressive, hard hitting rocker with a supremely dark message about child abuse, delivered in a high-impact way. The track sounds like a Hagar track and Jeff delivers a very Hagar-esque vocal. Another outstanding vocal, this is Jeff at his best, moving from a brooding rasp to a high-pitched scream.
Periled Divide follows the intensity of Peephole perfectly. It builds slowly from a soft guitar riff to an accompanying vocal, which gets a little more urgent each minute of the song. The song is only mid-tempo, but it has this feel about it as if it's about to break out into something bigger. It doesn't, but the extended guitar solo and some layered vocal harmonies continue to build the song and work the feel of the track in its own favor. Schon's hard edge riffing is a highlight.
The swagger of Praise sees the guys provide another well placed tempo lift. This is a swinging song that features some very loose and very groovy guitar riffing, not to mention a Talisman inspired lead vocal from Jeff. This is an easy going, breezy rocker with a good fun message. Well placed and much needed in the terms of where it is positioned within the album. A little screaming and some kick ass guitar playing towards the end just add extra value.
My Sanctuary is another killer track that is a personal favourite. Keeping the tempo up and sending the album into overdrive, this song rocks from the outset in double time and features a thumping bass line, over powered by a hammering guitar riff come chorus time. As this is another big Hardline styled rocker, I feel it will be a fan favourite.
The mid-song pause and break to a guitar solo only serve to increase the already high energy levels.
The mid-tempo'd and moody Friends 2 Lovers is an interesting track and a somewhat original one. I don't think I have heard anything like it from Schon or Soto previously, although it's nothing too far removed from either's usual style. It just has a certain twist to it. Maybe it's the appearance of a keyboard during the chorus, which climbs from the verse without any fanfare. Only the added vocal layers give any hint of its arrival. A very simple guitar riff gives way to a classy solo towards the end of the song.
I can't wait to hear what Journey fans think of Coming Home. This feel good mid-tempo ballad is the only track on the album which has a really obvious Journey flair, and for me this is one of the best tracks Journey never released! From the opening bar, it's Neal Schon in full on Journey mode, with that tell-tale soft guitar playing a perfect match for the super soulful lead vocal. This is perhaps one of Jeff's finest ever vocals and if I didn't know better, I would swear the soul of Steve Perry had possessed Jeff. Even down to the seemingly adlibbed vocal expressions and soulful delivery of the chorus. Amazing!
Close The Door is a mid-to-uptempo rock track to close out the album. I think it's perfectly placed here, as it's probably my least favourite song on the album. But saying that, I'm quite partial to it this week, which is further proof the album has changing moods and will keep listeners entertained after the initial euphoria has evaporated.
The song has a great little boogie inspired guitar riff and features another great vocal, but perhaps could have been a little faster or heavier still.
Where the album will rank with individual fans will be down to what they expect from the record and what they take away from it. On face value, World Play is one of the grooviest hard rock records in a long time and stands alone as far as style and content.
I have fears the album will not receive the promotion and attention it deserves and could struggle to reach the fan base I know would be interested in it. The production could definitely have been better the rhythm section could have had more impact, but any tweaking could have resulted in the album losing some of its raw energy.
Absolutely essential for any fans of Schon and Soto and anyone who adores the Hardline album. Bring on album #2.
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