HOUSE OF LORDS - The Power & The Myth
SCORE - 68%
Like no other band I can think of, House Of Lords have endured more obstacles while putting this album together. There were problems securing the rights to the name again, Gregg Giuffria pulled out at the last minute and the recording time has been spread over nearly 3 years – or 8 if you include the very first demos recorded for a re-union.
With such a long wait, expectations were high, which is why the result will find opinions mixed and extremely varied. There’s a lot to like about the new House Of Lords album – their 4th overall and first since 1992’s Demons Down. However, those positive attributes aren’t necessarily the same ones the majority of fans are going to be looking for.
The name House Of Lords conjures immediate thoughts of power melodic hard rock with soaring choruses, bombastic and pompous arrangements and glorious lead and harmony vocals, all bathed in a rich layer of keyboards.
The Power & The Myth has little of any of this and therefore could disappoint those looking forward to a sequel to any of the band’s previous albums.
And James Christian’s vocals fail to add any spark to songs that really rely on him to lift them.
When you take a look at it, House Of Lords have never recorded the same album twice. House Of Lords, Sahara and Demons Down are all quite different from each other, yet the band always ensured the albums featured the common thread of the elements already mentioned above and most importantly – they always featured extremely memorable songs.
The massive debut album is one of the all-time great melodic rock masterpieces, filled with anthem after anthem. Sahara was tougher and heavier and more guitar dominated. Demons Down was the quintessential big budget, big production American melodic hard rock record.
It should be no surprise that The Power & The Myth is quite different again. Not only that, but its some 12 years later. One should expect a new and updated approach, but it’s also fair to say that one could reasonably expect some of the band’s most loved traits be included.
The Power & The Myth is one of 2004’s most highly anticipated albums. The fan base knows what they want, but the band clearly has their own desires.
House Of Lords are one of my all-time favourite bands because no matter the style, the hooks and anthems have always been there. But this time around things are definitely a little different. More work than ever is required to get into this album.
This is a modern melodic rock record, with a distinct retro vibe and strong hints of Zeppelinesque flair. The instrumentation from Chuck Wright, Lanny Cordola and Ken Mary is more intricate, technical and features a slight progressive flair. Not your typical 80’s rock arrangements, that’s for sure – which is a positive thing. There is no greater joy than listening to musicians who know their craft, really stretching their chops and clearly enjoying it, as Chuck, Lanny and Ken are doing here.
But the down side is that a few elements from the past are missing. Gone are the big anthems. Gone are the multi-layered hands in the air choruses and gone are the layers of harmony vocals.
I admire the band’s desire to move on from everything that the past held, but I don’t think the fans will be so open minded.
Most alarmingly, the vibe of the whole album is quite flat. Despite the challenging and complex arrangements, the songs remain quite laid back. And the main reason for this is the vocal performance from James Christian.
James is heralded as one of the greatest melodic rock singers ever, but his performance here is one of the worst I have heard from him. I am not sure why this is so, but there is a distinct lack of passion on this album. The lead vocals are very business like – more like a hired hand than a passionate member of the band. It just doesn’t come close to comparing with his efforts of the past.
I can’t help but think Christian recording his vocals in Florida and the absence of Gregg Giuffria has left the album without that “magic” ingredient that their past albums contained. The keyboards that are a part of the album are just not prominent enough.
The songs from The Power & The Myth are gathered from the 1995 re-union, right through to freshly written tracks from the last couple of years.
Although taken from various sessions, the songs are pieced together very well, and the album manages to flow quite smoothly from start to finish.
Track By Track:
Today opens the account for House Of Lords 2004. The track has a softly building into, which features a raspy and laid-back vocal, surrounded by some cool instrumentation and a slightly progressive touch. The chorus bursts through the dark mood of the track but is over before you know it. It’s quite subdued but gets better with repeat listening and is one of the better tracks on the album. The track’s retro vibe continues during the end instrumental passage, which features a synth-string arrangement.
The track leads directly into All Is Gone, which is a little tougher and again features some intelligent musical arranging. But the chorus is too flat and doesn’t bring a suitable break from the rest of the song. Am I The Only One has an interesting intro, with a Middle Eastern feel to it. The track itself keeps on course from its laid-back intro. It’s a slow to mid-tempo rock ballad with a lush arrangement, but no major hooks.
Living In Silence features a solid drum rhythm to open the song, followed by some fancy guitar work from Lanny Cordola. The whole rhythm of the track makes for interesting listening, but the chorus isn’t memorable at all. James does sound like he has come to life a little, with some added vocal trciks, but fades again quickly. This track reminds me a little of an updated Sahara sound. It’s certainly more aggressive than the first few tracks.
There must be something a little amiss when one of the most powerful tracks of an album such as this, is an instrumental track. But The Power And The Myth is just such a track, with a sense of urgency lacking elsewhere. It’s a musically brilliant little passage that wouldn’t be out of place on a Rush album and leads perfectly into the next track.
The Rapture is another Middle Eastern flavoured track – one which has its origins in 1995. This is another track that would fit the Sahara album and sees James Christian in much stronger voice. Still, the style of the track is somewhat different from the band and despite some great arrangements and a perfect production, might not translate to classic House Of Lords fans. But I like it a lot – I like the transition from the instrumental to the track and I love the complex musical base.
Man Who I Am is probably the album’s most accessible track. This is a sweet mid-tempo pop/rock ballad that features a good melody and a memorable chorus, as well as a fairly lush arrangement with Ken Mary sounding particularly good. The strings and add orchestration and depth seldom seen in melodic rock, making this track an album highlight.
Bitter Sweet Euphoria is a track fairly well removed from anything the guys have done before. The guitar work from Cordola is fabulous, as is the thumping bass from Chuck Wright. It continues to prove that the album’s second half is stronger than the first but could have used a bigger chorus and a more powerful vocal. Mind Trip is another song featuring strong instrumentation and some excellent production effects, but due to it psychedelic rock feel might again see some traditional HOL fans again feel a little alienated. But the second half of the song sees some of the band’s most intricate jamming to date. Lanny, Chuck and Ken take on a truly progressive sound and let fly. It’s pretty clear the guys are enjoying this chance to flex their musical muscle.
The track moves directly into the album’s closing track – Child of Rage. This serious song about child abuse is another album highlight.
I’m told this is a JC vocal from several years ago, when the track was originally demoed. And I have to say that his voice doesn’t sound any better on the album than right here. This is the JC of old and a burst of true the passion that the rest of the album could use more of. The track itself is a mid-tempo ballad with an earthy, retro vibe and a memorable chorus.
The Bottom Line
The album has it problems, but it also has a number of very strong points that should be rewarded. The production is first rate – tight, balanced and well mixed.
The performances by Chuck Wright, Lanny Cordola and Ken Mary should also be praised. The guys have all expanded their repertoires over the years and a higher standard of technical proficiency is evident here. In short – their performances rock!
But the songs in general just aren’t as strong, nor as catchy as they could and should have been. The album takes a lot of listening to and does continue to get better as you get to know it, but it still doesn’t come close the three classics before it.
The flat performance from Christian and the fact that the whole sound and style is so far removed from what the band was much loved for means that the majority of fans are going to come away from this disappointed.