Friday, September 2, 2016
A Palace For The Master Of The Universe
By Rick Shithouse
As I've well documented over the last few months I've become enlightened, entertained and entranced by a new awareness of many current bands making 80s AOR music. This is being done in such a completely authentically 80s way that it blew my mind. I finally found the the guitars and vocals to go with the synths I've been loving from the 80s inspired synth scene. Which leads us to this point; the first (hopefully of many) reviews we'll be covering on Synthetix.FM of this wonderful new generation of 80s inspired adult oriented rock.
And what an album we'll be covering first. The debut album from Palace is a virtuoso performance of 80s homage from start to finish and serves as a spectacular initiation into what all these styles are capable of. Master Of The Universe is eleven tracks of beautifully written and performed melodic rock that would fit beautifully into any classic 80s genre movie.
The lead single and title track was something I already featured on a recent Synthetix Sundays and this song on it's own made me fall in love with Palace's sound. In a true move of brash confidence the album opens with this song and sets you up for a ride that rises to a fever pitch and stays there for the entire record. 'Master of the Universe' begins with a synth loop pulled straight from an early 80s Nick Rhodes library and then rocks into huge chords and catchy riffs. The vocal performance of Michael Palace is absolutely one of the strongest aspects of this entire release and this man's voice and phrasing homages all of the best strong male vocalists of the 80s. This golden voice speaks some of the most incredibly awesome 80s cliche lyrics you're likely to hear outside of 1989 and it is an experience to behold.
Switching gears slightly the second track 'Cool Runnin'' pours even more drama into the synth and guitar maelstrom. Power, passion and fuelled by an elegantly restrained vocal performance 'Cool Runnin'' is an action/cop show/movie montage extravaganza of epic proportions. The huge chorus and story laden lyrics paint a picture that's defined by its clarity and detail. There's a genuine soul you can feel in Palace's music that resonates through each layer and especially during the solos. It's an honesty and reverence for the classic 80s sounds that comes across innately.
Following 'Cool Runnin'' is 'Man Behind The Gun'. The rock spreads deeper in this piece as the Def Leppard-esque opening salvo moves into more contemplative movements packed with dramatic vocals and uplifting melodies. The riffs are still up front but the rawness is dialed back in a similar way to how Asia worked their AOR magic in the early 80s. It's great fit for Palace's vocal style and adds another dimension to their sound.
In a similar manner, the next piece changes tack once again this time opts for the classic 80s rock ballad as their modus operandi. And what an epic it is, 'Part Of Me' is part gentle seduction and part a rousingly uplifting celebration of love. This is the 80s love theme you wish your life had running in the background. The imploring vocal performance is a huge highlight but one can never deny the awesome emotive power the synths, guitars and drums illustrate the scene with.
'No Exit' begins with a more progressive rock flavoured opening before moving into more lovelorn passages of undying love and the realisation of an eternal togetherness but not moving forward. The melancholy air of this track with its very tortured chorus add a bittersweet taste to the experience and, as always, the drama is magnified beautifully through all the band's performances.
The slower pieces on Master Of The Universe I've found to be deeply rewarding as the repeated listens bring out so many more dimensional qualities weaved into the sound. In 'Matter In Hand' we get a beautifully orchestrated anthem that shines with positivity and character while the vocals add a new kind of delivery to the story. Palace's singing becomes almost conversational and intimate yet then pulls back for an unrestrained and powerful chorus. It's inspiring and heartfelt and completely rockin to the max.
The musicianship in the band really does elevate this record beyond my expectancies. The attention to detail to every second and every instrument is like its been done by seasoned veterans and there's an element of control that exists on every sound to keep it as true the 80s as possible. A great example of this is the guitar solos. They're devoid of modern rock or metal trappings and instead make every note and chord count. This goes the same for the drums which adhere beautifully to traditionally 80s patterns with each fill and flourish being crafted with love and care. 'Path To Light' is a wonderful example of this, especially in regards to the drum performance. The soundscape just comes together with superbly refined detail without breaking decades.
'Rules Of The Game' brings back the melancholy love song but this time goes much darker and the broken hearted voice gives a soulful performance in front of the musical drama. The song is thoroughly fraught and wrought with openly wounded emotions and comes straight from the heart. It's an engaging and also pained song that will have you remembering the last person who broke your heart all too vividly.
The breaking up continues into the next piece 'She Said It's Over'. This track in particular I've really fallen love with over my many listens of this album. The beauty of the opening passages lead into some of the most eloquent lyrics on the record and the melodic refrain is the perfect foil for the stunning chorus. The hook of which runs deep and its interplay with the verse refrain is a huge payoff. The mix is intoxicating and the story is a great take on the emotional roller coaster of a break up that fails to bring closure with the raw nerves of love unable to find solace.
Things begin looking up on the album's second last track 'Stranger's Eyes'. It seems like there's a little four-track story in Master Of The Universe of a particularly bad break up and this is the final chapter. I fell in love with the begining of this track with it's beautiful acoustic details and magnificent backing harmonies. This lyrics once again recall lost love, and the familiar deja vu others can bring us. Drowning in a stranger's eyes is a powerful lyric and you'll be reminiscing and feeling nostalgic along with Palace the whole way through.
The album finishes with a resurgent celebration of love, life and rock'n'roll after the previous chapters of hearbreak. The Palace sound is reborn with passion and fervour. The energy of this song is almost blinding in its completely overpower magic. The chorus alone is sure to inspire even the most jaded listener with its brazen postivity and unapologetically rockin presence. The back end of the track is full of gorgeous vocals that get more than a little dangerous and as the music fades out you'll be feeling just a little 'Young, Wild And Free'; guaran-damn-teed.
Palace's Master Of The Universe album is presented by Frontiers Music on their site here on CD, as well as through Amazon here and for digital download on iTunes here. You can also stream it on Spotify via the page on Frontiers Music site . This record is definitely one of my favourite musical experiences this year. As someone new to modern generation of 80s AOR sounds this has been a wonderfully rich initiation into this heavily rewarding music. If you're any kind of fan of 80s movie soundtrack singles, early 80s AOR, late 80s chart rock or any music that wears its 80s heart on its sleeve for all to see, unabashedly and shamelessly, then this is an album you need to experience. Here's to more good times and great rock'n'roll and this album comes very, very highly recommended from Synthetix.FM.