As part of CMN’s ongoing Music Journalism Course, participants were asked to find a physical copy of an album by an artist they had never heard of. The challenge was to listen and react to the recording without any prior knowledge.
Ok, this one’s going to be a bit different.
I’m reviewing an album I’ve never listened to, by a band I’ve never heard of. I chose Survivor’s Vital Signs, from 1984. I was really torn between this and Terror’s Total Retaliation. Both looked like a safe choice, the Survivor most likely 80’s rock based on the front, release year and band picture, while the Terror is probably some kind of punk, most likely hardcore, based on the cover.
I ultimately chose Vital Signs, as it was cheaper.
I could have chosen something much more random rather than make an educated guess, but whenever money’s being spent, there’s no worse feeling than getting something, only to find out that you hate it because you didn’t do your research. And I couldn’t do any research beforehand, hence the caution.
First up is “I Can’t Hold Back,” which starts off with an acoustic guitar riff, and interestingly enough, the chorus before the first verse. There’s a nice mixture of acoustic and electric guitar work and some mild synths in the background, it’s a pretty good song. Next is “High On You” which has some real Stan Bush vibes going on, specifically “The Touch.” Another big-hit-sounding song, I bet this one was really popular. More great instruments, also very catchy.
As “First Night” opens up, it sounds like it could be the album’s requisite ballad. However, around 40 seconds in, it turns into an 80’s rocker. This is the fastest song on the album.
The next song, “The Search is Over,” I predicted was the “Nobody’s Fool” of the album. It was a bit unexciting when compared to “First Night,” but still a decent song. “Broken Promises” reminds me of multiple songs at once: Asia’s “Who Will Stop the Rain” — especially during the chorus — the vibe of Judas Priest’s “I’m a Rocker,” and the instrumental backing of Judas Priest’s “Living After Midnight,” as both have the same drum pattern. It has a good guitar solo, and then an interesting transition point with piano.
Now, the album’s magnum opus: “Popular Girl.” The 80’s synth intro on this one reminds me of King Kobra’s “Iron Eagle (Never Say Die)” with the synth chords taking precedence over the other instruments for a moment. This has got to be another of the album’s hits, it’s amazingly catchy and good.
After that, “Everlasting” comes on. It’s another ballad, but this one is better than “The Search is Over”. I like that it has more guitar and synth presence. Up next is “It’s the Singer Not the Song,” which is similar to “High on You” and “Broken Promises,” another solid rocker. However, it has a really good guitar solo at 2:38, and a nice transition at 3:06, giving it some extra character. Plus, I really like the synth chords during the chorus.
Last is “I See You in Everyone,” which is another good rocker. The standout of this track is the short faux-saxophone synth solo at 2:45, breathing an interesting note into it that I don’t really hear too often in songs. Some other songs that do this, but with real saxophones, are the The Midnight’s “Days of Thunder” and M83’s “Midnight City.”
After looking up the album and band, I had a few surprises.
First, I had no idea they were the band behind the mega-hit, “Eye of the Tiger.” I always thought that was Guns & Roses, Led Zeppelin, or some other band.
Second, I learned that three songs off this album — “The Search is Over”, “High On You”, and “I Can’t Hold Back” — were all major hits and crested the top of the Billboard charts, which was a surprise in the case of “The Search is Over,” as I thought is was a decent, but not amazing, song.
I was really surprised that “Popular Girl” and“Broken Promises” weren’t among those, as both of those are very catchy.
If you obsess over singers and bands, and are one of those people who make a playlist for every occasion, join CMN’s Music Journalism Course and get real-time experience, intense feedback on your writing, exposure to music industry insiders, and a great place to display build your portfolio. Get all the details on the Music Journalism Course here.
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