(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

CD review - Guano Apes, Bel Air (2011)

Hard rockers reunite to revive retro '80s sound

Guano Apes broke up 5 years ago and drifted in several directions. They've coalesced again and released Bel Air, not to pick up where they left off but to show us where they are today. While the German band's roots favored Euro metal, Bel Air fuses a hard rock drive with an '80s, post punk theatricality and modern pop aspirations.

This musical direction reflects lead singer Sandra Nasić's solo album The Signal (2007) the most, but it's also a natural outgrowth of Rain, from their first album, Proud Like a God.

Nasić's voice is the centerpiece. In contrast to Guano Ape's metal era, her vocals on Bel Air are unequivocally feminine, recalling Pat Benetar's husky strength. The opener, Sunday Lover, lays down a synth backed rock beat somewhere between Benetar and Missing Persons. The dynamics are well executed, with softer moments to emphasize the insistent drive.

This approach continues on Oh What a Night. Here, Nasić's voice combines with the modern rock drive to recall Heart's harder songs. The synth is lower in the mix, letting the guitars and solid drumming own the instrumental side.

The thrashier tracks on Bel Air hit my sweet spot. The edgy tension on She's a Killer's verses is sharpened by crunchy guitar throb and devil-may-care vocals. Tiger tosses away subtlety to pound out a punky, garage rock simplicity. All I Wanna Do starts with a pop sounding call to action before kicking off a Barracuda style punch.

Those songs aren't outliers on the album, but the overall sound favors a lush vocaled, post-rock sound integrated in with the hard rock. Guano Apes offer no irony, investing every note with theatrical intensity. Long-time fans might miss the solid metal drive from the past, but Bel Air is anything but soft. Vodka shooters all around.

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