F U L L . R E V I E W S
Axel Rudi Pell
Genre: Hard Rock
Reviewer: Vinaya Saksena
Sonic and emotional blandness
I want to like Axel Rudi Pell's work-really, I do. As a major fan of guitar players such as Yngwie Malmsteen and Jonas Hansson, I would, it seem, be a natural fan for this post-Blackmore picker from Germany. So far, however, I have yet to be won over, and Diamonds Unlocked has done nothing to change that.
Maybe it was partly because of the fact that my first chance to review one of Pell's albums came with the compilation album The Ballads III (do I even need to explain what's wrong with an album of that seemingly unfeasible name?). Mind you, I have absolutely nothing against music of a mellow nature, and do not harbor distaste for any of Pell's work (or anyone else's for that matter) simply because it is sometimes mellow. The problem, as I see it, is one that seems to afflict both his heavier material and his mellower material: a kind of sonic and emotional blandness.
Case in point, Diamonds Unlocked is a competent, polished, well-executed but almost completely unremarkable album of cover tunes (plus decent but fairly repetitive instrumental original as intro). The song choices are mildly interesting, including such moderately surprising cuts such as U2's "Beautiful Day" and The Mission's "Like a Child Again."
What's remarkable, however, is that to my ears at least the most impressive cuts on here are the most purely pop-oriented ones, with Axel and his band, particularly vocalist Johnny Gioeli, sounding most at home on Chris Rea's "Stone" and Michael Bolton's upbeat pop-rocker "Fools Game." At the other end of the spectrum, Axel's version of the Montrose classic "Rock the Nation" finds him making a noble but failed attempt to spice up the song with a mellowed-out solo section, and Riot's early blueprint for power metal "Warrior" finds the band sounding, frankly, less intense than the original, but still more intense than they seem comfortable with. "Beautiful Day," unfortunately, shows the limitations of Gioeli's voice with painful clarity, as he struggles to come up with original phrasing and tone that compliments the song, while grossly overdoing it on the rasp. And don't even get me started on the closing version of "Won't Get Fooled Again," an utterly overrated tune further marred by inadequate performances all around.
Don't get me wrong--Pell is an accomplished guitarist, and I have heard others praise Gioeli's voice in the past and not without merit, I'd say. However, I have been consistently disappointed in what both men have chosen to do with their talents in recent years. Maybe my tastes are just different from theirs, but I constantly sense that the duo is playing it overly safe. One moderately interesting move, however, has been made here: an acoustic version of KISS' "Love Gun," complete with bongos! Can ya beat that? Nothing else here does.
About this Writer:
Vinaya Saksena // Vinaya is either a writer who dabbles in guitar playing, or a guitar player who dabbles in writing. A Maximum Metal staffer since 2004, he has also served as a reporter for several newspapers in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Although his obsession with music is such that it does not allow time for much else by way of hobbies, he also enjoys traveling, trivia, photography, British comedy and the occasional A-Team re-run.
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