John Waite – Mask of Smiles (1985)

JohnWaite_MaskSmiles4 out of 5 Stars!

After the enormous success of his No Brakes album the previous year—thanks mainly to the classic single “Missing You,” which turned him into an undeniable superstar—John Waite followed up in ’85 with Mask of Smiles, another above-average collection of tracks with an eye-catching cover, that (oddly) seemed to get ignored by the fans, presumably since it arrived and got lost in the gigantic shadow of “Missing You.”

Although mainly due to its meager length (just over thirty-three minutes—come on, John, only nine short tracks? I’m assuming this album may have been rushed to release, thanks to record company greed) this is not my most-played Waite album overall (that would come next with 1987’s exceptional Rover’s Return).

Regardless, to keep me satisfied, this album does contain enough catchy rockers and memorable mid-tempo tunes such as “You’re the One,” “Ain’t That Peculiar,” “Laydown,” “Just Like Lovers,” “Every Step of the Way,” and “No Brakes” (named after the previous album, so I’ve often wondered if the song was an outtake). Plus, also included on Mask of Smiles is what I believe to be the strongest ballad Waite ever recorded—”The Choice”—which is simply brilliant.

Anyway, I’ve rarely disliked anything Waite created, whether as part of The Babys, Bad English, or as a solo artist, and I’ll always consider him—thanks to his instantly recognizable voice and his extraordinary knack for delivering emotional melodies—one of the leaders in the AOR genre.

Get The Album Now!

Dr. Z – Three Parts to My Soul (1971)

DrZ_ThreeParts3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Loaded with tribal-like percussion, twiddling pianos, and (of all things) harpsichord, Three Parts to My Soul, the one and only album by Dr. Z, is certainly a bit bizarre and totally different in the world of Prog-Rock.

This trio of musicians (keyboardist, bassist, and drummer) from the U.K. is sort of a maniacal version of either Triumvirat or Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. This has much to do with the rather crazy-sounding lead vocals (like the more deranged side of Van Der Graaf Generator’s Peter Hammill), the hypnotically psychedelic and almost-creepy vibe, and the often-strange instrumentation and song construction on the lengthier tunes such as “Spiritus, Manes et Umbra,” “Too Well Satisfied,” and “In a Token of Despair.” Even the shorter, more commercial-oriented songs (if you can actually label them “commercial” in the general sense of the word) such as “Summer for the Rose,” “Evil Woman’s Mainly Child,” and the flute-enhanced “Burn in Anger” offer some strangeness, so Three Parts to My Soul is an album for Prog-Rock fans who yearn for something truly unique within the genre.

If you can imagine the Alice Cooper track “Black Juju” heavily dosed with the sinister atmosphere found on the debut album by the group Black Widow, and further picture the character of the macabre and grumbling manservant Lurch from The Addams Family playing along with these tracks on his harpsichord, then at least you’ll get an idea of what you can expect when listening to this rather strange album.

Get The Album Now!

Saxon – Strong Arm of the Law (1980)

Saxon_StrongArm4 out of 5 Stars

Another act that got lumped into the “New Wave Of British Heavy Metal” movement in the ’80s, Saxon always reminded me (primarily) of bands such as Iron Maiden, Tygers of Pan Tang, and Accept when it came to its overall style, but mixed with the occasionally “more-commercial sound” similar to groups such as Krokus, Scorpions, and Def Leppard.

Through the decades I’ll admit to finding a handful of the albums in the band’s extensive catalogue nothing more than “decent but average,” yet Strong Arm of the Law—Saxon’s third release—truly has some inspired energy, some rebellious power, some extra “oomph” (despite the horribly bland cover art) that would be sadly lacking on too many of its subsequent albums in the mid-’80s/early-’90s. Indeed, this release proved as solid as the previous Wheels of Steel album, the band having created a staggering one-two musical punch, with vocalist Biff Byford, guitarists Paul Quinn and Graham Oliver, bassist Steve Dawson and drummer Pete Gill slamming through the eight tracks on offer here as if their very lives depended on it.

And with tunes such as the blazing opener “Heavy Metal Thunder,” as well as “20,000 Feet,” “To Hell and Back Again,” “Sixth Form Girls,” and the title track, along with the terrific closer “Dallas 1 PM,” Strong Arm of the Law is easily one of Saxon’s most laudable efforts. In many ways, this collection of tracks, although not groundbreaking or revolutionary in any respect, certainly helped to set the stage—and the quality benchmark—for countless other acts that eventually popped up in the “New Wave Of British Heavy Metal” movement in future years.

Get The Album Now!