You have to be a bit masochistic to be making radio friendly rock music these days. For one thing, the amount of competition out there is truly staggering. As is the case in every genre, there are simply so many bands out there that breaking through becomes increasingly difficult with every passing day. And for another thing, it is increasingly becoming an exercise in futility. The entire concept of radio friendly music is becoming an anachronism, as the medium withers on the vine. In many ways, the most important thing you can have going for you is a gimmick, and not a relatable sound. But if that kind of rock is where your heart is (and it's where mine started), then the tough slog will ultimately be worth it.
Vermillion Road is a new entrant into the field, a young band from Colorado that wants to restore some of the luster of the tarnished reputation of radio friendly rock. After a decade of the likes of Nickelback and Godsmack running it into the ground, I'll applaud any band that can make people remember that catchy hard rock doesn't have to be so disgusting.
Does Vermillion Road do that?
"Tread On Me" makes a good first impression, with plenty of jerking rhythms, a more biting guitar tone than usual, and a chorus that plays the melody as more than window dressing. It's not quite a throwback to what I consider the glory days of the mid 90s, when guitar-pop was all over the charts, but it's already a drastic improvement over the dark blandness that modern radio rock has become. It's an energetic little number that opens things on the right foot.
Things get even better on "Revival", which shows the band's versatility by using some softer tones through the verses, a hint of acoustic guitar (mixing acoustic and electric has always been one of the surest ways into my heart), and culminating in a chorus that pushes and pulls beautifully. It's the kind of melody that absolutely brings me back to the days when I was falling in love with the rock music I heard on Top 40 radio.
The rest of the album mixes up heavier tracks with the softer, more introspective compositions, and what is great about the record is that despite the two approaches, they are able to give every song a strong hook. I don't remember the last time I heard an American rock band that paid attention and made sure all their choruses were memorable and the highlight of their tracks. (Actually, I do. It was Halestorm on "The Strange Case Of..." - a modern classic, and an album I dearly love. But let's be honest; it was cobbled together by a dozen pop songwriters, in addition to the band. There's something endearing about a band that can do it all themselves.) That is certainly the case here, where all of the instrumental parts and layered in a way that best serves the melody, which is the heart of the composition.
A lot of rock bands, not to mention almost every band that is even heavier, gets confused about what makes a great song. Blistering riffs and solos are great, but without a vocal tying it all together, there's a limit to how much appeal a song can generate. You never hear "Iron Man" at a karaoke bar, do you?
My only criticisms of the record are minor. For one, at 36 minutes, the record could stand to be a touch longer. While I do appreciate the fact that it's not an album that tries to cram fifteen songs onto a single disc, which are more than someone can digest at a time, an extra song to push things to 40 minutes would have been welcome. The other is that when the band digs deep and gets heavy, the production is, if anything, a bit too clean. I would have liked to hear a bit more grit to the guitars to make this feel a bit more raw.
But neither of those things distracts from the fact that Vermillion Road has made a very nice record that reminds me that radio friendly rock used to be a genre that I really appreciated. It takes me back a bit to those days, and is a nice bridge between what radio rock used to be, and what it is today. It's modern, but has enough ties to the past to make it stand out from the clones. If you just want to have some fun listening to a rock record, check Vermillion Road out. "Palaces" is a highly promising debut.