Monday, November 30, 2015

Album Review: Khymera - The Grand Design

Dennis Ward is a name that you probably don't know, but he's been involved in countless records coming out of the European melodic rock scene. He's best known as a member of Pink Cream 69, but he's produced a slew of records, including Bob Catley's "Immortal", which is one of my absolute favorites. Khymera has evolved into his own project, as he is now the lead singer and songwriter on this new album. Left to his own devices, what can he come up with?

The first thing to note is that if you don't like 80s melodic rock, with the plentiful keyboards and sugary backing vocals, you'd might as well stop reading right now. This album is 80s through and through, enough that it has a bit of the feeling of being a time capsule. That also says something about the current state of music, as it doesn't make sense that rock and melody have been so divorced that the pairing can only be described as nostalgic. But now I'm getting off topic.

Opening with "Never Give Up On You", the album eases us into the sound with a heck of an enjoyable song. There's a healthy dose of cheese in the sound, but when the big hook hits, it's hard to not crack a smile and imagine what it would have been like to sing along with a crowd full of people as the smell of spandex filled the air. Dennis Ward's voice is a surprise. This being the first time I've heard him take the lead, I wouldn't have known he does it so infrequently.

Ward has been around the game long enough to know what works and what doesn't, so it's no surprise that his songs sparkle with the shine of someone who can push the right buttons at the right time. People complain a lot about veteran artists who lose the spark of creativity, and turn out material that is too 'samey', but that misses the point. What those veterans have done is cut out the fat, removing the experiments that are interesting diversions, but ultimately become footnotes in a catalog of far better music. Everyone has their strengths, and being able to play into them means you're going to make much more consistent music. Consistency, even when it's greatness, can make it psychologically harder to embrace, since you can't pick out the one or two obvious highlights. But if you enjoy albums as a whole, it's the best thing you can say.

That's what we have here. No, there aren't obvious songs that stand head and shoulders above the rest. The sticky, rollicking hook on "Say What You Want" makes it my favorite song on the record, but it's not dramatically better than anything else here. The quality is always there, delivering song after song that are simply a good time.

My only complaint here would be that the production is too similar to all the rest of the albums that Ward and his genre-mates put out. There's a particular sheen and guitar tone that all these melodic rock albums share, so there is a slight degree of familiarity that is a bit taxing, but that's a minor gripe. Production is only an issue when it stands in the way of the music, and that is certainly not the case here.

December is often seen as a wasteland for new releases, since many assume that everyone has switched over to non-stop Christmas music, and the dollars that usually go to music have been shifted to other gifts. I won't say there isn't some truth to that, but there are exceptions, and "The Grand Design" is one of them. Khymera has delivered a great end of the year treat for those of us who are still paying attention. While it's not going to quite crack my Top Ten, it's yet another strong album to add to a remarkably deep pile of releases that have made this a great year for music.

Anyone who likes melodic rock, or heck, anyone who likes music you can smile and sing along to, should check out "The Grand Design". It's the perfect antidote to the impending bleakness of winter. I highly recommend this platter of fun.

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