Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Album Review: Palace - Master Of The Universe

In today's digital age, time truly stands still. We never move on from the past, because it's there at our fingertips whenever we want it. Instead of only having access to new music, and whatever used albums might be in the record store, we can get anything that's ever been recorded at any moment. That creates interesting turns of events. For one thing, new music now is not only in competition with every other new album, but every other album that's ever been recorded. It's no wonder that new music is struggling to sell. But it also means that we can have a band like Palace, who are dedicated to the cause of 80s melodic rock, despite the fact that singer/guitarist/songwriting Michael Palace wasn't alive when that music was being made.

From the very first notes of the title track, we are transported back to the decadent decade. It may not be possible to define an entire sound in words, but Palace has captured it. From the riffing style, to the keyboard tones and the backing vocals, it's ripped straight from the playbook. That tells you much of what you need to know about the album. If you weren't a fan of that kind of music, Palace will never win you over.

But copying a sound is not the same as making a great record. It's not hard to pull out the right instruments, and dial in the right settings, to make a record that sound like a certain period of time. What's hard is to write a record that stands up to the best of that time, because if you don't do that, the album will always look like a weak forgery, rather than a real piece of art.

The opening title track doesn't do much to move the record into the latter category. The sound is right, but there isn't much of a riff, and even less of a chorus. It's a pleasant sound with nothing to back it up. Things improve from there, fortunately. The next few tracks are solid numbers, and I'm quite fond of the cheesy-as-hell ballad "Part Of Me". It hits all the right notes, embracing the lasting legacy of the 80s with tongue firmly in cheek.

What disappoints me about Palace, is that I went into this ready to love the album for its dedication to cheesy 80s music, but the songwriting can't live up to the promise. That is doubly disappointing, since Michael Palace was initially signed to be a songwriter for the label. I was expecting something far more, given that pedigree. What we end up with here is an album that lacks spark. It has the right sound, but the wrong songs. We get a couple of strong numbers, like "Matter In Hand" and "Path To Light", but the rest of the songs lack the big melodic hooks that dominated the 80s. Palace has the voice for it, but his songs aren't melodically rich enough to last more than one listen. Combine that with the number of songs that are either ballads, or soft rock, and we get an album that doesn't have bite either.

I'lll make a comparison here. The overall tone of the record is similar to House Of Lords' effort from last year. They are both very 80s records, but House Of Lords was able to be cheesier, heavier, and hookier. That's Palace's problem. There are multiple ways retro worship can be done, but they walked down the middle of those roads, and never went far enough in any direction. There's the talent in the band to have made something fun and interesting, but this record isn't it. It's a reminder that in these days, I can pull up 80s music whenever I want, and I don't need a second-rate copy anymore.

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