by Derric Miller
Place Vendome — the Dennis Ward vehicle featuring the fathomless talent of singer Michael Kiske — is back with their sophomore effort, Streets of Fire. This time around, while Dennis Ward continues to play bass/guitar, while also mixing, producing, engineering and mastering the sound, they brought in talented songwriters like Ronny Milianowicz and Torsti Spoof to give everything an energetic and refreshing sound. Anything Kiske sings on is at once formidable yet always up for discussion, as his fans oftentimes need quotes around the word, since they ceased being “fans” when he stopped being a teenager …
The Spoof composition and title track “Streets of Fire” is up first. Keyboardist Gunter Werno plays a haunting opening, then the song kicks into gear when the rest of the band jumps in, heavy and melodic. A mid-tempo rocker, the verses are toned down and crescendo to the chorus. The thing that stands out here, though, is Kiske’s odd decision to take his vibrato to the tenth power at times, typically, on the last word of each verse. “We won’t run, we won’t hide … this town will be painted re-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-ed,” Kiske warbles during the track. Maybe he is thinking that vibrato takes the edge off, makes it more mainstream/AOR and less Metal, but it only jars the song’s flow. Kiske is such a vocal technician there is no way he is doing this on accident; the guy owns some of the best pipes in the history of Rock and Metal, so this is an overt and calculated decision. It’s almost as awkward as Mark Boals’ vibrato massacre on the Malmsteen song “Queen is in Love.” This had to be a topic of discussion during the recording sessions, because this kind of vocal “effect” doesn’t just slide by Ward without him knowing.
Up next is another keyboard-led track, “My Guardian Angel.” Guitarist Uwe Reitenauer shows deft touch with his emotional leads, and the greatest aspect to Place Vendome is that it’s really all about the song, not the individual components. As far as a hit song, Kiske’s voice is sheer gold, the vocal melody and harmonies are mammoth and memorable, and everything works.
A real highlight of Streets of Fire is “Follow Me,” exactly the kind of uplifting and powerful track Kiske has gravitated towards through his evolution. This is one of the least complicated tracks, more straight forward, and the chorus is poppy, sugary and addictive. You have to crank it up to hear everything happening underneath the music, but after hearing it once, you’ll be feeling damn good.
There is only one moody, somewhat foreboding composition on the release, “Set Me Free,” so of course, it’s the best one, both musically and vocally. You could argue and probably win that this is Kiske’s defining vocal moment over the past few years, if not more. When he sings in a lower tone, you can hear an earthy, almost smoky hue to his vocals, and it mesmerizes. You will also hear a definite lack of vibrato when he holds the note on “Set me free …,” although he goes back to it when he sings, “I hold the kee-ee-ee-ee.” Regardless, “Set Me Free” isn’t just one of the best songs on Streets of Fire, but should land in the Top 10 for the year.
At the end of the CD, you get a few more slower songs, that don’t stand out to the extent of the opening tracks, although, after “Set Me Free,” anything is going to come in second place. “A Scene in Reply,” has the same keyboard formula as “Streets of Fire” and “My Guardian Angel.” The song “Surrender Your Soul” almost delivers a Classic Rock vibe, playful and catchy as hell.
The last song, “I’d Die for You” is a keyboard ballad at the start, with Kiske singing lower during the verses, and employing that vibrato technique again during the chorus on the higher, longer notes — especially on the words, “you” and “true.” The song explodes at the end, soaring into a heavier and intricate song, almost like the Progressive Rock Kansas used to make.
Streets of Fire is a dynamic release, maybe even better than the debut. You cannot find a bad or even average song on it, and songs like “Set Me Free” should become instant classics. The only knock anyone will be able to come up with is Kiske’s surprising overuse of vibrato; yes, it’s that palatable. For those who don’t know or care what vibrato is, buy it now. For the more discerning listeners, this vocal effect might make a masterful album average.
1. Streets Of Fire
2. My Guardian Angel
3. Completely Breathless
4. Follow Me
5. Set Me Free
8. A Scene In Replay
10. Surrender Your Soul
12. I’d Die For You
Hardrock Haven rating: 7.9/10