by Mark Allen
Staff Writer –
You know all those Chuck Norris factoids on the ‘Net? For example, “Chuck Norris doesn’t fold paper airplanes, he folds airplanes into paper,” or “The boogeyman checks his closet at night for Chuck Norris.” This pop culture phenomenon paints Norris—Mister Norris to us mere humans—as the ultimate bad-ass.
Well, Joe Lynn Turner is the Chuck Norris of rock vocalists. He is the best, the penultimate, the God with the golden voice before which all other mortal singers must prostrate themselves. When Turner sings the phone book, even the phone book sounds good. Anything Turner sings is automatically elevated to the next plateau simply by the presence of his voice.
Simply put, Turner is a living legend, and while he has been involved with numerous projects, few have resonated with the melodic rock masses as strongly as Sunstorm. Whether it is the man’s amazing vocals, the impeccable production values, the plethora of hooks, or a combination of all three, fans continue to be impressed by what Turner has accomplished with Sunstorm and those favorable impressions should not waver with Emotional Fire, the band’s third offering.
As is their forte, Sunstorm straddle the fence between AOR and melodic rock, dominated by polished guitars but with a hefty keyboard presence to up the melodic ante. Dennis Ward gives the whole project that final Midas touch, proving he knows his way around studio knobs as well as any producer and better than 95% of them.
Now, this album is hardly a bastion of originality, but the sheer quality of the familiar is what impresses. Innovation and experimentation are appreciated by AOR fans about as much as a drunk appreciates water in his whiskey bottle and Emotional Fire delivers exactly what those fans want to hear.
The album is packed with the kind of hit single hooks that bring to mind the glory days of Desmond Child and Jack Ponti. Equally impressive are the harmonies, which should please anyone who enjoys that multi-layered backing vocal sound. And special mention must be made of the drums, which either through the skill of Chris Schmidt or the deft production wizardry of Ward—probably a combination of the two—sound fantastic, big and beefy and absolutely pounding.
Unfortunately, there is a downturn in song quality during the second half. The first half-dozen tracks are prime examples of how good the melodic rock genre can be, but once the remake of Michael Bolton’s “Gina” kicks in, the songs regress into the realm of mediocrity, the sharper hooks of earlier replaced by run of the mill refrains. Thankfully, those early songs are good enough that the album is not severely hamstrung by the sub-par quality of the second half. So what you end up with are great up-tempo rockers like “Never Give In” and power ballads like “Lay Down Your Arms” rubbing elbows with songs like “Follow Your Heart” and “The Higher You Rise” which dance on the edge of the dreaded “filler” tag.
If the back of the album was as strong as the front, AOR fans would really have something to get emotional about, because this would be a contender for best pure melodic rock album of 2012. Still, just like a day that starts off with gorgeous sunshine but ends with a soaking thunderstorm cannot be written off as a total waste, neither can this album be written off as unworthy of your time. Quite the contrary, the first six songs alone, combined with Turner’s powerhouse vocals, pretty much make this a mandatory purchase for any fan of the genre.
Genre: AOR, Melodic Rock
Joe Lynn Turner (lead vocals)
Uwe Reitenauer (guitar)
Dennis Ward (bass, guitar, backing vocals)
Chris Schmidt (drums)
Justin Dakey (keyboard)
1. Never Give Up
2. Emotional Fire
3. Lay Down Your Arms
4. You Wouldn’t Know Love
5. Wish You Were Here
6. Torn in Half
8. The Higher You Rise
10. Follow Your Heart
11. All I Am
Label: Frontiers Records
Hardrock Haven rating: 7.5/10