Soul SirkUS - Worldplay - 2005 - Soul SirkUS Records
1. Highest Ground 2. New Position 3. Another World 4. Soul Goes On 5. Alive 6. Periled Divide 7. Peephole 8. Abailar To' Mundo 9. Friends 2 Lovers 10. Praise 11. My Sanctuary 12. Coming Home 13. My Love, My Friend 14. Close The Door 15. James Brown 16. Coming Home
Savvy melodic rock fans the world over are no doubt rejoicing over the arrival of this, the debut album from Soul SirkUS. Yes, widely anticipated in AOR circles, this release was first conceived as the work of an embryonic super group that included Journey guitarist Neil Schon and on-again, off-again Van Halen vocalist Sammy Hagar. Rumor has it that Hagar initially brought Van Halen bassist Michael Anthony along with him, during their band’s extended vacation in limbo. Somewhere along the line, Hagar apparently “made up” with the Van Halen brothers and headed off for a lucrative reunion and (another) greatest hits package with the obligatory new songs. Not to be left high and dry, Schon enlisted the esteemed Jeff Scott Soto (Yngwie Malmsteen, Talisman, etc.) to replace Hagar, and with the help of bassist Marco Mendoza (Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake) and drummer Dean Castronovo (Journey), proceeded to complete what would become "World Play".
The results, for the most part, are superb: a lively, vibrant collection of classic hard AOR updated for the 21st century without selling out. Opening cut “Highest Ground” kicks off with some surprisingly beautiful guitar noises, which then make way for an exuberant, confident and almost spiritual mission statement of a song. A heavenly example of what can be done with the wrongly derided melodic rock genre. Next up is “New Position,” a fast, powerful and lovably mischievous party anthem featuring a flamboyant drum intro and a blazing trail of tasty, inventive riffs and licks from Schon. I’m liking this! Further underscoring the band’s uncanny chemistry and versatility, “Another World” is a slow, eerie, hypnotic mood piece with a vaguely Middle Eastern-sounding riff that could have come from the best of Van Halen’s patchy work circa Balance or the ill-fated Van Halen 3. And so it continues unabated, for awhile anyway: an inspired and inspiring burst of creativity from some of melodic rock’s finest veteran tunesmiths. Unfortunately, the euphorically high quality that marks the album’s beginning cannot possibly be maintained for eleven songs straight, and so the last three tracks on "World Play" drag somewhat, a minor offense, but a major letdown after the first few masterpieces. In between, however, are songs that, while inferior to the opening salvo, are still vibrant and intriguing. “Praise” is a cool, inventive riff-rocker with some not-so-subtle innuendos from Soto, and “My Sanctuary” is almost as good in this regard, save for the naff lyrics and some unnecessary vocal melodrama at the end. The biggest surprise of all, however, is “Peephole,” an eerie and surprisingly cantankerous modern rock mood piece co-written with Hagar, where Soto steps a bit out of character and delivers an intense performance that is well-suited to the hellish tale of child abuse that the song conveys. At the other end of the spectrum is “Friends to Lovers,” a guilty pop pleasure that, while a bit clichéd, is still something that even I might indulge in occasionally.
Yes, "World Play" is a diverse piece of hard rock. Clearly, much work has gone into making this album the best it can be, yet at the same time, it is by no means overproduced. Just enough polish is applied to let the songs shine, while retaining a hint of pleasant, live off the floor grit. Only those two or three dullards toward the end of the disc prevent this from being deemed an out and out modern classic. That, however, may change once I hear the reissue being put out by the Italian melodic rock label Frontiers, which apparently includes at least a couple of new tracks, as well as a new mix and overdubbed drum tracks from revered new member Virgil Donati. In any case, "World Play" is highly recommended, if not quite essential, for all fans of melodic rock and AOR.
About this Writer: Vinaya Saksena // Vinaya is either a writer who dabbles in guitar playing, or a guitar player who dabbles in writing. A Maximum Metal staffer since 2004, he has also served as a reporter for several newspapers in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Although his obsession with music is such that it does not allow time for much else by way of hobbies, he also enjoys traveling, trivia, photography, British comedy and the occasional A-Team re-run.
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