Review: Hardline – 'Human Nature'

Has it really been 24 years since Hardline released their debut album ‘Double Eclipse’? 24 years with no melodic rock band coming even remotely close to matching what Neal Schon and the Gioeli brothers conjured up from out of nowhere? 24 years since they blew away headliners Extreme when they opened for the Boston ‘pasty-faced white boys’ on their UK arena tour? More importantly, 24 years since I asked Hardline singer Johnny Gioeli what he did with his hair when he had to go number two? Seriously, this guy had long hair down to his ass, and all that I could think of was, “What the hell does he do with it when he’s on the throne?” 24 years later, and the hair might be shorter but the boyish good looks are still there… him, not me. Thankfully, the voice that tore through rockers like ‘Hot Cherie’ and ‘’Rhythm From A Red Car’ is still powerful enough to halt a rampaging rhino, and emotional enough to bring a tear to a glass eye. Times they are indeed a-changing, but there is something soothing and warming about melodic rock when it’s done right, and for that, the guitars need to be set to stun. Thankfully, Gioeli and producer Alessandro Del Vecchio agree with that sentiment, as ‘Human Nature’ features some pretty tasty riffs from Josh Ramos that are way up in the mix. ‘Where Will We Go From Here’ is a great traditional up-tempo album opener with a strong keyboard sound from Del Vecchio. Producer, keyboardist, and backing vocalist… who says men can’t multitask? The drum sound from Francesco Jovino is punchy, and makes for a formidable rhythm team with bassist Anna Portalupi, but the main attraction is Gioeli, and damn, he is in fine voice. ‘Nobody’s Fool’ could easily be an outtake from the ‘Double Eclipse’ days, thanks mainly to the gritty, precise riffs from Ramos. Nothing fancy, but very effective. Gioeli has a voice tailor-made for power ballads. ‘Can’t Find My Way’, from Hardline’s debut, was sheer perfection, even featuring over the love scene in the Brandon Lee movie ‘Rapid Fire’. It should’ve been a massive hit… but it wasn’t. It makes sense that ‘Human Nature’ would feature a few lighter moments, and the title track, as well as ‘United We Stand’, stand out. Yes, ‘Human Nature’ follows the power ballad rule book, but if it ain’t broke, then why bother fixing it? Melodic rock doesn’t care about trends or fads, it’s about escapism, in the sense that most people can identify with the songs without over-taxing the grey matter. If I want tempo changes and mind-blowing chord structures then I’ll stick on Biffy or Muse, but if I want to disengage the brain and appreciate a cracking song with a great melody, I’ll always go with the likes of Hardline… melodic rock or AOR.
It’s not all power ballads though. ‘Trapped In Muddy Waters’, ’Running On Empty’, and ‘The World Is Falling Down’ are all fine examples of a perfect marriage between the old school and modern. The latter especially impresses, with its heavy Deep Purple keyboard sound, as well as a rollicking, galloping drum beat to shake the speakers into submission. ‘Take You Home’ slows things right down, with Gioeli pouring his heart out over a simple piano track. Stripped back, without any massive guitars to hide behind, it’s a bold move, but Gioeli manages it with ease. None of that horrible over-singing that is ruining so many songs today, just get in, get the job done, and get out. The remainder of the album sees Hardline continuing down the melodic road. Again, the guitars are high up in the mix, and songs like ‘Where The North Wind Blows’ have a great bounceability factor thrown in. ‘Human Nature’ is a solid album, head and shoulders above so many others of the same ilk. So, if melodic hard rock is your bag, then the album is available now through Frontiers Music. Review: Dave Stott

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