Talking about a new band is really quite tough because, even when you know the band are made up of members of previously well known bands, you can expect the first record of a new band to have been made while the band are learning what works for them, what boundaries and restrictions their members have and taking chances that they will usually look back upon later and go “Man, that was a dumb move!”
This puts me in an odd position as a critic, as part of me feels justified in going “Well, it’s their first record together, so go easy on them”, but I also feel that adjusting my standards to suit a new band is potentially at risk of giving a band false hope. After all, at the end of the day, if you release something and ask money for it, you have to be prepared for receiving criticism if it doesn’t get received well.
So, with that out of the way, Blood Red Saint’s debut Speedway is basically undiluted 80s, combining every cliche and stereotype you can think of related to 80s rock and 80s pop, and playing it straight. While it is easy to turn your nose up at this kind of thing due to bands like Steel Panther parodying it so effectively that it’s very difficult to take it seriously and the still-lingering reputation that 80s glam metal has among most metal fans, I have to give Blood Red Saints credit for the fact that, even with those factors in mind, Speedway proved to be a fun listen for me. It’s not really album of the year material, but I couldn’t help really enjoying it. That said, I am a huge fan of pre-Keep the Faith Bon Jovi and you don’t have to listen too hard to spot that influence on Blood Red Saints, so it is fair to say that this was up my alley pretty much right from the start!
One of the things that I probably haven’t made clear in the last paragraph is that, beyond the modern production giving away that this record wasn’t made in the 80s, the whole record really sounds like it could have been released in the 80s. Seriously, it fits the 80s vibe so perfectly that I had to remind myself that Speedway is a new album, not a remastered 80s album by some long lost band dug up from the vaults of obscurity by nostalgic fans. Which, admittedly, isn’t the best of signs, as it begs the question of whether the album is only good due to a (relative: we are still living in a time where there’s a glam metal revival happened in Finland and Sweden!) lack of competition from other glam metal bands or is just a good album in its own right.
To which my answer is…both, really. The lack of competition does make it easier to like the record than it would have been had everything else sounded like it, but I can’t say Speedway is a bad record in its own right either. I’m going to have to rain on everyone’s parade a bit and say that the songwriting isn’t all that adventurous in terms of avoiding the typical verse-chorus structure, although, in fairness. 80s rock DID do that a lot in general, so you’re probably not going to have too much of a problem with that if you like 80s rock, but, if you want something with adventurous songwriting, then this is probably going to be a frustrating listen, as it hits pretty much every 80s cliche you can think of (even the obligatory power ballad makes an appearance…twice!). I personally had no issues with this, but I love 80s music, so I will concede to being very much the sort of person this record was aimed at! I do think the songwriting could have been better, though: there are a few tracks which I just found didn’t really grab me, with ‘Best of Me’ being a bit of a dull plod of a track that only redeems itself through an admittedly very good chorus, ‘Dangerous’ feeling like it’s trying to build up to something and just not managing it and ‘Faith’ feeling like something Stryper would have considered too preachy to want to record (…well, OK, that’s a bit unfair, but it seriously feels like a track that you’d expect to hear from Stryper, only without the strong songwriting to allow you to appreciate the track on its own merits if you don’t share the band’s faith!).
The performances across the record are pretty great. Vocalist Pete Godfrey has a voice that was pretty much made for this type of music, reminding me a bit of Jon Bon Jovi, and, while I don’t think his voice has a particularly impressive range, he still sings very well overall. The rest of the band (guitarist Lee Revill, drummer Pete Newdeck and bassist Rob Naylor) are also really good, with Revill’s acoustic guitar solo ‘CGRNR’ showing that the guy definitely has a lot of talent.
The production on the record is pretty great as well. I’m really appreciative of whoever mixed the album (I wasn’t provided this detail and I didn’t find out who it was when I tried to find out who it was), as they seem to be on my wavelength when it comes to bass production: the bass is very easy to hear on Speedway, which is a huge relief for me! The mastering is also fairly good as well. Props to the people who did the production work for this album, as they all did great jobs!
Overall, this is a record that has some weaker songwriting moments, but is mostly a good AOR album that seems like what Bon Jovi, in some alternative timeline, would be releasing instead of…whatever the hell What About Now was meant to be (although it had its moments, I’ll admit!). I don’t think Speedway is going to end up being one of my picks of the year, but it’s certainly a decent listen if you like early Bon Jovi and want to hear something which is in the vein of that.
Speedway will be released on the 4th of December by Frontier Records. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.