Album Review: Drive, She Said – ‘Pedal to the Metal’

Let’s get the obvious comment out of the way: no, Drive, She Said are NOT named after Mina Shum’s 1997 film of the same name. The band actually pre-date the film by more than a few years. I’ll admit, I know nothing about Shum, but I imagine that it is a coincidence that the band and her film share the same name.

Anyway, Drive, She Said are a melodic rock band that formed in 1988 who are basically comprised of two musicians: drummer and keyboardist Mark Mangold (although he doesn’t provide drums on this record), who might be familiar to some people due to working with Michael Bolton in the 80s, co-writing Cher’s ‘I Found Someone’ and co-writing The Law’s ‘For A Little Ride’ (one of Paul Rodger’s projects outside of Bad Company and Free, for those not familiar with them) as well as being a member of the band Touch, and lead vocalist and guitarist Al Fritsch, who is only really known for this project, as far as I can tell. The band have released four previous albums: 1989’s self-titled album, 1991’s Drivin’ Wheel, 1992’s Excelerator and 2003’s Real Life. There’s not really as much information on the band as I’d like, if I’m honest: most of what I’ve been able to gather about them is from secondary sources and the album’s press release (which isn’t the most clear about the band as it could be: I had to find most of that information above via the secondary sources because the press release wasn’t especially clear on the details that I felt I needed!) and I’ve not been able to find any social media stuff run by the band (not even their own website!), which feels very odd to me. I’m no businessman, but I’d have thought having an active social media page for your band would have been one of the first things you would have wanted to have in this day and age to make it easier to find you!

But my rambles there aren’t really important. What is important is this record, Pedal to the Metal and, I have to say, there’s a lot that’s interesting about the record and I can’t say it does anything that is bad…but I can’t say that I like the record either. It’s a record that I get the feeling I should like and there’s certainly a lot of good things about it, but the final result doesn’t work for me.

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Starting on a positive note, the band’s sound is actually pretty good! I normally don’t like to refer to a sound as being tailor made for a stadium, but, truly, Drive, She Said’s sound is the sort of thing that seems like it would be more at home playing through a huge sound system with a huge audience singing along than in a small club. There is a HUGE amount of keyboards involved in the band’s sound (probably even more than Sonata Arctica have in their sound!), adding a strong 80s feeling to the music in a way that should appeal to anyone with a fondness for that kind of thing, and the end result is genuinely best summed up as “undiluted 80s melodic rock”. You’d expect this to mean it sounds like faceless 80s music, but, surprisingly, it manages to maintain its own identity throughout the whole record, sounding more than a bit like Deep Purple pushed through an 80s melodic rock filter (a comparison helped by some truly excellent keyboard solos) and with a few more modern elements sneaking into the music to keep things interesting.

The songwriting is also pretty good. While it doesn’t really deviate from typical songwriting structures, it doesn’t really have to with the style of music it is playing. Let’s be honest, melodic rock has never been a style of music really demanding innovation on the songwriting front: the focus has just been on writing catchy songs, and that is exactly what Drive, She Said do. While a few songs on the record do feel like missteps to me (in particular, ‘I’m the Nyte’ could have easily been cut from the record without anything of value being lost), the vast majority of the songs have excellent choruses and the music surrounding them is solid. Even the ballads are pretty solid, although I will say that I prefer ‘In Your Arms’ over ‘All I Wanna Do’ due to the latter seeming like prime fodder for a cover by a boy band (although it is worth noting that songs where the core of the song of the song is an acoustic guitar and vocals with harmonies is something that has been around for a LONG time, it’s just that most people nowadays would associated this sort of material with boy bands and the lyrics being the narrator apologising to an unspecified listener for hurting them doesn’t exactly help to deflect the boy band material image). Probably the biggest surprise to me is that, once I let the record grow upon me, one of the songs I felt was a highlight was actually ‘Lost in You’, which seems like something you’d expect to hear in a dance venue (an image helped by the presence of nightlife personality Kayvon Zand on the track), but is actually still a very strong song in its own right and manages to avoid coming across too much like a dance track. While that vibe does crop up to minor extents across the record, it is easily at its most prominent here and, surprisingly, it actually works very well when you get used to it! I’m not a dance music fan at all (seriously, you’d have more luck convincing me to skydive while drunk and naked than convincing me to listen to a dance record, that is how little I care for dance music!), but this song feels like something I could see crossing over with that audience surprisingly well and that general music fans (read: not exclusively melodic rock fans) will find interesting. As a song on a melodic rock record, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if the target audience of the record isn’t very receptive to the track.

The performances on the instrumental front can be pretty much summed up with “incredible keyboards, decent otherwise”. Seriously, Mangold (and Fritsch, although I imagine the majority of the keyboards on the record are played by Mangold) proves himself to be a very talented keyboardist on this record to anyone who isn’t already aware of that fact, as the keyboards take a lead role on the record and do an excellent job at keeping things varied and interesting throughout the whole thing. The rest of the band, except for the guitars, take on more of a background role, providing a solid backbone for the keyboards and don’t really do much of any real note, which is a bit disappointing, but not a huge problem overall. The guitars do get a chance to shine as well thanks to some good guitar solos, but you can tell that the star on the performance front is easily Mangold.

Fritsch’s vocals…I’m not entirely sure whether I like his voice or not, if I’m honest. On the one hand, his range is fairly good (not to an extreme range like Rob Halford, but still good) and his vocal tone is fine, but he doesn’t strike me as an especially unique vocalist (his voice fits every cliche that you’d expect from a melodic rock vocalist) and the effects on his voice that appear on some songs are very distracting. He also reminds me a bit of Bon Jovi, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it does make it harder to regard him as a unique vocalist. I’ll say that his voice fits the band well, but he doesn’t do anything that will win over people who aren’t fans of the genre.

The production is honestly fairly good, making the music sound HUGE and avoiding too much recognisable production tricks that make the performances sound like they’ve suffered from extreme production mishaps. I would say that the bass is badly mixed, as I don’t recall hearing it on the record at all, and the mastering is probably a bit louder than I would have liked, but, all in all, there’s nothing I feel is done badly here. Credit to whoever did the production for this album, you did great!

Ultimately, Pedal to the Metal is a record that I do feel is a good record (as I’m sure this review should have proven), but, as a personal listener, I can’t help feeling a bit underwhelming. This record just doesn’t click with me on a personal level, yet, on a critical level, there’s nothing really wrong with it and, in fact, there’s a lot that I know I should like about it. It’s definitely worth a shot if you like melodic rock, just be aware that it might not sit as well with you as you think it might do from this review.

Pedal to the Metal will be released on the 15th of April by Frontier Records. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.