Houston - II (2013/Livewire/Cargo)
Swedish AOR trio Houston came onto the scene in 2010 with the critically acclaimed debut album "Houston", an album that at the time of its release caused quite a stir in the melodic rock community with its' pink and fluffy 80's flavoured AOR sounds. Incorporating the successful formula of other young and aspiring Swedish AOR acts like H.E.A.T and Titan, the album was even named the best AOR album of 2010 by Classic Rock Magazine that year - no doubt contributing in landing the band a gig at the prestigious Sweden Rock Festival in 2011. Not a bad feat for a debut album. And with their newfound success of having their cover of Dakota´s "Runaway" featuring in Danny MacAskill's "Imaginate" short film (approaching 7 million views on YouTube), the timing couldn't really be any better for the release of the aptly titled follow up album "II".
Those who bought and enjoyed the first album will already be well familiar with the bands' signature retro AOR-style. Opener "Glory" is a good example with its' powerful keyboard hook and anthemic sing-along chorus; pretty much textbook stuff and a great way to start the album. The first single "I'm Coming Home" (of which there is also a video) early sparked my interest in the album and is another winner, the huge wall of keyboards and sugar coated chorus a wonderful throwback to a time when bands like Alien, Treat and Da Vinci ruled the airwaves. Infectious in the extreme, this one will have you humming for weeks.
Guitarist/songwriter extraordinaire Tommy Denander gets a co-write with "Return My Heart", another competent melodic rock affair that, as good as it may be, pales in comparisation to the next track "Talk to Me", which despite the somewhat hollow title is jaw-dropping AOR of the type seldom heard these days. The different lyrical approach, talking about lost friendship and forgiveness is genuinely moving and perfectly suited for the song; the chorus one of the best I've heard in the last few years. Just when you think things coudn't get any better, we get perhaps the albums' "piece de resistance" in "Back to the Summer of Love", another keyboard-driven pure AOR offering of almost vintage Survivor proportions, with some tasteful Denander licks proving the icing on the cake. Catchier than a tackle box, you'd be hard pressed to hear better melodic rock than this in 2013.
Moving on to track 6, "24 Hours" is more radio friendly mid-tempo AOR and a track perhaps most representative of the band's overall style. "On the Radio" on the surface may sound like your typical generic AOR track but is anything but, as Houston once again brings out the heavy AOR artillery to deliver one of their finest songs to date and at the same time giving the likes of H.E.A.T a good run for their money in melodic rock supremacy. Co-written by Calle Hammar, it's one of those tracks you will find yourself returning to on a regular basis. "Losing" is more archetypal Scandi-AOR, with bands like Dalton or Da Vinci being good reference points. In fact, Hank Erix sounds almost like a deadringer for Da Vinci singer Lars Aass. The album finishes off in fine fashion with the sticky sweet "Just Friends", a duet between Hank Erix and female vocalist Minnah Karlsson, and the atmospheric "Believe", a track not far removed from some of Pride of Lions' up-tempo material.
Needless to say, Houston have recorded one hell of an album here and I'de be surprised not seeing it ending up at the top of many "best of" 2013 lists at the end of the year. What really amazes me is how much the band has matured as songwriters in the three years that have passed since the debut, which despite some rave reviews seemed to lack the consistency and extra killer punch to push it over the top. On "II", the songwriting is more focused, the melodies thoroughly convincing and the production refined, with an eye for detail generally missing on the debut. Undoubtely the last few years has been good for Swedish AOR in general, with new exciting bands popping up all the time and veterans like Treat recording some of their finest material to date. "II" sees Houston join the top ranks of the modern day AOR genre, while in the meantime taking another big step toward the wider breakthrough they deserve.
Bob Wheeler - s/t
Fury - s/t