Review by Andy Hawes for MPM
UK AORsters Dare first came to our attention in 1988 with their incredible debut album Out Of The Silence.
Widely regarded as a classic AOR album, I’d go as far as to say that it is unquestionably one of the finest AOR albums ever released by a UK act and is in my top 20 AOR albums of all time.
Subsequent albums have seen Dare explore a harder late 80s Bon Jovi style (1991’s excellent Blood From Stone) and a far softer Celtic-influenced Soft Rock/AOR sound.
The return of original guitarist Vinny Burns for 2016’s Sacred Ground saw Dare gradually moving back to the kind of AOR that they demonstrated on their debut and this sound is the kind of ball-park we are in with 2022’s new release, Road To Eden.
There is certainly a fair bit of bite to the guitars on this new album, something that will please those fans who found albums such as Calm Before The Storm and Beneath The Shining Water, etc, a little too soft and moody.
So what is the material like on Road To Eden? Well, “quite stunning” is the simple answer and I’d argue that this might well be Dare’s finest work since their mighty debut. The first thing that you notice is that Vinny Burns’ guitar sound is full, powerful and highly effective.
He uses a range of styles and techniques from crushing power chords, delicate delay-drenched U2-like clean rhythm parts, to highly melodic lead lines and solos that combine melody and fast fluid runs to absolute perfection. His guitar is prominent in most of the tracks, further developing the more powerful sound he brought to the band on 2016’s Sacred Ground.
The second thing that you notice is that Darren Wharton’s vocals still retain that beautiful warm honey tone that they’ve always had. They suit the moody storytelling AOR tracks that fill this album perfectly. Wharton’s keyboard contributions are excellent too.
They complement the guitars perfectly, providing delicate atmosphere to the tracks, taking the lead with gentle pianos on occasions, but mostly they are there in the background providing gorgeous synthesised string pads for the guitars and vocals to bask in.
In common with all of Dare’s 21st century product, the tracks do require a few listens to really sink in. This is not a bad thing as there is some real potential for longevity here as the gorgeous melodies take some time to embed into the consciousness, yet are immediate enough to hold and keep one’s attention throughout. Lyrically, there is a real sense of the storyteller about Wharton’s writing.
This may well be an influence from the late, great Phil Lynott, with whom Wharton played towards the end of Lynott’s time with Thin Lizzy in the early 1980s. There is a real romance to the lyrics too – they are warmly familiar and almost cinematic in their scope.
You can almost imagine some of them playing out as movie scenes and they definitely conjure up images of long lost lovers living out their stories among scenes set within the sweeping British countryside – green tree-lined meadows, Celtic mountains at sunset, softly flowing rivers, etc.
One slight criticism levelled at Dare in the past has been that too many tracks on their recent product have had similar tempos and melodies so it’s not so easy to separate the tracks. However, in common with 2016’s Sacred Ground, Road To Eden does not fall so far into that trap.
There is a very good mix of nicely uptempo melodic rockers and slower mid-paced ballad style tracks on here. It is true that Wharton has a certain writing style and some of his melodies do sometimes sound a little similar on first listen, but by the third or fourth listen, the melodies are well and truly under your skin and the individual identities of the tracks shine out proud and strong.
Standout tracks are hard to identify such is the strength of all of the material but if pushed I’d start with opening pair ‘Born In The Storm’ and ‘Fire Never Fades’, both of which really see the boys flexing the rockier side of their sound on huge guitar based anthems.
Second track ‘Cradle to the Grave’ has a beautiful U2 style guitar introduction (which is also reminiscent of the sort of thing Steve Rothery was doing on Marillion’s Holidays in Eden era) before the power chords kick in on another massively anthemic track.
Title track ‘Road to Eden’ has a beautiful Celtic-style melody and more of those galloping U2 guitars while ‘Lovers and Friends’ is a quite beautiful piano-led ballad with a gorgeous chorus and keyboards to die for.
I Always Will’ is stunning AOR with a slightly Celtic influence to the melody and a massive chorus while ‘The Devil Rides Tonight’ has a highly atmospheric opening which leads into a colossal uptempo rocker. Vinny Burns is on top form on this one with a solo reminiscent of his best work with Ten.
Overall, with Road To Eden, Dare have produced a quite stunning album that stands out a in a catalogue of very good albums as their best for many years. It is chock full of beautifully anthemic Soft Rock/AOR but with a rockier edge than a lot of their more recent material.
The sound is very much in the classic AOR mould – you’ll not find heavily downtuned guitars or the sorts of keyboard sounds that permeate such a lot of the more modern sounding AOR stuff on this album.
This warm, familiar and classic rocking AOR sound suits them perfectly and I’d wager that any of these songs that make it into the live set for the tour of the UK and Europe later this year will absolutely kick ass on the stage! I for one can’t wait for that!
Very, very highly recommended for longstanding Dare fans and for all fans of high quality classic sounding AOR/Melodic Rock everywhere.
1. BORN IN THE STORM (4:45)
2. CRADLE TO THE GRAVE (4:21)
3. FIRE NEVER FADES (3:51)
4. ROAD TO EDEN (4:07)
5. LOVERS AND FRIENDS (3:43)
6. ONLY THE GOOD DIE YOUNG (4:37)
7. I ALWAYS WILL (4:24)
8. GRACE (3:44)
9. THE DEVIL RIDES TONIGHT (3:49)
10. THY KINGDOM COME (4:30)
11. BORN IN A STORM (ROMESH REMIX) (4:21)
Pre-order the album on CD here or digital HERE.