Review by Andy Hawes for MPM
FM are a British rock institution. They’ve been ploughing their Melodic Rock furrow for not far short of 40 years now and their back catalogue contains some absolutely stunning material that always manages to sound British despite the plethora of American influences that are clearly part of their sound.
Whether you want quintessential pink and fluffy AOR or swaggering bluesy melodic Hard Rock, you can find it within the FM catalogue and they just keep on producing high quality music and delivering awesome live shows to this day.
It’s therefore going to come as no surprise to find that their new album, Thirteen, (their 13th, album obviously!) released by Frontiers Records on 18th March 2022, is more of the same. Now, for many bands, those words ‘more of the same’ might mean that they are becoming jaded and predictable.
However, with FM, while one could legitimately argue ‘predictable’ (in the very best possible way, you understand), ‘jaded’ is certainly NOT a term you could ever apply!
So what is it about FM that means they can continue to sit at the top of the Melodic Rock tree after so long? Well it’s two reasons:
Firstly, it’s the quality of the songwriting. These boys can write this stuff in their sleep and while for some bands that results in formulaic product that only results in a ‘meh’ response, with FM you just find yourself marvelling at their consistency and excellence.
Of course there is a formula to their sound – it’s Melodic Rock/AOR after all – but the songs just have that sparkle and that verve that so many bands lack.
They also choose to root their sound in the classic style that they made their own all those years ago. This results in a warmly familiar sound that is not dated but does eschew some of the more ‘modern’ traits of some of their contemporaries. This sets them apart a little from a lot of the acts on the Frontiers roster and is a very good thing.
Secondly, the quality of the performances is always top notch. It’s not so much that they are better musicians than their contemporaries, its more that they always play exactly what is required: Nothing is overdone or underdone and the various parts and layers themselves are so well-chosen.
There is a lot more variety within FM’s approach to the admittedly formulaic style of music that AOR/Melodic Rock than in that of some of their contemporaries and is a massive contribution to the quality of their music over the years.
So, to the actual songs on this new album: Opening with ‘Shaking the Tree’, a brooding, stomping piece of Melodic Hard Rock, FM set out their 2022 stall in quite some style and it immediately becomes clear that it’s business as usual here.
Steve Overland’s voice is still the honeyed soulful powerhouse it has always been and the rhythm section of Pete Jupp and Merv Goldsworthy grind out the pumping beat while guitarist Jim Kirkpatrick and keyboard player Jem Davies supply the sparkle on top. Yup, definitely business as usual here!
Second track, ‘Waiting On Love’ is the sort of AOR that requires the listener to wear stronger trousers, such is the complete and utter magnificence of everything about it! Hyper-melodic, with the type of chorus that can level mountains and induce even the most miserable listener to break out in a grin of Cheshire Cat style proportions, it simply oozes class from beginning to end.
This song conjures up images of open topped cars, endless American highways and 1980s US High School movies and is all the better for that. Utterly brilliant!
‘Talk is Cheap’ has a harder edged sound with a big powerchord riff and bluesy guitar fills before another monstrous AOR chorus hits you in the face with the power of an out of control freight train and the delicacy of a lover’s kiss. Quite superb!
‘Turn This Car Around’ has a keyboard intro riff that kinda brings to mind the Bryan Adams classic ‘Summer of 69’ but this is no clone of that track! However, what it is, is another colossal AOR anthem where all the pieces fit perfectly. They even throw in a ‘Woooah’ chorus (what classic style AOR/melodic Rock album is complete without at least one of those??!) that you’re singing helplessly along to by the third repeat.
The blues influences come to the fore on ‘Love and War’. Jim Kirkpatrick’s guitar is front and centre here, with bluesy riffs and huge powerchords, subtle bottleneck slide overdubs, delicate acoustics and an excellent solo all combining to perfection.
There is another colossal chorus in this one, with Overland’s voice pushing the higher register to drive the track to its glorious conclusion.
‘Long Road Home’ drops the tempo on a bluesy ballad, full of delicate acoustic guitars, aching melodies, beautiful harmonised Thin Lizzy-esque lead guitars and gentle keyboards. When the (by now inevitable) huge chorus hits home, you can just imagine the arenas lighting up with thousands of cigarette lighters (oops – showing my age there – of course it’s mobile phone lights now!) It’s a quite beautiful song and I’m almost finding myself swaying along gently in my seat as I type. The layers of vocals in this literally give me chills every time I play it!
The tempo rises again for ‘Be Lucky’. This is probably the most ‘generic’ track on the album and in lesser hands could potentially come across as a bit ordinary.
But not so with FM: the excellence of the performances and arrangement/production lift this way above the ordinary and it bounces along irresistibly. You honestly can’t stop your foot from tapping and your head nodding along with the simple yet brilliantly effective drum groove.
‘Every Man Needs A Woman’ ups the Hard Rock quotient on a gargantuan piece of melodic mania with huge riffs, shredding solo and powerhouse vocal hooks galore. In fact, the dictionary does not contain a word to truly describe just how enormous this song sounds! I love the way that FM do songs like this along with the more ‘pink and fluffy’ AOR moments yet still make their albums sound so cohesive.
We’re hitting the home straight now and it’s more of the same with ‘Just Got Started’ which is another slightly harder sounding track with the by now ubiquitous immense chorus. This is followed by the incendiary ‘Fight Fire With Fire’ which sweeps in like an out of control inferno on a burst of Thin Lizzy-esque guitar harmonies and dodgy 80s synth sounds. This one could quite easily have sat on any US late 80s B-movie soundtrack (and that’s a massive compliment coming from me!)
The album closes with ‘Be True to Yourself’. With a similar pace and tempo to the album opener, this is a slightly darker-sounding rocker yet one with a highly positive lyrical message. It’s a cool way to end the album.
You know, I’ve been privileged to review some very good albums during my time here at Metal Planet Music across various Rock sub-genres and across the Country and Americana genres, but it’s albums like this that make this role truly worthwhile for me.
This is quite simply an absolute solid gold belter of an album. It’s as good or better than any of the albums immediately preceding it in FM’s illustrious back catalogue and stands up proudly with Indiscreet and Tough It Out, the albums that started it all those years ago. It quite effortlessly combines the softer and slightly harder sides of AOR/Melodic Rock and in so doing generates appeal across the genre’s wide spectrum.
As for the band themselves: Older? Definitely! Wiser? Only they can tell us. Still at the very top of their game after all these years? Absolutely no doubt whatsoever!
If you’re a fan of FM’s past work, of any classic sounding AOR or Melodic rock, or just quality Rock music in general, for Heaven’s sake buy, stream, beg or borrow this but make sure you hear it and marvel at its excellence. Utterly brilliant and completely essential!
1 Shaking The Tree
2 Waiting On Love
3 Talk Is Cheap
4 Turn This Car Around
5 Love And War
6 Long Road Home
7 Be Lucky
8 Every Man Needs A Woman
9 Just Got Started
10 Fight Fire With Fire
11 Be True To Yourself
FM – THIRTEEN
EUROPEAN TOUR 2022
31.03.22 BARNSLEY Birdwell
01.04.22 COTTINGHAM Civic Hall
02.04.22 MANCHESTER Club Academy
07.04.22 LONDON Islington Assembly Hall
08.04.22 NUNEATON Queens Hall
09.04.22 NORWICH Waterfront
15.04.22 BOURNEMOUTH Madding Crowd
16.04.22 SWANSEA Patti Pavilion
17.04.22 NANTWICH Civic Hall
22.04.22 NEWCASTLE University
23.04.22 GLASGOW G2 Garage
29.04.22 READING Sub89
30.04.22 NOTTINGHAM Rescue Rooms
01.05.22 DURHAM Northern Kin Festival
10.05.22 OBERHAUSEN Resonanzwerk (DE)
12.05.22 LANDGRAAF Oefenbunker (NL)
13.05.22 MANNHEIM 7er Club (DE)
14.05.22 AARBURG Musigburg (CH)
15.05.22 MILAN Legend Club (IT)
16.05.22 MARSEILLE Le Cherrydon (FR)
18.05.22 BARCELONA Razzmatazz 2 (ES)
19.05.22 MADRID Shoko (ES)
20.05.22 SEGOVIA Teatro Juan Bravo (ES)
21.05.22 PAMPLONA Sala Totem (ES)
OTHER SELECTED DATES
27.08.22 COLNE The Great British Rhythm & Blues Festival
25.11.22 HELMOND Cacaofabriek (NL)
26.11.22 ANTWERP All Star Fest (BE)
Steve Overland – vocals, guitar
Merv Goldsworthy – bass
Pete Jupp – drums
Jem Davis – keyboards
Jim Kirkpatrick – guitar