Review by Andy Hawes for MPM
Lee Aaron has been around a long while! Her debut album (The Lee Aaron Project) dropped in 1982, but it was 1984’s Metal Queen and 1985’s Call Of The Wild that cemented her position as one of the top female artists in what was, at the time, a very male-dominated Rock and Metal scene.
The late 80s saw Lee Aaron adopting a very much more AOR/Melodic Rock sound with 1987’s Lee Aaron, 1989’s classic Bodyrock and 1991’s Some Girls Do. She moved with the times, releasing Emotional Rain in 1994, an album that embraced more than a little of the trappings of the Grunge scene.
She continued releasing albums throughout the 2000s, even trying her hand at jazz-influenced pop. Despite a 12 year gap between 2004’s Beautiful Things and 2016’s Fire and Gasoline she has continued to release product and now here she is in 2022 with her new album, Elevate.
Truthfully, I wasn’t 100% sure of exactly what to expect, as Lee’s style has moved such a lot over the years. I’d heard a couple of tracks from 2021’s Radio On, which suggested a slightly pop-inflected Classic Rock sound and that’s pretty much the ball-park for Elevate. And that’s alright by me!
Gone is the slightly plodding (but nonetheless ridiculously entertaining) Metal of the early 80s albums and there is none of the wonderfully over-the-top AOR/Melodic Rock sparkle of her late 80s efforts and to be honest, that’s a good thing.
Instead, Elevate serves up a highly enjoyable guitar-led slightly pop-inflected Classic Rock dish, spiced up by Lee’s unmistakeable vocal. Often singing in a slightly softer style than in her 80s heyday, she gives each of the ten tracks on Elevate exactly what they need.
The production is also very sympathetic to the needs of the songs. There is no unnecessary gloss on these songs; just honest to goodness Classic Rock. The band (Sean Kelly on guitar, Dave Reimer on bass and backing vocals and John Cody on drums) are no slouches either and they provide this album with a delightful energy and pretty much the perfect feel.
Despite its slightly Pop-inflected Rock style, Elevate isn’t the most instant album I’ve heard recently. However, in truth, that’s probably a good thing, as repeated listens do reward the listener’s perseverance and the hooks do worm their way firmly into your consciousness after two or three listens.
Having said that, there are some tracks that do stand out on first listen. ‘Freak Show’ reminds me a little of some of the vibe from the Bodyrock days with a crazily catchy chorus and simple-but-memorable guitar riffs. ‘Heaven’s Where We Are’ is a brilliantly classy pop-rock anthem that rocks along in the way that Avril Lavigne probably wishes she still could.
Highway Romeo’ rattles along at a fair old pace and is perhaps most similar to some of the late 80s output, with massed backing vocals accenting the stupidly catchy chorus. ‘Red Dress’ is an absolutely gorgeous storytelling ballad with beautiful keyboard orchestration and delicate acoustic guitars before everything kicks in for the final choruses.
The fact that these tracks all come in midway through the album made me momentarily wonder slightly about the track sequencing, but if I’m honest, I’m probably being overly picky, as the opening three tracks are all decent enough numbers, with opening numbers ‘Rock Bottom Revolution’ and ‘Trouble Maker’ in particular kicking in with some aplomb and in fact, one could argue that the sequencing works perfectly by drawing the listener in with a great opener and then leading them up to the big choruses and power ballad in the middle before rocking out to the end.
These days there are any number of extremely high-quality female-fronted acts across all sub-genres of Rock and Metal and it’s very easy to forget that there was a time when this was most definitely not the case, when the industry was very male-dominated.
The fact that Lee Aaron was there to help bring a change to that status quo and is still here making quality music forty years later is a testament to both her talent and her resilience. Lee Aaron fans will doubtless be snapping this album up at first opportunity and quite rightly so, as it sits loud and proud amongst her illustrious back-catalogue.
Fans of powerful, catchy classic sounding Pop-influenced Hard Rock should certainly give this album a whirl.
Overall, the simple and inescapable fact here is quite simply this: Lee Aaron, at 60 years of age, is certainly more than capable of giving some of the young whippersnappers a run for their money and all power to her for doing it. Recommended!
Lee Aaron – lead vocals
Sean Kelly – guitars
Dave Reimer – bass
John Cody – drums
all photos: Theresa Mitchell