Review by Andy Hawes for MPM
Paul Sabu is a name that is revered in AOR/melodic Rock circles most notably for the classic Heartbreak album originally released in 1985 and for the utterly brilliant Only Child album from 1988 (although he has released several others also).
Both these classic albums are stuffed chock-full of the sort of hard rocking yet keyboard-drenched AOR that had the pink and fluffy brigade quite rightly swooning in their spandex at the staggering magnificence therein back in the day. The fact that Sabu himself had the voice and guitar chops to render him a genuine AOR hero obviously helped no end and both albums are an oft-played part of many fans’ collections to this day.
Fast forward far too many years and here we are in early 2023 with Sabu’s newest release (it came out at the tail-end of 2022) on Frontiers Music s.r.l. Entitled Banshee, this album is supposed to be ‘in line with Sabu’s classic releases under the band moniker Only Child’ so let’s see how it holds up!
Opening track ‘Blinded Me’ is indeed a thunderous statement of intent and it’s clear that Sabu and his co-conspirator Barry Sparks (ex Malmsteen, Dokken, etc) have gone back to the blueprints of those 80s classics and decided that the ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ mantra is readily applicable here.
Blinded Me’ is therefore a monster hard rocking AOR track that does indeed drip with an Only Child vibe. Sabu’s gruff yet melodic vocal still sounds pretty darned good all those years later, although the gruff does tend to overshadow the melodic on the highest notes, but yes, this is indeed pretty good stuff!
Title track ‘Banshee’ has a similar approach, with hints of the pomp-rock magnificence of Touch in the keyboard intro, before opening up into another cool piece of AOR with an appropriately massive chorus. Like many 80s AOR acts, Sabu always liked a song with a girl’s name in the title (think ‘Angeline’ from Heartbreak and ‘Cherie’from 1996’s Sabu) and ‘Kandi’ is a standout track here, with classy AOR guitar riffing and another monumentally huge chorus hook.
This is easily as good as anything on the classic Heartbreak and Only Child albums and it’s looking as though the Sabu and Sparks collaboration is bearing some good fruit!
‘Love Don’t Shatter’ starts off sounding pretty ordinary and for a moment there I feared that we might have seen the best of this album already, but then the chorus kicked in and my doubts were dispelled by the monstrosity of the hook. ‘Back Side of Water’ is next and continues the theme of thunderously hard rocking AOR. There are some seriously big guitars on this track.
The hook is pretty huge too, but Sabu’s voice isn’t at its best on this one, sounding just that bit too gruff for my personal tastes. There’s no denying the quality of the writing and performances though and it’s a hugely intense song with layers of guitars and keyboards, organ and harmony guitar solos hammering the track into your brain with the subtlety of a train-wreck.
‘Skin To Skin’ has more of the classic Heartbreak and Only Child vibe, with guitars and keys battling for mastery within the mix, although there’s an element of 80s cheese in that opening line of the chorus. Cheese is also unfortunately present in the following track, called simply ‘Rock’.
This would have been a bad idea even in 1985, so calling a song ‘Rock’ in 2023 isn’t ever so forgivable! However, such is the magnitude of the production and arrangement that this track does indeed… erm … rock – and most mightily too! Sadly, it’s just fallen slightly on wrong side of ‘all shout and riff and not a lot of melody.’ Can’t fault the attitude and intensity though and there’s a lot to be said for that.
‘Turn The Radio On’ should, by its title, be a lot less noisy and a whole lot more AOR and thus it indeed is, although those guitars are still absolutely huge! Sadly, the lyric is a cheesefest of gorgonzola-esque proportions. However, don’t let that necessarily put you off, as it’s got another monumentally massive chorus with everything bigger and louder than everything else in a slightly pink and fluffy kinda way.
I must admit that, given the cheesiness of the past two tracks, I was not holding out a lot of hope for a song called ‘Dirty Money’, but I was pleased to discover that there is a bit of variation from the norm with some slightly twangy Stratocaster riffing driving this song along.
Yes, its not great lyrically, but it does have a classic ‘big chorus, big riff’ 80s Hard Rock vibe going on and is way more entertaining than I thought it might be, which is also what I feel about ‘Midnight Road to Madness’, which has an initially quite ordinary opening riff but somehow seems to outdo itself as the track progresses.
‘Rock The House’ ends the album with a monster riff-fest that clearly takes some influence from Van Halen’s 80s output in the intro and verses, before an absolutely planet-killingly huge chorus flattens everything in its path and ends the album on a real high note. There’s even a nod or two to classic Rainbow in the instrumental section! Unexpected and very welcome!
Well, that was a pleasant surprise! I wasn’t expecting much from this album, as, to my ears. Paul Sabu’s output suffered from a huge quality dip after the wonderful Only Child album. While Banshee can never really hit the heights of those 80s classics, it does give it a blooming good go! If you’re a fan of the man, definitely give this a spin! If you’ve not heard him before but love classic 80s Hard Rocking AOR and 80s Hard Rock in general, there’s a lot to enjoy here.
It’s big, bold, brash and puffs out its chest in the finest Paul Stanley tradition. Yes, some of the lyrics are iffy in the extreme and Sabu’s vocal does sometimes sound a tad forced and is often mixed quite low below the huge layers of guitar, but it’s actually a lot of fun and nostalgic in all the right ways!
Buy or Stream: https://orcd.co/sabubanshee