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Album Review : Grand – Second To None

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Review by Andy Hawes for MPM

I had the very great pleasure of reviewing Grand’s debut album back in October 2022 and I’m delighted to be able to review Second to None, their second release on Frontiers Music S.R.L.

The debut album was a very classy piece of modern Scandi AOR and from the very first notes of opening track ‘Crash and Burn’ that Grand have continued where their delightful debut left off. This is Scandi AOR of the highest order, with a truly delightful blend of guitars and keys (Jacob Svensson) and the quite stunning vocals of Mattias Olofsson. ‘Crash and Burn’ is a delightful piece of AOR with a ton of Toto influence and Olofsson doping his best Joseph Williams impression with some stratospheric vocals.

‘When We Were Young’ is absolutely magnificent! Boasting a wonderful West-Coast AOR vibe (harking back to classic-but-obscure Scandi AORsters Toys of Joy) and the kind of chorus that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end such is its utter brilliance! The whole track just begs for repeat plays and evokes that wonderful world of 1980s teen movies. Awesome!

Next up is ‘Leave No Scar’ which opens with an awe-inspiring acapella vocal section and a slightly heavier guitar riff (although the sparking keyboards are still there to keep things in order!) When the chorus hookline kicks in, it has just the right amount of Euro-Rock cheesiness to keep you coming back for more and the guitar solos combine melody and twiddly-diddly shred in exactly the way that proper AOR guitar solos should be played! Classy stuff for sure.

‘Rock Bottom’ follows and loses the Euro-Rock vibe, substituting instead a powerful mid-paced harder Rock sound with a more menacing minor key melody. This one reminds me a little of Work of Art’s heavier moments – still firmly in the AOR sphere, but adding a little more substance into the mix. The guitar solo explores slightly different scale structures to match the moodier vibe of the track, but the band still make sure that the hooks are huge.

‘Sweet Talker’ is next and opens with an almost Hair Metal style riff, before the rest of the track kicks in with quite brilliant AOR/Melodic Rock vibes. There is a lot happening in this track, both with regard to the production and to the writing where some quite different chord modulations lift the melodic structure beyond the AOR ordinary – rather in the same sort of way that Toto loved to do. There’s also a storming sax solo in there just to take it over the top! Marvellous stuff indeed.

‘Lily’ is ushered in on glorious synth pads and funky percussion, with some quite delightful vocal work. The guitars take an almost Funk approach to proceedings here too as the song builds through the second verse into another quite brilliantly written chorus. The guitar solo is also a joy – short, achingly melodic and perfect for the song. This is West-Coast AOR of the very highest order! It’s a tricky style to pull off but Grand do it in quite some style here!

The West-Coast vibe continues into the utterly fabulous ‘Kryptonite’ which has an absolutely colossal chorus hook, bolstered by massive guitar power chords and a wall of harmony vocals. Fans of Work of Art will LOVE this track!

‘Out of the Blue’ is a tad more mid-paced and a bit lighter in the guitar department and is yet another glorious slice of AOR; brilliantly written and delivered. There is a little bit of the late, great Tony Mills (Shy) in Olofsson’s vocals in this one, especially when he reaches the higher notes. Once again, Grand have mined the motherlode of great chorus hooks and come up with a winner. Simple, but oh, so effective and another great example of how to do the softer side of AOR brilliantly.

However, Grand are no one-trick pony. They prove this yet again by mixing it up a bit on ‘All or Nothing’ with a harder rocking edge and a more guitar-led style driven by more of those wondrous vocals and yet more insanely catchy hooklines before delicate twinkling synths herald the arrival of the equally hard rocking ‘Achilles Heel’ which explodes into action on guitar riffery and a sea of harmony vocals. The chorus has another monstrous hook, although the Cheesy Euro-Rock quotient is pushing at the max on the melodies in this one, especially when the key change kicks in at the end.

Grand close this marvellous album with ‘Daze Of Yesterday’ which has a Chicago-esque keyboard intro and an almost theatrical melody that wouldn’t be out of place on a West End stage or in a movie like The Greatest Showman. Once again, the writing is clever, utilising some interesting chordal modulations on a staggeringly good West-Coast ballad that harks back to the mid-late 1980s yet strangely doesn’t feel out of date. The track builds quite wonderfully with a highly sympathetic production job and a guitar solo straight out of the Steve (Toto) Lukather trickbag. I’m not usually a fan of ending an album on a ballad, but when they are as good as this, I’m sold.

Phew! It’s albums like this that make me realise why I love this softer kind of Rock music so much. Wall-to-wall brilliant songwriting, staggeringly good vocals, brilliant guitar and keyboard work, excellent rhythm section and hugely clear production and mix, Grand have it all in spades. Their first album was no fluke! This is one mightily talented band who aren’t afraid to mix things up and take a few chances in their take on the well-trodden Scandi-AOR path. Essential listening for all fans of West-Coast, AOR and the softer styles of Melodic Rock. Quite brilliant!

SECOND TO NONE
TRACKLISTING

1      Crash And Burn

2      When We Were Young
3      Leave No Scar

4      Rock Bottom

5      Sweet Talker

6      Lily

7      Kryptonite (feat. Nina Söderquist) 

8      Out Of The Blue

9      All Or Nothing

10    Achilles Heel
11   
Daze Of Yesterday


Time: 0.45.12

GRAND are:
Mattias Olofsson – vocals

Jakob Svensson – guitar, bass, keyboards

Anton Martinez Matz – drums, bass


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