Vow Wow - 1987 V
ARTIST: Vow Wow
LABEL: Arista (UK), Eastworld (Japan)
SERIAL: 258 678, CA32-1551
CD REISSUE: 1994, Eastworld (Japan), TOCT-8417
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
LINEUP: Genki Hitomi - vocals * Kyoji Yamamoto - guitars * Rei Atsumi - keyboards * Neil Murray - bass * Toshihiro Niimi - drums
TRACK LISTING: 01 Don't Tell Me Lies * 02 Somewhere In The Night * 03 The Girl In Red * 04 Breakout * 05 Cry No More * 06 Same Town * 07 Born To Die * 08 Waited For A Lifetime * 09 Don't Leave Me Now * 10 War Man * 11 Don't Leave Me Now (extended version)
BackgroundJapan's most legendary band had been through a lot by 1987. Hard rocking upstarts in the mid 70's, they opened for Kiss and released albums at an almost impossible rate. By 1984 their focus shifted to making an impact in the UK after being well received there on the concert trail. Genki Hitomi was brought in as lead vocalist, apparently due to his better pronouncing of English words. His powerful AOR ready voice combined with Yamamoto's melodic guitar pyrotechnics for a terrific dual frontline. However, it was the addition of keyboard virtuoso Rei Atsumi that landed Bow Wow in AOR boulevard's centre lane. His pomp rock approach to keys (think Asia and Magnum with a dash of Omega) added that extra magic. Bow Wow had used keys before, and had recorded AOR material as well. Albums such as 'Guarantee', 'Glorious Road' and 'Telephone' are readily glossed over in favour of their more hard rock oriented albums, a bit of a shame really. New wave act Bow Wow Wow ('I Want Candy') were a major force at the time, so to avoid being confused with them, the re-tooled Bow Wow decided on Vow Wow as a viable moniker for this new era of the band.
1984's 'Beat Of Metal Motion' was the ensuing album, and one of the most poorly named as I cannot hear a trace of actual metal on there with the exception of the terrible opening cut. Ranging from Hard AOR to outright AOR, it's a cracking album. Even with the relocation and cosmetic name alteration, the rapid pace of recording and releasing albums continued, ensuring that the listener needs to be selective with their catalogue across both eras. The following two albums 'Cyclone' and 'III' seemed to try a frenetic metal tempo drenched with pomp keyboards, but the melodies generally fell flat. Momentum from the '84 album was lost and it was clear that a return to proper AOR was needed, with no more Jeckyll and Hyde. The bass player Kenji Sano had enough and returned to Japan, in came Neil Murray (ex Whitesnake) and a new dynamic was added to the songwriting. Kit Woolven, who had produced Magnum's timeless 'On A Storyteller's Night' album, was brought into the control room. So it was that Bow Wow/Vow Wow returned to what they did best: high flying pomp rocking AOR, and the result was 1987's 'V'.
The SongsThe Songs Much like their 1984 classic, a shaky start is again on the cards with opening track 'Don't Tell Me Lies', trying to fuse a swaggering heavy handed blues rock approach with glistening keyboards Something about this doesn't quite work. I have to admit the sense of real melody is almost absent here. Amazingly it was one of the album's singles, and quite rightly did nothing on the charts.
'Somewhere In The Night' is where the album really kicks off though, a massive pomp rocker setting off at a racy gallop in the 80's UFO vicinity. Uptempo pomp AOR hitting all the right targets here, from outrageous hooks to melodies from the Magnum songbook, time to break out the strong coffee!
'The Girl In Red' repeats the dose at midtempo, ridiculous hooks and melodies again on offer. Hitomi reveals some more layers to his vocal abilities, hitting the Klaus Meine button on his dashboard at chorus time, to great effect. Superb AOR roasting away.
'Break Out' is your standard hard rocker, embellished with occasional flourish but not helped by an awkward tempo. Not a throwaway by any means, not a standout either.
'Cry No More' enters the ballad sweepstakes with all the pomp and drama you'd expect, I guess you'd call it an AOR mid ballad, some great touches from Atsumi on keys and yearning Schon like guitar bits from Yamamoto. As you'd expect, Hitomi's vocal is all over this one, as if the track was written to suit his voice. Power ballad indeed, highly recommended.
'Same Town' raids the pomp rock arsenal again, storming stuff really. Surging hooks and over the top keyboard antics set the stage for a falsetto chorus bringing a band like Queen to mind, another successful AOR excursion.
'Born To Die' swings a little to the left, some tempo changes and dare I say hints of prog into the mix, this comes across like they were listening to the Kansas catalogue. A strong melodic chorus ties it all together, delivering another winner.
'Waited For A Lifetime' enters the fray on a grand scale, pulsating rhythm and a sweeping synth hook from Atsumi light up the room, uptempo AOR with some crunch under the hood. A very simple chorus on display here, the chord changes going on underneath making it all work. Blistering stuff, hitting the AOR coffee meter's red zone and not for the first time.
Said coffee meter is in for a meltdown next though, 'Don't Leave Me Now' hitting every classic 80's AOR checkpoint. A John Wetton co-write, the Asia influence is obvious, especially in the chorus harmonies. Atsumi's keys are omnipotent here, an inescapable AOR foundation for everything else going on, perfrect habitat for the crunching guitar and sensational vocal attack to flourish. This was Vow Wow's lone foray into the UK singles chart, settling somewhere around the top 50. It deserved much more, but at least some recognition was forthcoming. I can quite honestly label this with the horribly overused 'AOR classic' tag. I mean it.
Album closer 'War Man' revisits some prog influences mixed with pomp AOR tendencies, tempo changes eventuating through the track. Kansas is once again a required comparison, but listen carefully to that somewhat melancholy chorus, the Omega impact is immense, emotional and highly melodic. I seem to keep returning to this one, always a good sign if the closing track is a cracker.
In SummaryIt's safe to say Vow Wow annihilated the pomp AOR target here, this really is a high quality consistent album. Also their commercial zenith, and deservedly so. Woolven's studio prowess is evident and you can hear the Magnum influence, but not to the extent where they take over the sound and style completely. This is still very clearly Vow Wow, and by that I mean Bow Wow. Certainly one of the bands highlights in a long career, they would follow this up with 1989's 'Helter Skelter' album, expect to find it reviewed in these pages later in the year.
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AOR Lee September 22 2013 1329 reads 6 comments Print