Zebra - 2003 IV

LABEL: Frontiers
YEAR: 2003

LINEUP: Randy Jackson - lead vocals, guitars, keyboards * Felix Hanemann - bass, keyboards, vocals * Guy Gelso - drums * Chillie Willie - guest sax

01 Arabian Nights * 02 Light Of My Love * 03 Who Am I * 04 Angels Calling * 05 KK Is Hiding * 06 Free * 07 So I Dance * 08 Waiting To Die * 09 A World That Is Learning * 10 My Life Has Changed * 11 Why


I've always been wary of reformations and comebacks, particularly with melodic rock bands hoping to capture their former glories. I was especially wary when I found out that Randy Jackson was reforming Zebra, it has, after all, been a very long time since the release of their last studio album, '3V'.

I realise that Randy's project with Terry Brock (The Sign) proved quite popular among fans of Strangeways and Zebra alike, but that wasn't reason enough alone to join forces with former band mates, in my opinion. Maybe it's just me being a little over protective, Zebra being one of my favourite cult bands of the 80's and all. With my initial reservations out of the way, what of the new music?

The Songs

The opening track, the appropriately named 'Arabian Nights', is a Zeppelin-esque rocker which comes on at full tilt, with a slightly Eastern feel. By the time the vocals come in, Randy Jackson's Robert Plant meets Geddy Lee squeal (and you'll still love it or hate it) is unmistakable.

Obviously then, it may have been the best part of two decades since the release of '3V', but the band's devotion to Led Zeppelin seems unfazed, as much of the other material on the album will testify. 'Light Of My Love', again, carries a huge 70's rock vibe and the drum sound here is huge.

The band groove themselves into a stupor as Randy squeals his heart out. Those of you who still get a kick from the 'No Telling Lies' era will enjoy this one for sure. By the time 'Who Am I' arrives, the band have shifted down a couple of gears and there's a much softer, more melodic feel.

The guitar work has a nice, clean tone (I'm suspecting a twelve-string here) and it's very much in the vein of 'Time' from '3V'. It was always this aspect of Zebra's sound I enjoyed the most in the past, and 'Who Am I' is no exception. 'So I Dance' follows a similar pattern, although a little more upbeat and with a few keyboards thrown in for texture.

The mid paced 'KK is Hiding' (from Glenn Tipton?) ensures things carry through with more than enough momentum. Randy is fine voice, but the best bit of the song is without question the guitar solo, propelled by slide, dropping the track musically somewhere between classic Zeppelin and the first Zeno album.

'Free' matches up to previous material on offer, though I'd imagine if you're not much of a Zebra fan, their occasional repetitiveness and unhealthy obsession with all things Zeppelin-y could wear a little thin by this point, but luckily I don't fall into that category.

Just when I thought Zebra had used both of their musical tricks to great effect, 'Waiting To Die' caught me off guard, chances are, you'll be swept up by it too. I can't remember the last time Zebra got so mellow and atmospheric. All pretensions of wanting to be the greatest Led Zeppelin inspired band ever get temporarily pushed aside as things get very mellow and atmospheric.

It's all very low-key and the musical highlight here is Chillie Willie guesting on sax. Saxophones are great in the right places. I'm really hoping that Willie turns out to be Pink Floyd collaborator Dick Parry ('us' and them' and after all we're only ordinary men'). Other sections are bigger, with more focus on the drums, Randy's voice gets more shrill (as always) and the 'aahs' are the stuff of 70's pomp, but the focus always shifts back to the sax.

Closing the album, 'Why' at first seems like an atmospheric ballad to round things off. Just Randy's voice and guitar, that clean, ringing tone he uses of the softer Zebra stuff'very good. The listener's illusions are then shattered as Guy and Felix join in and, again, things become the Led Zeppelin-meets-AOR-pomp sound which typifies so much of the band's output.

In Summary

As you can probably tell, all of my initial worries have proven to be unfounded, as after a very long silence, Zebra return with a cracker of an album. Even though Randy, Guy and Felix like Led Zeppelin more than is probably good for them (and hey, I can sympathise), Zebra fans should really dig this new offering.

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