If the stylized band-name doesn’t set off a few mental warning bells, you might hear them once you flip over to check the track titles. “Take Me Back”, “Love’s Just A Heartbreak Away”, “Date With Myself”, and “Tale of a Broken Child” are a few of the ones that might jump out at your scanning eyes, and if you’re trying to connect them to whatever attitude the cover art’s attempting to project, you’re on your own.
Pop the CD in, and you’ll get something along the lines of late-’70s/early ’80s cock rock, coated with the gloss of that style’s ’00s radio revival, throwing power chords around like confetti while yelling out the kind of lyrics you really shouldn’t pay attention to. Occasionally slipping in some glam ballads to make things even more sickly-sweet, and a few “Whoa-oh-oh!” refrains (because by this point, why not?), it’s all too easy to imagine that 21Octayne felt Night Ranger, Cinderella, and Ratt didn’t get their due back in the day, so it was up to them to rectify that situation.
One of the positive points about 21Octayne is that when they go for some shredding solos, the results are actually kind of charming; the problem is that they don’t last long, and inevitably lead back into the vocal fluttering and strutting. Some decent stretches of grooving, unconcerned with how giddy or goofy they might come off as, provide extra push towards endearment, but the studio processing renders them a bit too plasticky for their own good. The post-production does have a few quirky tricks to add, like the cassette-loading sound effects which start off the album, or some of that ‘telephone-input’ alteration that Steven Wilson was so fond of during his time as Opeth‘s producer, but, by and large, it’s about as necessary as stick-on rhinestones.
To the band’s credit, they do try out a fair number of things, with the 10-minute closing ‘epic’ of “Tale of a Broken Child” being the most ambitious of the lot. Unfortunately, the various modes they try out get a run through a normalizer (and I’m not talking decibels), squaring off and sanding down the edges for something with all the heart-felt liveliness of a clown trying to earn his pay-check for entertaining kids at a birthday party.
If you’ve been grinning about the resurgence of this sort of music over the past five years or so, and bands like High Spirits and MAXX12 get your blood pumping, then by all means, have fun with this release. If you’ve had your fill of it, and the names of Nickelback or Creed make you reach for antacids, you’ll want to stay away.