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Monday, July 24, 2017

1012. Yngwie J. Malmsteen's Rising Force / Odyssey. 1988. 4/5

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Yngwie Malmsteen’s fight for commercial recognition and success had continued to build throughout the 1980’s. He had a tough fight on his hands. Not only did he want to showcase his amazing guitaring, but he wanted to do it in a fashion that would also find itself commercially viable in the world of rock radio around the globe. No easy feat. The recruiting of the Johannsen brothers, keyboardist Jens and drummer Anders helped to settle the band, especially the keyboard and synth skills of Jens, but what was perhaps the best commercial move was the obtaining of former Rainbow vocalist Joe Lynn Turner as front man for the album. The result was this album, and in that commercial sense Odyssey became the most successful of Yngwie’s career.

When this was released back in 1988, I just loved it. It was one of four or five albums that year that I wore to death, furrowing deeper grooves in the vinyl and stretching the tape on the cassette copy by the number of times I played it. Even those songs that were of the slower, verging on ballad-like qualities, the ones that in the not-too-distant future I would be decrying as a menace to heavy metal, I still loved and sang along to. Some people around me would write this album off as trash, as just a narcissist on guitar surrounded by musical fluff and patsy lyrics by a narcissist on vocals. In those days I was mostly blind to any of that. I loved the tempo and the atmosphere of the tracks, and the honeyed vocals of Turner allowed me to generally wash over the lyrics and just enjoy the songs as they came out at me. Any arguments to the contrary were for me shut down by the massive disappointment of the following album Eclipse which really did head down a complete commercial path. Again, I was mostly blinded against any criticism.
Listening to this album today, you can hear that it has dated quite massively. It is very much tied to the era, with the keyboard and synth highly involved despite the master craftsman on guitar being the showcase piece. And without appearing to bow to those naysayers of the past, Turner’s vocals and some of his lyrics are just a little too stonewashed and gratified to be completely comfortable with. It would be an easy thing to dismiss this as a stereotypical 80’s overhyped synth guitar album with little or no substance, and place it back in the racks.
But there is still more to this album than that.
It has those moments that are obvious attempts to crack into that radio market, songs that have been crafted by both the writer of the music (Malmsteen) and the writer of the lyrics (Turner) to find their way into the popular market. The single released from the album, “Heaven Tonight”, had that kind of business trade, the music video also helping to raise its profile. It may not have made the grade in Australia, but overseas the single saw good sales and promotion of the album itself. It is a genuine single, written to be so, and yet it is still enjoyable from a purist Yngwie fan to love. “Hold On” and “Dreaming (Tell Me)” are both in the power ballad category, though with that distinctive Yngwie guitar sound that puts it at a bit above that level, giving you something to enjoy that doesn’t always come with a power ballad. “Now is the Time” is not in this class of song, but it is quite a sugary rock song that suits the radio metaphor. If someone were to say to me that these were rubbish songs that made the album unenjoyable to them, I could understand where they were coming from. Not agree, but understand.
Because then you have the songs on here that make the ride well worthwhile. The opening track “Rising Force” is a cracker, starting the album off on the right foot and at the right tempo. After the somewhat powder puff remainder of the first side of the album it concludes with the rollicking “Riot in the Dungeons” which increases the tempo nicely. The second side of the album has the two star attractions, those being “Déjà Vu” and “Crystal Ball”. Either or both of these should have been singles if Yngwie was really serious about hitting that commercial market, and not because they are commercial songs in the same way that “Heaven Tonight” is. Both have those characteristics but they are not purposely written in that way. Both are great sounding hard rock track backed by trademark Malmsteen riffs and terrific vocals from Turner that make them stand out from the crowd. “Crystal Ball” especially is a terrific track that is still one of my favourite Yngwie songs. “Faster Than the Speed of Light” is also a fun faster track on the back half of the album. To top it all off, the three instrumental tracks – “Bite the Bullet”, “Krakatau” and “Memories” – all showcase Yngwie’s wonderful skills to their utmost.

I have no doubt that if I was rating this back in 1990 I would have been throwing full marks at this album. As I said, I loved this back in the day. With years for both the album and my music tastes to mellow somewhat, I accept that there are a few flaws on the album that I may well have ignored when it was released. None of that wipes away my enjoyment of this album to this day however. It may not be perfect and it may come across as overblown, but I still love it for all its cracks.

Rating:  “Through the doorways of the heart, step inside, the magic starts.”   4/5

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