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Reviewed by Will Harris
Have you seen who else is signed to this label? We’re talking about people like Bret Michaels, Night Ranger, and Shaw/Blades -- and not to bash the music of these artists, but it’s not as if they’re overly relevant to what’s going on in today’s charts. Conversely, it takes but one spin of Surreal, the debut album from Man Raze, to realize that you’re hearing something that would quite readily appeal to listeners beyond the “gray-haired grit” and “retired headbanger” demographics.
Granted, to suggest that Collen’s voice is reminiscent of a gruffer Joe Elliott would not be inaccurate, with the similarity particularly pronounced on tracks like “Low” and “Every Second of Every Day,” which sound like they were pulled straight from the Def Lep playbook (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Collen also remains fond of the glistening layered harmonies that are a trademark of his other band, so their fans certainly don’t have to worry about stepping too far outside their comfort zone when investigating Surreal.
Still, there’s no question that getting a chance to leave his usual collaborators behind has given Collen the opportunity to up the musical ante and get a bit more creative with his compositions. Surreal opens with two angry rockers, “This Is” and “Turn It Up,” which sound not entirely unlike something the Foo Fighters might record, and they’re followed by “Runnin’ Me Up,” a track which meshes rock and reggae in the same manner that the Clash once did. (There also exists a full-fledged dub mix of the track, though it’s sadly not to be found on the disc.) It’s clear that the songwriting duo of Collen and Simon Laffey is a solid one, and Paul Cook’s backing vocals add as much punch to the music here as they did to the Pistols’ tunes. (Very underestimated, our man Paul.)
It’s simultaneously thrilling and depressing that Surreal is, without question, better than Def Leppard’s 2008 release, Songs from the Sparkle Lounge. It’s not that Surreal is necessarily any more groundbreaking, but it certainly packs more of a melodic-rock punch; Man Raze also have the advantage of not needing to fall back on the now-formulaic sonic touchstones that Def Leppard are seemingly forced to include on their records. Hooray for Collen, Cook, and Laffy, then, right? Yes, but the depressing bit is that Man Raze don’t have the name recognition to achieve a tenth of the sales that they deserve. Here’s hoping this review helps them shift at least a few more units.