Monday, May 30, 2016

Lee Aaron – Fire And Gasoline [album review]

Released on March 25th

Lee Aaron will forever be saddled with the ‘Metal Queen’ label, which goes back to her 1984 album title, single, and video of the same name. The ultra-cheesy “Metal Queen” video heavily played up the 22-year-old Aaron’s sex appeal, which she used to her advantage throughout the rest of the decade in conjunction with a very solid collection of material. After enjoying ample success in her native Canada, the early 90s were not kind to the singer. Rapidly declining album sales were encountered by Aaron and just about every other melodic hard rock act as grunge went on to largely displace the entire music genre

The sexpot baggage Aaron carried has largely obscured what an underrated musical talent the Belleville, Ontario native is. She’s always had a fantastic, powerful voice and has writing credits on nearly all of her material. And late 80s tracks like “Powerline”, How DeepWhatcha Do To My Body, and Only Human” still hold up quite well, at least to these ears. 

After a couple of mid 90s albums that experimented with alternative rock styles (including 1994’s Emotional Rain, which sounded far better than I remembered upon a recent listen), Aaron explored her passion for jazz on 2000’s Slick Chick album. After Beautiful Things, her 2004 release that combined the singer’s jazz, blues, pop, and rock influences, Aaron stepped back from the music world to start a family. Reconnecting with her hard rock roots in recent years now results in the release of Aaron’s newest album, Fire And Gasoline

Opening track “Tom Boy” delivers a solid start, offering the promise of a heavier-sounding Aaron album with its meaty guitars, courtesy of Sean Kelly. Kelly, who’s played with everyone from Nelly Furtado to Helix, met Aaron while putting together Metal On Ice, his 2013 book on Canadian metal and hard rock. Aaron wrote the song for her pre-teen daughter with lyrics that celebrate the freedom of being yourself and resisting peer pressure. A noble gesture and message from Aaron, to be sure, but what in the world was she thinking with that cringe-inducing “Tom Boy” video? It features the singer and her daughter performing with her daughter’s friends and seriously undermines any credibility that Aaron might have sought for this comeback album. I take no pride in ripping anything involving a bunch of innocent kids, but it’s honestly one of the worst videos I’ve seen in years.  

The next several tracks on the album predominantly struggle to maintain the modest momentum established by the opener. The funky title track, the pop punk of “Bad Boyfriend” and “Wanna Be” (with a nod to Aaron’s jazz past in the latter’s prelude), “Popular”, and the instantly forgettable bluesy “50 Miles” all fail to make much of a mark. Only “Bittersweet”, a catchy power ballad anchored by a simple, yet very effective main guitar lick, emerges from the pack of mediocrity. 

Unusually, the album’s best material resides on its final four tracks. “Heart Fix” lets Aaron stretch out a little more vocally and even with its highly melodic sound, it’s one of the too-few Fire And Gasoline tracks that conveys much edge. The poppy “If You Don’t Love Me Anymore” also puts hooky melodies front and centre. Two ballads, “Nothing Says Everything” and the soulful closer “Find The Love” also nicely showcase Aaron’s vocal chops and feature tasteful musical arrangements from her backing band, which includes Aaron’s husband John Cody on drums.

While it feels close-minded to fault Aaron for softening her sound on her first true rock album in two decades (hey, everyone matures), I must admit to being fairly disappointed with the tameness of Fire And Gasoline. Aaron’s desire to show her wide range of musical influences results in an album that has its moments, but generally feels a little too scattershot for its own good. 

An interesting tidbit for music geeks: Fire And Gasoline was recorded at The Farm studio in Vancouver. It was previously known as Little Mountain Sound, where the biggest albums from Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe, and Aerosmith were recorded in the 80s.

Rating: C