Night Ranger – Hole In The Sun (2008, VH-1 Classic)
- Tell Your Vision
- Drama Queen
- You’re Gonna Hear From Me
- Whatever Happened
- There Is Life
- Hole In The Sun
- Fool In Me
- White Knuckle Ride
- Revelation 4AM
- Wrap It Up
- Don’t Tell Me You Love Me (acoustic version)*
- Sister Christian (acoustic version)*
(* bonus track)
Kelly Keagy – Drums, Lead Vocals
Jack Blades – Bass, Lead Vocals
Jeff Watson – Guitars, Vocals
Brad Gillis – Guitars, Vocals
Michael Lardie – Keyboards, Vocals
Total Time = 1:03:42
(NOTE — Original release in Europe & Japan was April 2007)
It’s hard to believe that it’s taken almost a year for Night Ranger to secure a U.S. distribution deal for their ninth studio album, HOLE IN THE SUN, but the album has finally arrived on American shores to celebrate the band’s 25 year anniversary. Night Ranger has seen the highs and lows of the fickle music business: riding chart success in the mid-’80s with five Top 20 singles and four platinum albums to disbanding at the end of the decade. As Night Ranger ended, singer/bassist Jack Blades went on to more platinum excess with Damn Yankees and guitarists Brad Gillis and Jeff Watson explored solo careers. Drummer/singer Kelly Keagy soldiered on in the early ’90s under the Night Ranger banner, with Gillis & Watson joining him, but it wasn’t until the reunion trend started in 1996 that the original Night Ranger lineup (including keyboardist Alan Fitzgerald) reformed. The reunion saw a resurgence in the band’s popularity overseas and the band released two studio albums: NEVERLAND (1997) & SEVEN (1998). Both albums were a return to the AOR/Melodic Rock stylings that sold out arenas and put their videos on heavy MTV rotation.
So what has really changed in 9-10 years? More lineup changes! Alan Fitzgerald has moved forward to a career as Van Halen’s hidden touring keyboardist and has continued to release new music with Alliance, he was replaced on the album with keyboardist Michael Lardie (Great White). Jeff Watson is working on a solo career again and had a cameo appearance in Disney’s ‘Enchanted’ movie although he did write & perform on HOLE IN THE SUN. The touring lineup right now consists of Blades, Gillis, Keagy and newcomers Joel Hoekstra (guitar) and Christian Cullen (keyboards). Jack Blades has been producing and performing with Tommy Shaw (Shaw/Blades) and Kelly Keagy released two solo albums – TIME PASSES (2001) & I’M ALIVE (2007).
‘Tell Your Vision’ kicks things off with a big guitar/drum sound that reminds me of the band’s DAWN PATROL (1982) roots. Kelly Keagy handles the gritty vocals with Jack Blades harmonizing in at the bridge and chorus. One strong point the band has always had is the blending of the two vocal styles and it still works well as ‘Tell Your Vision’ sounds like the early ’80s melodic rock the band became famous for. ‘Drama Queen’ is another upbeat rocker that’s guitar driven and sounds similar to their more modern work on SEVEN. ‘Drama Queen’ is really a showcase for the guitars as Gillis and Watson trade solos mid-way through the song and continue to weave in and out of the main riff. Another guitar showcase is ‘You’re Gonna Hear From Me’, no surprise as it’s co-written by Brad Gillis with Jack Blades. It’s heavy for Night Ranger, less melodic, and there’s a bit of what seems like a stadium chant of “Hey!” after the solo. If there’s one song that’s not typical Night Ranger, it’s this one. Musically it’s good but I just can’t get into it.
Pure melodic Night Ranger revives with the Jack Blades led ‘Whatever Happened’ that recalls the classic ’80s sound that was resurrected on NEVERLAND and SEVEN. ‘There Is Life’ is the first ballad of the album with Mr. Sister Christian himself, Kelly Keagy, putting in a fine vocal over a gentle Lardie piano. If you’ve heard a Night Ranger ballad before then you know what to expect but I hear more of Kelly’s solo work on this track, especially from I’M ALIVE (2007). ‘Rockstar’ is another Blades/Keagy vocal trade-off but the sound reminds me of some Red Hot Chili Peppered sound during the verses moving into typical Ranger harmonies for the bridge and chorus. Again, the guitar work is excellent and the solos are effortlessly done but the song has an experimental quality like some of the songs on SEVEN. The title track is an upbeat rocker that sounds similar to ‘Sea Of Love’ from SEVEN, especially when Blades and Keagy sing together throughout the song. ‘Hole In the Sun’ is another melodic, catchy tune but I’ve heard it all before.
‘Fool In Me’ is ballad #2 and is just basic percussion, acoustic guitar, and Kelly Keagy’s vocals. Of course the harmonies with Jack Blades are there and it sounds like a song from Kelly’s solo albums or from Shaw/Blades – INFLUENCE (2007). ‘White Knuckle Ride’ is another gritty guitar song that has a push and pull to it with the guitars but they cut out for some of the verses leaving the vocal alone. I’m not sure about the keyboards here, there is an annoying “beep” that you can hear throughout the song that just distracts me. I would pair this with ‘You’re Gonna Hear From Me’ as two songs I’m just not enjoying off this album. ‘Revelation AM’ sounds like a leftover from Keagy’s TIME PASSES solo record…..solid vocals, personal lyrics, and acoustic driven with a touch of power chords come the chorus. The song is part ballad (verses) and mid-tempo (chorus) and is a nice blend of the overall Night Ranger sound. The acoustic guitars shine, especially at the solo. Brad Gillis penned two songs by himself (he also co-wrote three others) so guitarist Jeff Watson steps to the plate with two songs he wrote: ‘Wrap It Up’ & ‘Being’. The first song is a guitar driven tune that sounds like more DAWN PATROL-era Night Ranger with more Keagy grit, the solos are especially good on this song. ‘Being’ starts with a harmony vocal and a quiet acoustic guitar with soft percussion. It’s a good ballad but three on one album is sometimes too much but Night Ranger has always been able to pull off a good ballad…..kind of like the Scorpions! ‘Being’ is soft and subdued and kind off ends the album on a quiet, laid back note that threw me off because the bulk of the record is so guitar driven.
The U.S. release not only gets new artwork but it also gets two bonus tracks with unplugged versions of two big Night Ranger hits: ‘Don’t Tell Me You Love Me’ and ‘Sister Christian’. Fans already know these two songs well and these new versions are basically the same as the originals except for the acoustics. The Japanese release in April 2007 already had the unplugged ’Don’t Tell Me You Love Me’ included as a bonus track and the European version didn’t include either.
Night Ranger does AOR and Melodic Rock well and HOLE IN THE SUN is a continuation of that pedigree. Most of the songs are uptempo and guitar driven with solid twin riffs and impressive solos. Keagy and Blades don’t really break a ton of new ground as a rhythm section, they do a good job keeping the songs together, but they shine as songwriters and vocalists. The album’s best performance goes to Kelly Keagy for his lead vocals, I was impressed that he was the primary vocalist on most of the album, he sounds the same as he did in the classic era but with a little more grit. Blades is no slouch vocally as he handles his lead vocals well as usual but the strong point is always the vocal trade-offs and harmonies the guys have always excelled at. There are a few experimental and modern traits to some of the songs but overall it’s melodic rock that Night Ranger has always done. The first couple of spins really didn’t grab me but the album has really grown on me with subsequent listens, it’s a continuation of what the band did on their two reunion albums. I’m not really sure what the delay was on a U.S. deal for the album but it seems like the band has lost some momentum because the Japanese and Euro editions have been widely available online. The new artwork doesn’t really fit for me, it fits the title but it doesn’t fit the band. Obviously they needed to make a change from the original silhouette cover with the latest lineup changes but it just doesn’t fit for me.
Favorite songs: ‘Tell Your Vision’, ‘There Is Life’, ‘Revelation AM’, ‘Drama Queen’, ‘Fool In Me’