Review by Jeff Maki—
OK, so I know what you’re thinking: First a review of the new L.A. Guns (read here) and now this? What is this—Metal Sludge? The bottom line is, music is music, and we keep it alive. Speaking of “alive,” a large portion of our readers probably weren’t in 1989 when San Francisco hard rock act Babylon A.D. released its debut album. Featuring the smash hits “Hammer Swings Down” and “Bang Go the Bells,” the band— with its powerful choruses and glam-metal style—struck gold on MTV’s “Headbanger’s Ball” and rock radio. I was alive—I was 13 years old, but honestly, I haven’t listened to them since.
2017 marks the 30th anniversary of Babylon A.D,. and “Revelation Highway” is the band’s fourth album and first new studio effort since 2000’s “American Blitzkrieg.” Remarkably, the band still features all its original members: Derek Davis, vocalist/songwriter; guitarists and songwriters John Mathews and Ron Freschi; drummer Jamey Pacheco; and bassist Robb Reid. (Were these guys in protective bubbles or frozen in time all these years?)
Now that we’re up to speed, let’s dive in with another unaltered first take, this time of “Revelation Highway.”
“Crash and Burn”
We open up with the all-too-common yet usually entertaining highway tune. Before we have time to even crack a beer, we’re hit straight-on with lyrics from the starting line. What have I gotten myself into? What has Babylon gotten itself into? Derek Davis is singing about cop cars and flashing lights! For better or worse, this isn’t the overproduced, pretty Babylon A.D. I remember. This is more raw and dirty.
”Fool on Fire”
With its bluesy riff and acoustic guitars providing the rhythm, this could be a Tesla song—and not a bad Tesla song either. Derek is doing an excellent Jeff Keith impression, and this one’s sure to go over well live (see tour dates).
“One Million Times”
This is an acoustic rocker with more of a ‘70s style. Derek’s soft vocals in the chorus, backed by melodic Cheap Trick or Boston-like guitar harmonies make this one the catchiest and best of the first three tracks so far. The lyrics say he’ll do anything for the woman who is the subject here—each and every time, one million times—surely making this a ladies’ favorite.
With a hard-hitting ‘80s rhythm and Ratt guitar riff, this one is the closest to the Babylon A.D. I remember, albeit on the sensitive side. I’m still waiting for a heavy-hitter with gang vocals a la “Hammer Swings Down.” I need more of an edge. Let’s move on—“No More Tears” unless they are “falling.”
“She Likes to Give It”
Here we get another sensual ‘80s rocker in the vein of Whitesnake, Tesla and Ratt. In this case, it sounds like the woman has been around the block a few times, yet he still can’t help himself (hey, we’ve all been there Derek). The middle breakdown/spoken word part was cool to hear and nostalgic.
“Rags to Riches”
Again, after a cool opening drum beat, the guitars swoop in, tuned to Ratt-minor imitating perfection. It’s an up-tempo rocker, nothing mind blowing, but then the best wailing guitar solo of the album comes in saving it. Way cool, junior.
“Last Time for Love”
A Def Leppard guitar lick opens … If this were a music video, it’s one that would have the guitarist playing with water showering on him in a spotlight …
Que echoing vocals …
Drum beat …
And we’re off!
This type of song is one of the main reasons I could never fully get into the hair metal and glam scene in its heyday. It sounds like a song you’d hear at a county fair on that thing that spins around with the flashing lights, or at that moment in an ‘80s teen movie when the main characters begin to fall for each other at a beach party or arcade.
While it drives it home for what it’s supposed to be, is Babylon A.D. that stuck in the past?
“I’m No Good for You”
OK, so I’ve got a pretty bad hangover from the last one, yet this is more up tempo and all-around better, featuring some of the best guitar work of the album. Possibly even the hardest riff.
The title alone has me excited. Could this be it? Is this the anthem? The heavy and wild track I’ve been waiting for? Yes, it is. It’s most definitely a party song, with lyrics of bars, cocaine, plastic girls and diamond rings. This one is my favorite here. It’s in the spirit of KISS and sounds the closest to anything on that great debut years ago. I could’ve used threee more of these.
”Don’t Tell Me Tonight”
The title screams ballad, but no, this one rocks from the start and once again the subject is a woman (Geesh, Derek.) It’s at least guitar driven with a catchy chorus (spoiler alert—it’s the song title). It’s not the way I would have ended the album, but I’m not a member of Babylon A.D.
“Revelation Highway” isn’t really what I expected or needed. After 17 years, I wanted to hear more of a statement. I expected a “comeback” album a lot heavier on the riffs—those of the “thundering sound of a ship hitting ground.” Instead, what we get is a vixen that’s causing all kinds of trouble and heartbreak—damn near an album’s worth. It seems the onetime wildcat on the hunt has become the prey. “I just can’t deny,” this just isn’t a great album. Diehards—those waiting for this band to put out a release surely will disagree, but in the event the mood strikes, I’ll listen to “Hammer Swings Down” or “Bang Go the Bells” any day over this.
Frontiers Music, November 10, 2017