When a renowned artist heads on a solo career it is always a bit of a gamble. Leaving the cohorts of a band that made them known, their past achievements follow behind and thus they are always expected to come up with something superior to any new bands attempting to break through to the world of big sales and popularity. More often than not a solo album is scrutinized much more closely than an album the artist would’ve released as part of the band he gained his reputation with. Whereas an already established group could afford a miss or two amongst their discography, a starting solo career is prone to crash and burn very quickly if the material released fails to hit the mark. On the other hand there’s a big group of musicians whose solo releases have carried their reputation onwards with pride, and even on some occasions have lifted their career on a totally new level. Luckily for the fans of hard rock, Bob Catley belongs to the latter group.
In the late 90’s the legendary british rockers Magnum had split up after the release of 1994’s enjoyable but, in Magnum scale, substandard “Rock Art” album. The band’s songwriting genius, guitarist Tony Clarkin and singer Bob Catley set off to form Hard Rain, a band which unfortunately didn’t prove itself powerful enough to ever be a decent follow-up to it’s famous predecessor. And so, as the new millennium was drawing near, Magnum and it’s members seemed to slowly fade away from the limelights of rock’n’roll.
But even though it might’ve seen bleak, the story was far from over.
1998 saw the release of Bob Catley’s first solo album ‘The Tower’. If there had been any mists of oblivion creeping over Magnum’s legacy, they were all swept away with a blast of melodic hard rock of highest quality. Collaborating with Gary Hughes, the brains of ‘hard rock/pop-metal’ band Ten, Catley managed to – not only prove himself as a rock hard solo artist in his own right – but also released an album that rivaled the best Magnum albums of the past.
“The Tower” begins with style. The mellow beginning of the opening track “Dreams” flows on with a celtic sounding melody that takes the listener back to the misty moorlands of ancient Britain, an imagery that the album’s cover artwork appropriately depicts. Then, without a warning, the pace tightens and the song transforms into a brilliantly executed duel of a piano and electric guitar and builds into a song that immediately gives a promise of one hell of a hard rock record. And simultaneously lifts the expectations for the rest of the album through the roof. Remarkably enough, those expectations are met as soon as the second track, entitled “Scream” begins, very sneakily, straight from the end of “Dreams”.
Personally I can easily lift “Scream” as the definite highlight of “The Tower”. Even though the whole album consists of first class material, there’s the kind of magic in “Scream” that still sets it above it’s surroundings. Gary Hughes always had a knack of writing killer melodies, but this time his writing pen was truly on fire. “Scream” features inventive, catchy and emotional melodies; both slow ballady parts and catchy midtempo verses. And when the song’s chorus begins, it shoots into your brain, causes an instant addiction and returns in the silent hours of the night to haunt you till you get up and listen to the song again. Add to this a set of excellent lyrics, Catley’s strong delivery and voilá – a true hard rock masterpiece has been created.
Very neatly composed “Deep Winter” is another premium example of the album’s strength. It’s an acoustically driven song that verges on up-tempo yet, rather controversially, reaches a very melancholic mood. Catley shines on this one too, fitting his voice perfectly to reflect the lyrical contents of solitude, longing and bitter sweet memories of once burning love, now frozen and lost as if underneath the snow and coldness of a merciless winter, never to return again.
In addition to the ones previously mentioned, “The Tower” has seven more tracks to offer. All very melodic, very atmospheric and very good. The music ranges from very subtle moments of Catley singing with only a lone piano in the background, to arrangements that reach proportions easily describable as epic. There isn’t really a single weak moment amongst the tracks though some songs might get left in the shadow of the really superb ones. If there ever was a perfect melodic hard rock album, this could well be it.
After releasing “The Tower”, Bob Catley’s solo career really took flight and brought on a series of great albums. The 1999 follow up “Legends” and 2001’s “Middle Earth” continued the flourishing collaboration between Catley and Hughes. By the time of 2003’s “When Empires Burn” (reviewed on the Steel Mill’s reviews section) saw Bob joining forces with keyboardist Paul Hodson and became, what Catley cheerfully calls “his heavy metal album”. 2006 the latest of Catley solo releases so far, “Spirit of Man” saw the light of day, and underlined his reputation of being able to deliver solid material time after time.
During this time, of course, also Bob’s main band Magnum got reunited and keeps on delivering their trademark brand of hard rock to the music fans ‘cross the globe. Coming back with a pretty lame “Breath Of Life” in 2002, they really got their stuff together again with 2004’s “Brand New Morning”, an excellent album that was quite on par with all their best releases. And just as this review is being written, the new Magnum album “Princess Alice And The Broken Arrow” has been unleashed, and Steel Mill’s own mad hatter Ville Krannila is being busy cooking up a new review of it for all you Steel Mill goers. So, check it out – and then, rush off to the shops to get your hands on a copy of “The Tower”. Every home should have one.
3. Far Away
4. Deep Winter
5. Fire And Ice
8. The Tower
9. Fear Of The Dark