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Quite a large stumble actually - 75%

OlympicSharpshooter, April 25th, 2004

Ronnie James Dio is perhaps the greatest voice in metal, and by 1984 he seemed unstoppable. After three early metal classics with Rainbow (namely Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow, Rising, Long Live Rock 'n' Roll plus On Stage), a pair of what have to be considered Sabbath's top efforts in Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules (plus the magnificent Live Evil), and then one of metal's most incredible debuts with his solo band's Holy Diver, Ronnie could do no wrong. Well, we thought so anyway.

The Last in Line is by no means a bad record, it's just a step down from the truly magical string of releases I rattled off above. Actually, this is a very interesting album because it invokes an imaginary version of 80's metal that didn't really exist outside of this. This is basically THE generic metal record that people think of from this period, with tons of guitar squeals, air drummable fills, and fleet-fingered guitar runs, all fronted by a manlier-than-manly voiced bellower who splits his time between magic, sex, cars, and magic. Unfortunately as entertaining as that is sometimes, it doesn't make a particularly consistent or high-quality listen.

Still, this album comes out of the gates as strong as any I've come across, implying that this Ronnie-come-lately(sorry) has subscribed to the Bob Rock school of ordering songs. Simply put, the absolute cream of the crop is thrown out early, providing a start that makes you think that the little (very, very little) rocker who could is gonna continue that unparalleled streak. "We Rock" is probably the best speed metal in the Dio catalogue, and an able follow up to the pedigree of triumphs like "A Light in the Black", "Kill the King", "Neon Knights", and "The Mob Rules". For 1984 this is actually pretty technically complex, probably one of Viv Campbell's best all around performances on that wonderful solo and tricky riff, with Appice and Bain rock solid underneath. It's your typical RJD lyric, but it approaches the point where his woeful poetry actually becomes profound and powerful (see "Heaven and Hell" or "Long Live Rock 'n' Roll"), although the brainless chorus chokes off that possibility. I mean, people have been calling themselves the bearers of the majesty of ROCK'N'ROLL (oooh yeeeah!) for ages, and the shtick has worn thin. Gotta hand it to Dio though for assembling a pretty brainy piece of music underneath the st00pidity, and if it's Ronnie singing I'll probably buy it.

Although I rag on this album now and then, there is no denying the power of the title track. "The Last in Line" is not only the best song on this album, it's also better than anything on the godly Holy Diver record, and it's also better than anything he would write afterwards. THIS is a quality example of Dio's impassioned parables reaching for the stars and pulling them down to earth to power some of the finest metal known to man. That intro is pure class, Ronnie proving that he is a versatile singer and going all mellow with less of the self-conscious drama that he occasionally seemed to force in Sabbath. But you know it won't last long, and the build up to that glorious golden explosion is practically unequalled in rock music. Really.

The up tempo riff is a fine piece of metal, circling the vocal melodies, advancing and retreating before it rises up to do battle with Ronnie over that impassioned chorus. This is also a great example of when Dio uses keyboards in a non-ridiculous fashion, plunging along under that formidable riff rather than dripping sugar over it (no offence "Rainbow in the Dark"). The solo is less refined than most of the others here, but the raw edge and obvious chops help to push it up to a level with the rest of this masterwork. Still, the important thing is Ronnie here, and he is at his absolute scenery-chewing peak.

"Breathless" is another speedy rocker, not quite "We Rock" but pretty good. The riff chunks impressively but generically, and the lyrics are just sort of there. Really Ronnie, these rhymes just sound forced. "Cause you're Breathless, ready to burn/Breathless, the circle still turns/Breathless, willing to learn/You're Breathless". The circle still turns? What the hell is that supposed to mean? Well, at least he doesn't talk about rainbows. Oh wait, he does. However, I love that intro which features some experimentation with samples, something Ronnie usually avoided. All in all, fun but sorta meh.

I do really like "I Speed at Night" though. It's short (3:32) and extremely punchy, a very eventful roller coaster with another snarly Ronnie performance. The lyrics again make no sense to anyone but Ronnie, but one of the finest vocal moments comes towards the end of the song when Ronnie grits out "You've got some stair to heaven, you may be right/I only know in my world, I hate the light!" Hell yeah, that is metal to the rotten core right there.

We take an interlude from the speed metal with "One Night in the City", which proves once again that Ronnie is no William Shakespeare, particularly on this fumbled attempt to retell the story of Romeo and Juliet. Still, I applaud the fact that this sounds different, and this is a compelling argument in favour of the decision to hire a keyboardist rather than have Ronnie try to do it himself. On my first few spins I found it to sugary, but now I like the epic flavour and hard driving riffery that makes itself felt underneath the keys. I mentioned the silly narrative, but Ronnie rescues it with his usual serious delivery that undermines the camp value, particularly on the great break in the middle with the twinkly keys.

"Evil Eyes" is yet more widdly speed metal, and contributes to the problem of songs sounding too much alike. This is a bit too heavy on the guitar squeals (did Tracy G sneak into the studio?!), and the chorus doesn't have a great hook. There isn't much to say about it. Oh, and he talks about rainbows some more.

Gah. The biggest misfire on the record, and the most blatant sell-out attempt in Ronnie's career thus far, though emphatically not the last. This basically attempts to rewrite "Rainbow in the Dark", but fails to capture either the whimsy of that iconic keyboard line nor the dark majesty of the riff. This song is pathetic in every way, and it isn't even catchy. The chorus is idiotic, the lyrics are poor, and Ronnie just seems to lack conviction. Amazingly, nothing about rainbows.

"Eat Your Heart Out" is just hilarious. This is quintessential 80's cheese rock. I couldn't stop laughing at the chorus, and the lyrics are so ambiguous that you can't help but see why he never got critical respect. These are literally the worst sexual euphemisms I have ever heard. "Locked away in your velvet jail"? Come on Ronnie! Isn't Wendy ashamed of you? The solo is fine, but that riff is so unapologetically shlocky that it makes you wonder what everyone was thinking back then. Piss poor metal for the paralytically pissed.

Finally we get to the album's, *ahem*, "serious epic" (Translation: Ronnie's latest "Stargazer" rewrite). Trouble is he seems to have forgotten that people loved that song because, uh, stuff happened. "Egypt" is saddled with a painfully dull riff, a majestically dissatisfying up tempo section, a gloriously meh solo, and a distinctly naff keyboard line. The song plods worse than "The Sign of the Southern Cross", and Vinnie is noticeably restrained on the drums. He REALLY needs to push this along with some cool fills, but he doesn't and the song just bogs. Also, the non-standard chorus doesn't work. It is an interesting idea for a song though, aliens influencing Egypt, but Dio fails to carry it off with any inspiration at all. Oh, and he talks about rainbows.

All in all, this album is very good in sections, mediocre in others, and is really worthwhile only for the first two tracks which are available on every Dio "Best Of", making this release for completist fans only.

Stand-Outs: "The Last in Line", "We Rock", "One Night in the City"