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“…call me a liar, I’m down in flames…”
A British act, Holland were one of the bunch in Ebony’s mile-long stable that kept the nwobhm galloping into ’84, sensitive yet fairly rugged with a frothy hard rock underbite held over from the ‘70s that at times is a little overindulged but not enough so that you can’t tell it’s metal that’s spinning. Still sounds iffy, I'll bet. No, these guys didn’t record nine hip-for-’81 tracks and finally release them in ’84 (see: Force), nor do they have a parade of mid/late ‘70s albums leading up to Early Warning (see: Whitesnake, Y&T, Krokus), but when final track “Liar” quiets to dead wax, there’s no questioning what era they grew up in either. Holland has a clue to its motives even if some listeners don’t.
With a recipe written by sincerity, catchiness, and controlled energy, the five-piece go for broke for about half of this nine-songer, simmering in a capable and kinda unexpected More-ish vivacity, comparable to some of the pedal-stomped stuff on the band’s Warhead lp though probably taken down a peg in the bombast department. Unsurprisingly there’s an antipode to the bluster, elegance that’s not hard-boiled, but airy and airtight all at the same time and is evident during the lp’s more soft rocking moments where side two’s averagely-paced “I Need”, name-accorded “Kicking Back”, and flowingly Top 100-ish “No Chance” lie, the last of which features a cool entwined guitar solo from former Black Rose guy Kenny Nicholson and Bob Henman, an unremembered pair whipping out some pretty darn rememberable licks.
If you accidentally threw on side two first instead of side one, unless your metallic expectations weren’t too high in the first place, you’d think you just blew some dough on a quintessentially paralleled pub rock album and by “No Chance” had waved goodbye to hope. But if you stuck it out for the entire side, you’d hear that the jarringly memorable and chorus-fisted “Liar” could be an omen to more ambitious stuff living on the other side.
It’s not uncommon for one or more of these compelling choruses to rattle around my head hours after the album’s stuffed back into the closet. Passionate, hooky, and tastefully structured, anthemic “Shout it Out” and polished yet sinuously-chorused “Second Time Casualty” get the ball rolling for “Break Out the Booze”, a pretty riled up octane guzzler that, while toothed and rustic, pales to the lp’s top aggressor and speedster “Do It”, closing a galvanic and grand side one with a ravaging punch that flies without reserve across the extra mile. Somehow squirming its way to my most played on the disc is the more corporate title cut, one of those symmetrical and openly lost hits stroked with just enough contagious grace, above ground muster, and restraint to have ridden radio waves everywhere, but shamefully dropped its signal along the way.
Ironically, elegance paints side one a little differently despite showcasing the album’s heavier songs and is probably more the definition of the word. While side two’s less-than-bruising trio are adequately dressed for normal everyday rock mode, side one’s samples are more soft-handed and conscious of tragedy, mirroring lyrics that’re mostly about relationships (failed or otherwise), in particular the White Lion-ish acoustic n’ vocally humble start and finish of the title cut (making it even more commercially formulaic) and “Second Time Casualty”’s hi-hat-tinked urgency.
Staying away from early traditional keening, pre-teen vocals, Doggy sings in a mostly manly mid-tenor range, forceful and rough where warranted (“Do It”, “Break Out the Booze”, “Liar”), though can dip into the stylish well as heard in “Early Warning”, kinda like ex-Deep Purpler Glenn Hughes (I hate using Hughes as an example here, ‘cause a well known reviewer assimilated the two ten years ago, and plagiarizing even ideas makes me feel cheap, but when you’re right…). All in all, his tight, multi-dimensional, and down to earth style is probably best for this record.
The production from Ebony’s own studio (with Darryl Johnston) is a fine piece of work that sometimes seems to breathe with its own life, and during certain moments it feels as though you’re sitting right there watching Doggy inhale, Nicholson or Henman fire off a riff, or some backing vocals elevate a chorus.
The quintet would wrap it up under the odd Holland moniker after a same-named Canadian band of no consequence would legally throw up its fists, but would return a year later almost as strong with the more muscular, albeit standard Hammer cognomen.
A very grounded, earthbound offering, and if it weren’t for side two’s unfortunate inferiority complex (save “Liar”), Early Warning would’ve been much closer to smelling the breath of the 90s percentile.