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"The HOTTEST rock guitar find of 1987 returns with a brand new band;" screams the front-cover shrinkwrap promo sticker in front of a strangely out-of-focus, slightly posterized model leaning up against a street lamp. As if to further forward a visually dubious proposition, Hit Parader's blurb just below states thusly: "If you like the hottest new guitar sounds, check this band out." Well why didn't you say so?
Digging into album #2 and the last credited as Masi, one finds yet again promo stickers are a dicey business, especially with the business of Italian guitar hero Alex Masi's, and I must say his murky, echo-drenched rhythm tone isn't even appropriate for 1985, much less 1988. Superficially Downtown Dreamers sports a notable step up in overall production and hair care budgets, and brings in a freshly-minted producer and co-arranger Howard Benson - who later in his career would go on to produce hard-rock luminaries as Hoobastank, Seether and Flyleaf, but here seems to focus the band a little more towards the hit single trends of the day. This means a liberal sprinkling of the top-shelf 80's glam keyboards tones hand in hand with the rest of the latest tech and tricks, including that awful, reverb-drenched techy snare sound. Dated production aside these additions help compositions that are actually beginning to function as complete songs, with better choruses and craftier arrangements. The first track "God Promised a Paradise" starts of the album with a thud, in a song that could at a glance pass as a Petra cover, sandwiching a decent Masi solo, introducing us to this month's Masi band vocalist, who brings a Klaus Meine vibe to his performance. "Thunder and Lightning" is an improvement, with a nice set of riffs to go with a more mid-paced strut and David Felolt's Meine-isms, it sounds like it could have come off of the Scorps' Savage Amusement, which wouldn't be an issue if that album wasn't already made and derided. Side 2 begins (thank god) with another of Masi's quirky, episodic instrumentals, most welcome here and though completely wigged out again, somehow feels less out of place. That instrumental is followed by welcome double-bass speedster Hellraiser which as per the faster cream-your-pants moments on the prior album sounds like some of the better moments from Steeler's debut. On one of the solo highlights Masi employs pitch shifting to good effect during the frenetically-tapped solo. Alas that's about where the fun ends for this album, striking out pretty badly on the last two tracks.
Once again the lyrics deserve special mention... typifying the worst detritus of the 80's glam scene is proudly on display here, and while they manage to get the cover model to strip to her underwear and strike a suggestive pose on the lyric insert, a closer examination reveals yet again none of these substandard corporate rock anthems could fight its way onto a Twisted Sister B-side. Wading through a deluge of double entendres so obvious they barely qualify the "double" prefix, the listener is subjected to a metric pantload of "gypsy livin'" on "backstreets" to the "alleys of love." Natch, the obligatory "Fire/Desire" rhyme contractually mandated by most metal albums made in 1988, is found here in a track entitled Undercover (Rock and Roll Lover) - crappin' you negative on that title, my friends, though it admittedly is one of the better songs on the album. Elsewhere State of Rock informs us that "I'm in a state, state of rock/Gettin' ready to give it a shot" a rhyme so meaningless and forced it wouldn't sound out of place on a Loudness album. As if that isn't enough, we come to the throwaway final track I Hear You Callin' which actually ends the album with the verse "Would it be legal to say? I like to rape when I play" which apart from being completely appalling literally sounds like the result of a heated boardroom compromise between Enigma A&R and legal ("About the rape thing Howard, the board feels we just can't go all the way here..BUT - and i'm just shooting from the hip here - WHAT IF we word it like a hypothetical proposition...")
Lyrics aside, the other striking aspect of this album is that while Masi delivers plenty of his trademark fast-picked solos and Holdsworthian arpeggios, there are several moments he seems out of place with his pacing, getting lost trying to build up to a moment and then suddenly realizing he has to bridge back to the chorus. In some cases as the abrupt solo ending for "Eye of the Hurricane" it almost sounds like it could be over-editing. It's odd, and disconcerting that you can't even 100% depend on the virtuoso to deliver, and probably a big reason why this album is a at best a one-step forward, two steps back type of situation. While the level of guitar on display and the slight overall tightening of the arrangements prevents this from being just embarrassing, it became clear that the personality of the player was buried too deeply by the trappings of the band, and so the guitarist would abandon the band idea and go solo, but would rebound with 1989's much more nuanced - and Grammy-nominated followup Attack of the Neon Shark.
This album is the second Masi album from 1988. What is offered here is 11 tracks of catchy hook oriented AOR/80's metal, made even more intense my Alex Masi's bombastic and energetic guitarwork...and of course his shredderiffic soloing. Most of the album is mid paced in nature, with only one track (Hellraiser) that is all out speed metal mayhem that sounds kinda like the Ozzy song "Secret Loser" (from his "Ultimate Sin" album, which consequntly sounds similar to a few songs here at points). The rest of the album (barring a song or two that are more bombastic) is slower, occasionally bluesy, metal that sounds similar to Testament's album "The Ritual". The vocals of David Fefolt are of the mid range style, (thats right, no high pitched cheese at all!) he kinda sounds like a cross between David Coverdale and Jeff Scott Soto.
The production here is in the 80's metal format. A "big" sounding snaredrum, and the in-your-face guitar bombast is in the forefront. Combine with that excellent songwriting and driving basswork and what we have is an output that is really very good. "God Promised a Paradise" is probably the best song here (and the reason I purchased this record after seeing the video for this song) and is one that gets stuck in your head the easiest. This is due to the (over) repeating of the chorus, in a sentence..Alex's unique and very cool way of playing drives the song while the chorus pulls you in.
"Thunder And Lightning"..oh my..here we move on to a slower bluesier track that sounds like it could be used as a song for a stripper to dance to. No kidding. Its not overtly cheesy like a Whitesnake song, it actually has more crunchy and metallic moments and especially contains some great leads similar sounding to that of Testament's Alex Skolnick (in particular on the song "Return to Serenity" )(If you've heard that song...you know what this songs sounds like)
"Movin' On" is an energetic "arena" sounding number. It *doesn't* have a "hair" metal feel though ; ) A simple bass line and dazzling guitar harmonics drive the song while the infectious chorus makes it the most interesting. "Undercover (Rock N Roll Lover)"..dont let the name fool you, this song's not bad at all. Granted, if you take out this song's catchy as hell chrous then all you'd have is Alex Masi shredding and wailing like the bad mo-fo that he is! Eh, ..guitar effects are here in big way here.
"Hangin' On" is the obligitory power ballad. It starts with clean guitar and some great singing and most of all transcendental guitarwork.. Here is where we make our Yngwie Malmsteen comparisons, kiddies! Take any Yngwie ballad and add more masculine vocals and you have this! Oh yeah, and make the soloing more intense and listenable to! Other than that this song isn't far removed from sounding like an Ozzy ballad either...(heard Time After Time or Road to Nowhere?) "Foggy Day In Hollywood"...guitar virtouso worshippers rejoice!!! This is an instrumental of shredderific proportions with the breakdown of INTENSE (and downright passionate and "sexy" sounding) slower guitar wailing. Then it speeds back up....to 200 MPH!!!!
I wont go into the rest of the songs....I'll leave that up to interested parties!
In conclusion, if you are into guitar virtuosos (like George Lynch, Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen) then this album would make you quite the happy camper. Other than that, soundwise on a whole, if you like bands like Ozzy Osbourne or Dokken, or even Yngwie Malmsteen's Rising Force, then I think you'd enjoy this. Thats right, this is pure 80's metal with better than good songwriting!