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Phantom Blue's second record doesn't lie when it claims it was built to perform. The debut brought a decent but subdued bout of metal to the table that definitely had its charms but was severely lacking in power and conviction. These problems are more than solved with this album, as Built to Perform fires at you on all cylinders with a set of catchy, sassy songs that are jam-packed with some swinging, crunching guitar riffs. On top of that already effective formula, there is a seriously noteworthy sense of energy and attitude that give the record a unique voice that makes it quite memorable and enjoyable.
Built to Perform's construction is quite simple, being made up of some basic, straightforward classic rock song structures featuring some well done verses and, of course, some catchy hooks and sassy solos. What sets this album a good few marks above any other classic rock or hair metal band of the time is definitely the serious presence and aggression of the riffs. The guitars have a viciously satisfying bite to them that seriously delivers while the riffs themselves are very catchy yet still rather dexterous in makeup. Even when the riffing is simplistic, it's pretty freakin' heavy and possessive of a nearly unrivaled presence that is backed up by a rock solid rhythm section, like on that totally badass riff towards the end of "Loved ya to Pieces".
While the songwriting is a bit on the simple side, but really there's not a problem with that when it's pulled off with this much attitude and power. Honestly, when you can churn out 11 rock solid numbers with this much riffy goodness and sassy spin, there's not much to go wrong. The only time where the album seriously dips in quality would be the ballad, and that shows that this band is best off delivering catchy heavy metal - they really didn't need a ballad in the mix. Everything is hammered into badassery by Gigi's powerful and gutsy vocals, and she delivers a lethal dose of both range and power. The songs themselves have a lot more lasting ability than you'd expect, and this album is one of those that you can just let play from start to finish, but almost every song stands alone as a memorable track.
However, my big problem with simple metal like this is one that most other metal fans probably share - the simplicity itself can get a bit boring. I'll be frank - this only gets boring once. The one offender would be the aforementioned typical 80's-ish ballad in "My Misery" which really doesn't jive with the badass metal of every other track. Whether it's the borderline speed metal riffing of "Lied to Me", the sinister "Better off Dead", the blistering attitude of "Nothing Good", heck, even the Thin Lizzy cover kicks ass. This album brings it on, and what it lacks in diversity it makes up for in consistency of quality and conviction.
Overall, Phantom Blue does a damn good job on this. Regardless of if you know of this band or not, if you enjoy straightforward, gutsy heavy metal, you'll get a kick out of this. The riffs are heavy and catchy, the vocals are done very well, and the songwriting is really enjoyable and pulled off with conviction and attitude. These girls rock harder on this record than any rock/hair/glam band you can think of, and I can easily recommend this to everybody. If you're the type that falls head over heels for this kind of catchy classic metal, you'll love it to pieces.
To be honest it's surprising that this album was released by the same band as the self-titled debut that came five years earlier. Phantom Blue really improved in that time, morphing from a fairly generic and boring hard rock band into a decently interesting heavy metal band. Built to Perform is actually a very impressive release and I'm glad to say that my faith in Phantom Blue has paid off.
Right from the opener the main thing that strikes me as being different is the power of the guitars. On Phantom Blue we could expect a lah-di-dah kind of performance, laid back and easy to zone out while listening to. Here that is not the case, and there's no doubt this time that these girls are a metal band. That train of thought continues on throughout the album, and although there are moments where things are toned down like on My Misery, overall the album is forceful and thundering.
I find that the instrumentation is also more interesting than on the last album, once again most noticeably with the guitars. Suddenly it's very clear why Michelle Meldrum was regarded so highly, as when she's not relegated to playing rhythm she does some epic soloing and is really creative when it comes to the leads. There isn't a single track where I'm not wowed by what she does, compared to the band's first album (where she played rhythm) which I found to be lacking any kind of excitement. Regarding the drums not much has changed and it remains extremely simplistic, and although the bass remains an impressive asset it is somewhat buried behind the renewed interest of the guitars. That being said, I don't think I'd trade the guitar work for Gene Hoglan on the drums, it's Michelle Meldrum that makes this album such a joy to listen to.
I'm even surprised (but impressed) by the vocals. They're still a similar style (aggressive and in some senses similar to the likes of Dio or Bruce Dickinson), but for some reason they just seem to fit in here much better than they did on the last one. They're no longer forced into a place that they don't belong to serve as an irritation, and it really adds something to the band that would otherwise be missing. That's one of the biggest factors to Built to Perform being a great listen: everything works together. The first album was entirely built on individual pieces, but this time Phantom Blue must have realised that wasn't the way to go.
This is definitely more what I'd expected from Phantom Blue, and Built to Perform is an all-round high-quality record. Any fans of heavy metal or that like their classics should give this one a spin, and I can promise you that if you like fancy guitar work then you won't be disappointed.