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Rock And Roll Angels Born To Swing! - 93%

CHAIRTHROWER, July 12th, 2017
Written based on this version: 1993, CD, Metal Blade Records (Reissue, Remastered)

After purveying the Archives write-ups for Riot's 1977 debut, the iconic Rock City, I felt like a knife had been plunged in my bereaved heart but not because of any ill-written reviews (to the contrary, I found them objective, concise and earnest, all great qualities) which waver below the coveted 90% mark. No, my friends, it's just I believe the NWOBHM-ish New Yorkers deserve higher in regards to what's probably my favorite Riot album (even more so than the great "Fire Down Under" from 1981). When I first heard this congenial, "feel good" classic rock gem I knew my days of self-deprecating and perjorative animosity were over. I finally realized "hard" music needn't be limited to dark surroundings and themes evocative of Old Scratch and the occult (remember, up to this point I'd been weaned on Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Pentagram and the like) or overtly lewd overtures inherent to the 70s (indeed, Riot is one of those rare wholesome outfits the whole family can enjoy!). Rock City made me realize it could, alternatively, allude to carefree, invigorating feelings of good cheer and laid-back living, as proven by soul-lifting Riot staples such as "Rock City" proper, "Angel", "Tokyo Rose" and "Gypsy Queen", all sure-fire game-changers in this right.

Admittedly, one particular track, "Overdrive", alludes to a "bump n' grind" pick-up scene with lines such as "Can you hear my wheels begin to squeal?" and the raunchier "I'm gonna make my pistons pump / Right through the roof" but this is akin to the token boob shot in National Lampoon's European Vacation, an otherwise tame flick by all accounts. Besides, these "loving" metaphors are done in a classy, tasteful way which leans more towards harmless hyperbole rather than sexed-up soliloquy.

Moving forward, I'd compare Riot to Boston giants Aerosmith - the title track, with its bluesy, back & forth swinging riff and 50s style soloing, especially instills this - but without all the ubiquitous, horny chutzpah. Plus, (and no disrespect to Joe Perry) I'm much more taken by Mark Reale's (RIP) innumerably intricate guitar riffs and loud & proud, innovative solos than the former's slightly generic overtures (punch me if you wish, I don't care). Front man Guy Speranza (RIP) exudes a genial, down-to-earth vibe which (again, no disrespect) a flamboyant Steven Tyler lacks in spades. He just sounds so...jolly. That is, content with his honest delivery and role within the band, while unafraid to push his boundaries, as he does on said "Overdrive" where he favours a greasier (and slightly raunchy like I said) Tank-like edge. Reale also cranks things up a notch on this "car stereo cruising" track. As for Reale's barn-burning solo, it's sure to get the 'ol juices flowin' - you know what I mean!

Speaking of which, "Angel" is another boxy Aerosmith-esque, heady rocker thanks to Reale's swing-boogie rhythms and unabated Chuck Berry style blues solos. Here's another suggestive stanza (well, the chorus really) where you might want to cover the kids' ears:

"You're an angel with a broken wing,
You're an angel who was born to, born to swing.
Oooh yeah, I feel like a dog in heat.
Oooh yeah, I got a fire burning under my feet."

It's all in good fun. Then you've something older fogeys (i.e. the parents?) will appreciate, the Simon & Garfunkel-ish "Tokyo Rose" which borders on "Sweet" style coyness while also packing a heck of wallop when, fifty seconds in, the kid gloves come off as the boys from the Big Apple turn this innocuous sounding pseudo-ballad into a veritable hard-driving dirge of well-poised power chords and slick revolving leads. Alternating between light-hearted and much heavier moments, "Tokyo Rose" always puts me in a good mood. "Heart Of Fire" and "Gypsy Queen" fall along similar lines as the aforementioned tracks while my bona fide go-to tracks would be the first two, "Desperation" and "Warrior" (which is on par guitar wise with Wishbone Ash's similarly titled track from 1972).

As soon as the former (and also Rock City's opening track) kicks off, I'm instantly rapt thanks to Jimmy Iommi's - yes, the illustrious Tony Iommi's brother! - super plump bass line underlying Reale and fellow axe-man L.A. Kouvaris' energizing ZZ Top/ La Grange evoking upstrokes. On this track especially, Iommi's quirky little bass fills can be distinctly heard, notably at 0:34 and two minutes in right before Reale's kick-ass scorcher of a solo. He definitely brought his A-Game to the table on these two, especially on the Groundhogs sounding "Warrior", at 01:20. In fact, this last is one of my favourite solos of all time. It's got the same mind-blowing spontaneity and drive as another humdinger I can think of, the one from Lucifer's Friend's "Hey Driver" from its Mean Machine LP from 1981. As for drummer, Peter Bitelli, he proves the perfect counter-point to Iommi's vividly enthusiastic bass playing. Whether it's on harder rocking tracks (as the four making up Riot City's first half) or the tamer "Tokyo Rose", Bitelli conservatively but adroitly cruises alongside his festive band mates. Album closer "This Is What I Get" (For Loving You) is borderline fey but by no means a flop, and makes for a graceful (albeit mellow) finish to Riot's - what do you know! - 40 year old classic, "heavy rock" masterpiece.

That said, if you belatedly hopped on the Riot bandwagon, thereby missing the first stop which is Rock City, by all means do yourself a favour and backtrack in order to give it a whirl. You'll be happy you did.

"Get ready, stand steady,
We're gonna shoot you full of Rock 'n Roll.
You're goin' crazy, don't be lazy,
Ah, the boys are losin' control...

...Get ready, stand steady,
The boys are on the run tonight.
The next town we'll be getting down,
We're gonna rock 'till broad daylight."