Bay Area hard rockers Night Ranger returned in 2012 with an album, Somewhere in California, that brought many fans of the band back to the fold after a long absence. This is not to say that the band was gone, broken up or on hiatus, they were just not creating albums that had the same vibe as those which made them a household name in the 80s. Somewhere in California brought the band back around to the sound that made them big stage rockers and radio staples; jacked up on big melodies, infectious hooks, and a titanic two-guitar attack that refuses to sink.
This month, Night Ranger has returned with High Road which picks up the torch from its predecessor; and of course those early platinum selling albums like Midnight Madness, 7 Wishes and Dawn Patrol. Vocalists Jack Blades (bass) and Kelly Keagy (drums) along with guitarist Brad Gillis, all of whom formed the band in 1979, remain the core nucleus of Night Ranger. Guitarist Joel Hoekstra took over fret duties for Jeff Watson in 2008, and keyboardist Eric Levy joined in 2011.
Blades and Keagy’s vocals sound as vibrant as ever, and they deliver some amazing performances on High Road. While there are less in the way of huge choruses on this album compared to the previous record, there is certainly more diversity.
The anthemic and addictive title track kicks off the album, and is an instant Night Ranger hit alongside anything in the band’s canon of work. The intro recalls the 7 Wishes, Big Life era of the group’s sound. It strikes just the right chord for the summer. Gillis throws down a tremolo warbling infused solo, just in case you weren't sure this was Night Ranger. You will likely play this song on repeat about 10 times before venturing on to the next track, the straight up party rocker, “Knock Knock, Never Stop”, which is one of the heavier and edgier tracks on the record.
The bluesy jam of “Rollin’ On” is a decent rock tune, and it slides in with a nice groove. It does, however, seem poorly placed in the album’s sequencing. It would have worked better a track or two later, but as Jack sings, "It's alright."
“Don’t Live Here Anymore” is one of Night Ranger’s best modern era tunes. It is a moody song about either redemption or regret, depending on your perspective. Keagy gives a powerful vocal performance, and Levy tees up a fantastic Hammond B3 vibe on the bridge. There's a very bluesy yet darkly sentimental feel to it. The guitar solo is a short but perfect touch.
Great guitars and a fantastic melody line are at the heart of “I'm Comin’ Home”, which is quietly one of the best tracks on the record. Hoekstra and and Gillis offer up some of that trademark harmony solo action. Meanwhile, the band gets more up-tempo with the playful rocker, “X Generation”.
It would not be a Night Ranger album without a poignant and emotive ballad, and they turn in a beautiful one with “Only for You Only”. The piano lulls you in and vocals embody a lingering ache in the soul.
"St. Bartholomews" is propelled along by Blades rumbling bass, before the rolling guitars kick in; followed shortly by the crisp riffs the band is known for. Levy adds some nice undercurrents on this one. Another big harmony chorus rears its head here.
The last couple of tracks bring the album to something of a limping close. They are not bad songs, but not as powerful as the rest of the record. "Brothers" is a very catchy and Beatlesesque tune, while "LA No Name" is a stunning dual guitar instrumental but the album feels like it needs some oomph at the end. Night Ranger actually recorded a couple of bonus tracks that would have fit the feel of the record better.
High Road is an album packed with huge melodies, brilliant performances, and addictive harmonies; both with the vocals and guitars. The band continues to stay true to its vintage sound, while staying relevant to a modern audience. High Road proudly stands alongside anything from Night Ranger’s 80’s catalog. It's a pleasure, no guilt involved.