By JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
KEEL – THE FINAL FRONTIER (1986)
It was just about a month ago when I wrote about the 1987 self-titled Keel album. I found myself surprisingly taken with the album. After the article was posted and I had promoted it around the Internet, the majority of the feedback that I saw tended to mention that the reader recommended the band’s album The Final Frontier as well.
As luck would have it, I had the album in The Big Box of Cassettes so I decided to check it out and let those who had recommended it know what I thought. I need to mention that much like the Keel album, my copy of The Final Frontier played well enough for me to listen and write this article but I do plan to upgrade to a CD version as soon as I can.
The album was Keel’s third release and the second in a row to feature Gene Simmons as the producer (after 1985’s The Right To Rock). The album’s title track led off the release and in all honesty, I was kind of underwhelmed by it. There was just something that seemed to be missing that would’ve led to capturing my imagination. I could probably safely say the same about the song “Hear Today, Gone Tomorrow” as well.
But the other three songs are actually quite musically endearing! “Rock and Roll Animal” kicked up the energy level with the song infused by some quite notable guitar work, particularly the solo. The lyrics reminded me of that time in the mid-to-late 1980’s when I was still able to delude myself into thinking I was ever going to be some kind of rock god. Spoiler alert: That didn’t happen! But it sure is nice to get that kind of buzz from a song these days.
The band’s cover of the Patti Smith Group’s song “Because The Night” (co-written by Smith and Bruce Springsteen) was actually quite good. The radio station I have to listen to at work plays the original version and I’m always kind of energized when they do. Keel does up the more rocking nature of the music but I still found it to be a great version, one that makes the song their own while still maintaining a kind of faithful nod to that original version of the song.
I think Keel had an unintentional notion towards saving the best for last because my two favorite songs on the album are sequenced as the last song on each side of the album. Side One’s closing number is “Arm and a Leg”, a rip-roaring rocker that goes for the throat from the first note and shines an extended spotlight on the guitar playing from Bryan Jay and Marc Ferrari.
The second side of The Final Frontier breaks out at the start with a huge anthemic rocker in “Raised On Rock”. I thought the vocals on this song really set it up to be one of the better tracks on the release. With the song “Just Another Girl”, I thought there was the potential for the song to go off the rails but with a surprisingly strong chorus, the song really came together nicely. I wish I could say the same for the album’s ballad / power ballad type song “Tears of Fire”. I just didn’t care for it.
The light touch instrumental “Nightfall” gives listeners a brief respite before leading directly into the album’s closing track “No Pain No Gain”. As I said with “Arm and a Leg”, the band saved the best for last because the song is all fiery attitude and a blazing killer sound. I can’t quite make up my mind as to which of the two “last” songs I like best but both are just fantastic.
I don’t always take feedback suggestions from those who read the articles but I’m kind of glad that I did listen when it comes to The Final Frontier. One of those people who suggested I check out the album was my friend Jeff from Georgia. He and the others that said the same thing as him definitely didn’t steer me wrong. While I probably still prefer the Keel album just a bit more, The Final Frontier showcases Keel in the finest light and again makes me wish I hadn’t taken thirty plus years to actually “discover” them.
NOTES OF INTEREST: The information of the Wikipedia page for this album lists the title track as being co-written by Greg Chaisson, the brother of Keel’s bassist at the time Kenny Chaisson. Greg would go on to become the bassist for Badlands whose debut album I wrote about just last week.
The Final Frontier album had a number of guest appearances. Black ‘N Blue vocalist Jaime St. James did backing vocals on “Rock and Roll Animal”, House of Lords keyboardist Greg Giuffria did the same for “No Pain No Gain” and Michael Des Barres sang on “Raised on Rock”, which also featured Joan Jett on rhythm guitar.