AOR officially stands for Album-Oriented Rock but there’s a segment of its fanbase that instead spells it out as “Adult-Oriented Rock.” Basically, this concept refers to a sound where rock instrumentation is used but the design is both more ambitious and more disciplined, aiming for a more “adult” version of rock. There are hard rock and prog overtones but the idea is to create a seamless blend of sounds that exist to support a series of finely-crafted songs. Accordingly, the songs’ lyrics are designed to reflected more adult concerns than the sex/drugs/partying axis of teen-oriented rock themes.
If Your Humble Reviewer had to present a sample of this adult-oriented rock for an interested party, the album I’d play is Clear Approach by Trillion. It is platinum-standard stuff as far as AOR goes: the songs are complex yet slick, with constantly shifting instrumentation that catches each twist of every song. Prime examples of the group’s style are “Love Me Anytime,” a waltz-rhythmed ballad that glides forth on gently-strummed acoustic guitar and delicate washes of keyboard and “I Know The Feeling,” a moody, mid-tempo track that harnesses a dreamy vocal melody to a tense, gently-percolating groove from the rhythm section.
However, Clear Approach isn’t all atmosphere. A good portion of the album pursues a path to Saga/Styx-styled pomp rock: album opener “Make Time For Love” has a stomping main riff that is offset by the delicate, regal swing of its verses and “What You Can Do,” mixes synth-inflected boogie stylings with flowery pop verses and a stomping, harmony-drenched bridge worthy of Queen. The best achievement in this pomp-rock style is “Cities,” an artsy mini-epic with emotive vocals floating over a tricky ballad-rock-ballad arrangement.
The most impressive element of this album is the band’s total control of their sound. There’s no padding or showboating to be found anywhere on the album. Guitarist Frank Barbalace and keyboardist Patrick Leonard add brief solos where necessary but their work is disciplined and thought-out in a way that feeds back into the main melody. The crowning touch is Thom Griffin’s vocals, which have the regal strength and clarity required of an AOR singer but never overpower or compete with the music. They all work wonderfully as a cohesive unit to fulfill the particular needs of each song.
In short, Clear Approach is the “album-oriented rock” dream brought to life and something any card-carrying AOR fanatic needs to hear. Interested parties should check out the Rock Candy Records CD reissue, which features great liner notes and restores “You Clown,” a prog-styled song that was cut to make room for the label-mandated inclusion “Make Time For Love.” As usual, it’s superlative stuff from a classy label.