ZEBRA – S/T: Schlock Rock From Bizarro World

This is a strange one, even by schlock-rock standards – imagine a cross between Rush and Led Zeppelin (plus a dash of Yes), complete with a lead singer who has absorbed the stylistic tics of the singers from each band.  Then, imagine said band playing a radio-slick fusion of hard rock, prog and AOR, deftly juxtaposing FM rock moves with AM pop hooks.  Zebra’s debut album offers this kinetic bundle of moods and styles  – and then some.

Zebra started in the mid-1970’s as a club band that spent years building up followings in New Orleans and New York, dividing their stage set between covers and originals.  By the time they got their record contract in 1983, they had created a schlock-rock fusion they could truly call their own.  Some of the songs on here were as much as five years old by the time they were recorded so each tune is highly polished, with every hook neatly arranged in its proper place.  The punters liked it, resulting in album that was Atlantic’s fastest-selling debut record of that era.

The big radio hits were “Tell Me What You Want,” a swaggering tune that has singer Randy Jackson doing his best Robert Plant banshee-wail over a stomping melody that pits cock-rock guitar riffs against sleek, Rush-style synths, and “Who’s Behind The Door?,” a truly bizarre mini-epic about alien encounters that starts off like Zep’s “Over The Hills And Far Away” but ends with a synth extravaganza that recalls the end of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.  Amongst the album tracks, the goodies include “As I Said Before,” a tidy speed-rocker that could fit in on an early Rush album, and “The La La Song,” a tune that rises above its goofy title with a wild prog-rock arrangement full of head-spinning time changes.

The album further benefits from sleek yet muscular production by Jack Douglas (Aerosmith, Cheap Trick), so the whole thing sounds as confident and radio-ready as a greatest hits album.  Needless to say, this is not for those who can’t dig the influences name-checked in the first paragraph but fans of classic-rock radio will feel like they have discovered a transmission from the Classic Rock station on Bizarro World.