As the ’70s drew to a close, Angel attempted an all-hands-on-deck stylistic change in approach in hopes of breaking through. The songs got shorter and more hook-oriented, with the prog element of the band shifting down to a kind of pomp-rock flashiness to dress up the straightforward new material. Diehard fans of the first two albums didn’t like it and the band’s label Casablanca was succumbing to business problems, meaning the new albums never got the promotional push they needed to make an impression. Within the first few years of the ’80s, the band would quietly fizzle out.
However, the ‘new approach’ albums became cult favorites as the years passed on: in retrospect, these catchy, skillfully-produced albums feel like the pop metal that would become so popular in the ’80s. If these had debuted a few years later, with MTV available to bring the tunes into households across the land, Angel might have had a different commercial fate. In any event, AOR fans and anyone who enjoys the flashier, keyboard-laced side of glam metal will find the albums discussed in this Catalog Crawl worthy of reevaluation…
WHITE HOT (1978): Angel goes full-throttle in a commercial direction – and while fans of the first two albums might disapprove, this is a very strong album in both songcraft and performance. The riffs and the keyboard wizardry are still there – consider the synth fantasia that opens “Got Love If You Want It” or the bold arena-rock riffing that fuels their cover of the Rascals’ chestnut “Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” – but they now operate in the service of melody-driven, compact songs that deliver a strong, radio-friendly hook at chorus time. The rockers are still muscular, particularly the Zep-grooving “Under Suspicion” and stomper “Over And Over,” and the band breaks new ground with the lush, Beatles-influenced power balladry of “Flying With Broken Wings” and “Stick Like You,” a blue-eyed soul effort with rollicking Giuffria piano licks. New bassist Robinson adds songwriting/ backing vocals chops as he turbo-charges the rhythm section and producer Eddie Leonetti hits the right mix of heft and melodic sweetness for these carefully-crafted tunes. An AOR gem from top to bottom.
SINFUL (1979): The final studio album of the band’s original run goes even further down the AOR path. There’s a case to be made that the result accidentally invents the sound of ’80s pop metal’s softer side about five or six years too soon: “You Can’t Buy Love” blends an elegant chorus with dual-tracked heavy guitarwork in a way that could’ve become a power ballad hit in 1985 and “Wild And Hot” is a chugging arena-rocker with a shout-along chorus that any chart-conscious glam act would’ve hocked their last can of Aqua Net for. Other highlights here include the sunny goodtime rock of “L.A. Lady,” another track in an ’80s pop metal vein, and the combination of grandiose mellotron architecture and an emotive, stunning vocal from DiMino on “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again.” The band puts in a committed, energetic performance throughout as they go lighter in style, aided nicely by another class production job from Leonetti. Surprise musical curveball to listen out for: the country-rock riffing that kicks off “Just Can’t Take It.”
LIVE WITHOUT A NET (1980): The obligatory live double album arrived too late to raise Angel’s commercial fortunes but remains an interesting artifact for fans, showing how they translated their complex, layered studio productions to the live arena. It has the usual indulgences in spots – each instrumentalist gets a solo spot in a particular song – but is well recorded and offers a good cross-section of material from their debut through White Hot. Pop-oriented numbers like “Hold Me Squeeze Me” and “On The Rocks” toughen up admirably, band anthem “The Tower” has some interesting new flourishes plus strong bass work from Robinson and Giuffria’s wild keyboard solo, which deploys an array of sound effects and quotes the Close Encounters Of The 3rd Kind theme, is a real show-stopper. There’s even a respectable cover of “All The Young Dudes,” complete with elegant guitar leads from Meadows. The end result isn’t revelatory like Kiss Alive but shows offs the band’s chops as well as the sturdiness of their material.
To read the 1st part of Schlockmania’s Catalog Crawl for Angel, click here.