SURVIVOR – PREMONITION: Power Chords Meet Power Ballads

Anyone who shrugs off Survivor as chick-rock might be surprised by their second album, Premonition.   This follow-up to their self-titled debut found Survivor sharpening their arena-friendly style and layering the melodic hooks with a surprisingly raucous, hard-driving sound.  Like REO Speedwagon in their pre-ballad success era, Survivor’s early albums reveal them to be heartland rockers that weren’t afraid to crank up the amps and deliver power chords alongside the power ballads.

Premonition grabs the listener right from the opening moments thanks to a surprisingly gritty, in-your-face production style: bass tones are thick, the guitars have a similarly gutsy sound and the drums are front-and-center in the mix as they bash away.  It’s an ideal match for the material, which boasts some arena-ready hard rockers.  For example, opening track “Chevy Nights” bounds out of the gate with the rhythm section playing at double-time speed while the guitar riffs snarl in an authoritative style on top.  Other choice rockers here include “Take You On A Saturday,” which uses low-slung heavy riffs to create the proper lusty mood for its woman-chasing narrative, and “Love Is On My Side,” a rocked-up boogie tune with a surprisingly tough instrumental break.

That said, Premonition never abandons the group’s melodic focus.  No matter how loud the guitar gets, songsmiths Jim Peterik and Frankie Sullivan make sure the riffs work in service of the songs and are balanced with an equal amount of ear candy.  The aforementioned rockers utilize smoothly-harmonized choruses as their secret melodic weapons and the album offsets each rocker with a song that has a stronger “pop” orientation.  For example, “Light Of A Thousand Smiles” is that textbook pomp weaves pounding piano lines and call-and-response vocals around its riffs and “Summer Nights” is a ballad that glides along on gentle piano in the verses before giving way to a chorus where steamy guitar soloing heightens the intensity.

However, the best example of the group’s songcraft on Premonition is “Poor Man’s Son,” a song that sums up Survivor’s strengths in one tidy little package.  The intro has power chords slowly encroaching upon a hypnotic keyboard riff before this combo transforms into a precise keyboard/guitar alloy that acts as the basis for a tale of starcrossed love.  The singsong vocal melody of the verses mirrors its slide guitar riffs beautifully and are offset by a punchy sing-along chorus that ensures the song will stick in the listener’s memory.  Dave Bickler’s vocals top it all off, hitting the right mix of swagger and drama that the genre demands. If Your Humble Reviewer had to point out a perfect example of an AOR song, this tune would immediately come to mind.

As fate would have it, “Poor Man’s Son” also played a crucial role in the next chapter of the Survivor saga because Sly Stallone heard it and requested that the group pen a song with a similar feel for his next movie… which happened to be Rocky III.  The result was “Eye Of The Tiger” and it would introduce Survivor to the greater recognition they were destined for but Premonition revealed they already had the melodic-rock goods ready and waiting.

(CD Notes: this album recently received a reissue from Rock Candy Records and it hits all the marks that AOR fans have come to expect from this label: crisp remastering, handsome design and a nice, thick booklet of liner notes that take the listener into the behind-the-scenes story of this album.  Said notes involve an extensive amount of interview quips from group founder Peterik so fans will definitely want to check this disc out.)

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