When you’ve got a “Society of Friends” like Ian Parry has, all you need is songs.
The perk of being a singer/leader of an act is the freedom to hand pick your supporting cast. Ozzy Osborne and David Coverdale wrote the book on how to surround yourself with the crème de la crème of talent to really allow a singer to shine and their make their artistic visions larger than life.
The flip side of this is that it can expose an artist’s vulnerabilities no matter who you are. Anyone else remember the superstar lineup Mick Jagger brought in for his solo effort? Sometimes it gels into something special, sometimes eh…
Ian Parry is the center point of Rock Emporium and the Society of Friends album out March 18 from Escape Music. After 3 bands, a solo album and multiple collaborations with former members of Black Sabbath, Rainbow, and Oasis, Parry should know how to get a rock engine revving. Guitarists Timo Somers and Dimitris Goutziamanis, drummer Imre Daun, bassist Barend Courbois and keyboardist Jeroen Van Der Wiel are joined by six special guests. All musicians on the album can play with the best and you get some blazing sweep picking solos and nasty drum fills. But most of the time they keep the brakes on to serve the song.
And, in the end, that is what it comes down to, the songs. Considering that the influences listed include AC/DC, Asia, Boston, Bon Jovi, Journey and Bad English (whoa…. Someone besides me remembers Bad English!!!) only the track “Start All Over Again” reaches the lofty heights of a song you’d wait to hear on the radio or rewind to hear over and over again. It has a big hook that would make Jon Bon Jovi jealous and is worth the download.
Ian Parry has the voice to deliver the songs. Sonically he’s close to the late Ronnie James Dio but without the grit and menace, in part due to the fact Society of Friends never ventures into Swords and Sorcery realm. Not to say the stories don’t go to some interesting places. The lead track “Stone Cold Fever” deals with the topic of being laid off after 25 years of service to a company without the working class happy ending of “Living on a Prayer.” (Maybe Tommy and Gina didn’t make it after all.)
The weakness in the album is while it does nothing wrong, it doesn’t do anything great or distinctive. There are a lack of big hooks and too many cooks in the kitchen trying to make sure the ingredients don’t clash. No unique personalities come to the surface to complement Parry like Ozzy had with Randy Rhoads or Zakk Wylde, or Jon had with Richie Sambora. In truth, I couldn’t tell the difference when the special guest appeared on the tracks.
“Skin Deep” and “Circles” both start with an atmospheric fascinating opening but don’t go anywhere interesting after that. Same with “Crazy Fools.” The intro really grabs you by the throat but then it doesn’t squeeze. Other than “Start All Over Again” there is nothing that sticks to your ribs and roots around in your head.
It’s not that Society of Friends is a bad record. Perfect performances and a polished production will gain it an audience. With so many musicians you would think it would be full of personality. Instead, it lacks such a trait to help it stand above the crowd.