Review: Brian Island – Brian Island
AOR Heaven (April 30th 2021)
Reviewer: Jason Hopper
Brian Island has re-released his hard to find 1989 debut album. Being that I have never heard his name mentioned by anyone, I did not know what to expect. What I came to find out was this is one of the best sounding AOR albums that I have ever heard.
You immediately notice this with the first track ‘In Spite Of What You Do‘. What becomes immediately evident is the pronounced bass melody. The guitar actually takes a back seat in the sonic spot usually occupied by the bass in similar recordings from that time period. The keyboards also have a prominent lead role. A funky pop AOR hybrid that may not necessarily be my cup of tea, but the sheer fun and catchiness of the track cannot be denied. Tracks like ‘Major Motion‘ also carry forth with this fun-type of vibe.
There are some really solid tracks on offer here. ‘No Surrender‘ and ‘Night After Night‘ are songs that if I had heard them on the radio back in the day, I would have sworn this was part of some 80s movie soundtrack. It seems designed for an inclusion into any of the numerous opening title credits of various movies of the time. Lots of keyboard sounds and sound effects. Both songs also have sparse guitars until the obligatory solo shows up.
My favorite tracks appear at the end of the album. ‘When You Lose Your Love‘ is a mid-tempo ballad where Brian approaches his vocals in a similar way that John Waite would have, had he sung this song. His vocals and the background vocals gel perfectly in the chorus. Now would be a good time to mention those incredible sounding background vocals. The soulful female vocals add to Brian’s vocals perfectly creating the dynamics of the album to make almost all of the choruses “pop”. Then there’s ‘Draw The Line‘. Holy Cow! Is this an unreleased Rick Springfield track? This could have easily come off of one of his 80s albums and is the most upbeat track on the album.
There are a few clunkers on the album. ‘Walk On Water‘, a ballad with a slight reggae feel, is lifeless and uninspired. ‘I’m Your Hero‘ is a song that does not leave first gear. Simply boring, with a dull chorus. ‘One Wish Deliverable‘ is a bonus track for completionists only. A demo song, that while sonically decent, is just there to entice those who may have previously owned the album to buy this version. It does not enhance the album at all.
I never heard the initial release, so I cannot compare the two albums, but this has to be the sonically superior release. The album sounds as good as the best remasters you can think of lately, with the ability to hear all of the instruments in play with prestine clarity. There are some albums that were released back in the 80s that did not sell very well that are now considered essential albums to own (Michael Bolton’s Everybody’s Crazy album comes to mind). So is this album one of those hidden treasures? It depends on your preferential view of AOR-style bands. If you’re hoping for a Journey/Survivor AOR style with this album, you will not find it here. If you’re looking for a Benny Mardones/Robert Tepper vibe, then this is worth checking out.