Review: Axel Rudi Pell – Diamonds Unlocked II
SPV (July 30th 2021)
Reviewer: Jason Hopper
Axel Rudi Pell returns with another covers album, his first since ‘Diamonds Unlocked‘ back in 2007. Having been a fan of Axel since 1997, I have loved a bunch of his releases while also being critical of others. While I am a fan of singer Johnny Gioeli’s voice, his albums with Axel (especially over the last decade) have been so similar that it’s difficult to pinpoint which songs go to which album when songs pop up on a playlist. Of the albums featuring Johnny, one that I return to often is the first Diamonds cover album, so this was a release I was looking forward to reviewing.
I will preface this review by saying there are some songs covered here that I am very familiar with. Others….not so much. That does not mean I have never heard of most of them, it’s just that they are not on my rotational playlist. I planned to be more critical of classics that I am more familiar with just because I have been hearing those songs repeatedly for decades. Thankfully, many of these songs are unfamiliar to me. They are songs that I have either somehow missed or (more likely) were not big hits in America.
Right off the bat, I did not care for first single ‘There’s Only One Way To Rock’. Admittedly one of my favorite Sammy Hagar songs, Axel speeds up the tempo slightly, which makes the song sound “off”. I appreciate different interpretations of songs, but if it is going to be an exact duplicate, then it should be exact, not slightly more uptempo.
There’s definitely a few clunkers like that on this release. As much as I did not like what they did with the Sammy track, the two worst are the covers from The Rolling Stones and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and for nearly the exact same reason. The originals of both tracks work best because the singers project a sense of sinister, unsettling dread. ARP takes a sledgehammer approach to ‘Paint It Black’ with the sped up tempo and screams from Mr. Gioeli. His screaming also taints the seductiveness of the original ‘I Put A Spell On You’. The mood is everything for those originals and when you take that away, you lose the heart of the song.
Thankfully, there are many more tracks to enjoy, with some tracks perfectly fitting into the ARP mold. I was most surprised by the number of tracks I did not know from various artists. Having heard these for the first time, I went back and streamed the originals for a comparison. Johnny does a great job with Tony Carey’s ‘Room With a View’, the sole ballad on the album, with half the song consisting of just Johnny singing over a piano, but doing it with the right amount of intensity and passion. ‘Rock N’ Roll Queen’ is a vast improvement over the original by The Subways, if for nothing more than the singer for The Subways is not particularly good. I appreciate ARP covering an ABBA track that wasn’t a big hit. ‘Eagle’ is one of the more radical changes to the original, making the song sound more like the type of song you would find commonly on an ARP album, a mid-tempo epic sounding melody. It is just a perfect match and a highlight of the album. Although I prefer the original version of Chris Norman’s ‘Sarah (You Take My Breath Away)’, ARP does a fine job with the cover and I’m grateful that I was introduced to such a great song through this album.
The best track for me is the other very radical departure from the original source. Paul Anka’s ‘She’s A Lady’ is completely unexpected and highly appreciated. What starts as a ballad kicks into overdrive at the two minute mark and will have you bobbing your head along to the revved up rhythm. Never knew that I needed a Paul Anka cover from ARP, but turns out that I did!
With ten tracks (not counting the obligatory ARP intro) and three of those clunkers, the other seven tracks are all either good or great. This is a no-brainer for ARP fans, but for those who are hesitant because of the sameness of his other releases, there are some wonderful covers on this album. If you have ever been a fan or liked anything from him in the past thirty years, then you may be surprised by what’s included here. Certainly an album to be purchased or at the very least streamed as you are sure to find some great tracks you’ll want to own.