Triumph: Allied Forces (1981)
Triumph: Toronto's other power trio. Constantly in Rush's shadow as they jockeyed for position in the Queen City music scene of the '70's, along with notables such as Max Webster, FM, Saga, Trooper, etc…One has to understand that Toronto is the Canadian equivalent to Los Angeles so musicians from all over the nation would gather in Toronto to fulfill their dreams of musical stardom. I stated that they were in Rush's shadow yet Triumph offered up a different style . They were never perceived as being progressive in any way. Their style was always a much more radio friendly, basement party, day at the beach, kind of music. Again, I must clarify. The tracks penned and sung by drummer Gil Moore fit that bill perfectly, while the tracks penned by guitarist Rik Emmett tended to be much deeper (lyrically speaking) and more musically demanding. I know all songs by the band are penned as "Emmett-Moore-Levine" but I think a "Lennon-McCartney" thing was going on behind the scenes. In this review we will examine the band's ' breakout record, 1981's classic Allied Forces. By breakthrough, I am referring to their conquest of the USA. The band was big in Toronto (where I was growing up) since their debut record. Rock And Roll Machine, their sophomore effort, had already cemented the band's reputation as a top-notch " rock and roll machine" and sure-fire arena rock act.
The record begins with "Fool For Your Love" ; a straight up rocker filled with tasty hooks, and typical "I love you baby" lyrics. This is followed by an homage (sucking up?!) to FM radio "Magic Power"; although the track does also speak of the magic power of music itself in how it can affect our moods. I , myself, was never really a radio person but I guess they figured that if Rush could have a hit in the US with "Spirit of the Radio" then they could use a similar lyrical formula to achieve the same success. I do not know how big this song actually was in America, but it received huge airplay here in Canada and really propelled the band into the upper echelon of Canadian rock stardom. It's a great song which begins with Rik Emmett on a classical guitar and vocals; and slowly builds into an arena rock anthem. The band takes it up a notch (BAM!) with "Air Raid/ Allied Forces", a magnificent aural assault. Here we're given a demonstration of how heavy these guys could be when firing on all cylinders. Rik Emmett is rarely mentioned with the great guitarists of the '70's yet I feel he may be one of the most overlooked axemen of the era. If it has strings, he can play it; proficiently I might add. His guitar licks in "Allied Forces" take a back seat to no one . The track contains a typical Gil Moore outpouring of ' it's us (rockers) against the world' with the chorus: " Allied Forces gonna take control/ Allied Forces of rock n' roll" .This track is followed up nicely with the show stopping " Hot Time in This City Tonight". Another straight-up rocker usually reserved as the final track in a live set where Rik can insert into the chorus the name of whatever city they're in that night (Hot time in Baltimore/ Chicago/ Des Moines/ Springfield tonight !). If you owned this thing on vinyl, it would be time to flip the record over for a completely different , and far superior, B side.
"Fight The Good Fight" might be the best Triumph track ever. It's a poignant song about living your life on your terms and picking your battles. Rik Emmett delivers his finest vocal performance of the record and the song is delivered in true singer/songwriter style. His solo in the middle can still move me like it did 22 years ago (has it been THAT long?!) Standout lyrics like "You think a little more money can buy your soul some rest, you'd better think of something else instead. You're so afraid of being honest with yourself , you'd better take a look inside your head…" This track is then followed up by what might arguably be the second best Triumph track "Ordinary Man" . A song dealing with being real in a false world; the disillusionment of the ordinary man who gets swallowed whole by a callous system. It begins with a Queen-like vocal line before Rik starts strumming on his classical guitar and his crystal clear vocals take over. Clocking in at 7:17 it's one of the longer pieces the band has written and accurately reflects all the Triumph moods in one fell swoop. The track begins very softly but builds momentum in a heart beat to explode into a hard rock juggernaut. We're again treated to better than average lyrics for radio friendly bands, with lines like:" Once I thought the truth was gonna set me free but now I feel the chains of it's responsibility. I will not be a puppet, I cannot play it safe. I'll give myself away with a blind and simple faith. I'm just the same as you, I just do the best I can. That's the only answer for an ordinary man"; all delivered in a superlative vocal outpouring of emotion. Next we have the obligatory classical guitar lesson courtesy of Rik Emmett. He always includes one short instrumental where he can showcase his mastery of his guitar. "Petite Etude" (Short Study for you non Frenchies out there) is a beautiful medieval sounding gem. The album closer "Say Goodbye" is a little bit non descript in comparison to the superb offerings on this side of the album; but an agreeable sounding "radio friendly" piece nonetheless, flawlessly sung by Rik Emmett.
I don't know if I will win anybody over to this disc on a site dedicated to heavy metal and progressive rock, but I bet a few "aging metalheads" (including one very well known on this site) may just dust this one off and give it a spin as they nostalgically recall their high school days when this type of rock was a back drop to our daily lives.