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House of Shakira: First Class

If you're going to call your album First Class, the music better live up to the billing. In the case of the fourth studio disc from Sweden's oddly named House of Shakira, the first couple songs ("Ain't Your Crowd" and "Uncontrolled") don't fulfill the album title's promise. But then, lo and behold, the quintet give us the ultra-melodic and unbelievably catchy "You Are," followed by the mid-tempo rocker "Hey Lord," the dramatic, big-sounding acoustic ballad "Black and Blue Skies," the dark-yet-soaring "Creep" and the harmony-laden "Black Barn." All told, all but only a handful of the 12 tunes on First Class elicit a sense of aural pleasure that satisfies without going over the top.

In fact, subtlety reigns on First Class, as the band eschews the Middle-Eastern effects of 1997's debut Lint and the experimental tendencies of 2000's III. One reason these songs stand out and the reason why House of Shakira has never made a boring album is vocalist Andreas Eklund, who sings in a voice all his own and one that can best be described as a hybrid of Steve Walsh and Steve Perry. Another reason is the band's refusal to musically stand still, creating exhilarating hooks over a variety of arrangements and managing to sound both organic and cohesive. The fact that a band can make music this enlightening after 13 years together, with more shattered record deals than record releases, speaks volumes about House of Shakira's dedication to its craft.

People who mock so-called AOR and melodic hard rock for lacking substance and adventure need to hear First Class or any House of Shakira album, for that matter. Solid musicianship (lead guitarist Mats Hallstensson could go fret-for-fret with Eddie Van Halen), honest lyrics ("So goodbye my lovely friends, chasing the black and blue skies/Hope we never meet again"), and inexplicable quirks ("A creepy crawler, on a creepy crawling crawl") give House of Shakira the all-too-uncommon opportunity to refresh a tired genre.

Track Listing:
1) Ain't Your Crowd (3:36)
2) Uncontrolled (2:34)
3) You Are (4:43)
4) Hey Lord (3:43)
5) Black and Blue Skies (5:07)
6) Creep (3:59)
7) Black Barn (4:57)
8) State of Grace (3:53)
9) Landing (4:28)
10) Celebration Bound (4:17)
11) Sunshine Song (6:15)
12) Chicago Blues (4:45)
Total Time: 52:22

Added: June 29th 2004
Reviewer: Michael Popke
Related Link: Official House of Shakira Web Site
Hits: 4117
Language: english

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