21 Guns: Nothing's Real (reissue)
Having released their debut album Salute in 1992 to much acclaim, although less commercial success, it appeared as though guitarist Scott Gorham's post Thin Lizzy outfit had stalled before it ever really got started. Featuring the effortlessly melodic vocal tones of Tommy LaVerdi, that debut was a surprising – given Gorham's musical roots – slice of Melodic Rock, which in truth veered heavily into AOR. However for aficionados of that scene, it has gone on to become a rightly revered release.
Increasingly, at the time, Gorham found his days taken up with differing Lizzy-tribute line-ups, allowing a long five years to pass between Salute and this second album Nothing's Real. Although it is also revealed in the excellent Malcolm Dome penned liner notes featuring interviews with Gorham, bassist Leif Johansen and a few others for this Cherry Red reissue, that unfathomable record label decisions (such as pulling all promotional support for Salute, because they believed that 21 Guns should instead immediately concentrate on capturing in the studio, their excellent live sound, for album number two) played an equally large part in any delays the band encountered.
The usual story of mega debts being racked up which (possibly) led to 21G being dropped by the label, then signing to a label where key people weren't supporters of what the band were about then ensued and unsurprisingly the result was a much different band by the time, 1997, that Nothing's Real appeared. Gone was LaVerdi (Gorham suggests his ex-band mate suffered from stage fright, something LaVerdi recently confirmed during promotion for his excellent return to the scene with new band LRS, as a problem of the past), with the fuller, richer, yet less melodically lilting (Hans-Olav) Solli, ex-Sons Of Angels and Psycho Motel, taking his place; a more guitar oriented sound also supplanting the keyboard led strains of Salute.
So with the band's original fanbase a little confused by events and Grunge looming over all other forms of Rock at the time, the odds were stacked against Gorham, Johansen, Solli and drummer Mike Sturgis making a mark with Nothing's Real, and so it proved. Having been dropped by RCA the album appeared on UK Indie label Z Records and really, truth be told, sank without a trace. Although Z did reissue it in 2000 with a half dozen bonus demo cuts featuring LaVerdi (thankfully, it's this version that Cherry Red have reissued).
So did it deserve better? Well Gorham fans will be flabbergasted at just how impressive his guitar playing is on this unsung release, a fire that was missing from Salute obviously having been rekindled. Sample the rumbling riff of "Underground" and Bluesy, surging licks of "No Soul" for proof, while "Mister Mofo" also hits hard, showing to the full, the worth of Johansen and Sturgis. Solli too shines, his in your face attack adding bite and passion to the pulsating title cut and showing up impressively on the Thin Lizzy cover "Kings Vengeance".
If there was to be a criticism, then it is only that, as was to be expected, Nothing's Real really does sound like a different band altogether from the one who recorded Salute. Not worse, or indeed better, for both are excellent albums, just different. Something the six wonderful bonus tracks illustrate, with LaVerdi and a smoother feel again dominating "Slam The Hammer", "Dear Mother" and "Cold Heart", while of the six, the excellent "The Picture" and "Blood Gone Bad" can also be found on the 2002 release Demo-lition.
For AOR lovers, 21 Guns Salute is an unheralded masterpiece, however with Nothing's Real, Gorham, Johansen, Sturgis and this time Solli proved it was no fluke, even if they did it in a more muscular fashion. Under appreciated at the time, Nothing's Real deserves this second (well, third) chance to shine. For those who've never heard it, the discovery of a genuine guitar great at the height of his powers and two sets of songs which show different aspects of his writing skills will be a true delight.
1. No Soul
3. Kings Vengeance
4. Come on In
5. U and I
6. Nothing's Real
7. Movin' On
8. Mister Mofo
10. The Otherside
11. Slam the Hammer (demo)
12. The Picture (demo)
13. Blood Gone Bad (demo)
14. Cold Heart (demo)
15. Dear Mother (demo)
16. House of Cards (demo)
Added: May 4th 2014
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Nothing's Real at Cherry Red
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