Crystal Ball singer Mark Sweeney returns with his second solo album “All In” his follow up to his critically acclaimed 2007 debut album “Slow Food”. There are not many bands (except for the mighty Gotthard!) regardless of style I could say oh and there from Switzerland, but Mark Sweeney (and indeed Crystal Ball) hails from that part of the world. Mark’s obviously made many music scene friends over the years as he not only has rock legend Michael Voss producing the album, and fantastic job he does too, he also has guest appearances from the likes of Bruce Kulick, Robin Beck, Pearl, Stefan Kaufmann & Jorg Michael.
This album is technically a pop/rock record in its sound, style and structure but it is extremely friendly to AOR fan boy ears! Given some of the names involved with the record I think this album was written and recorded to be a modern sounding AOR album. Obviously for AOR to have any longevity it does need to evolve and with more artists and bands recording albums in an updated way like this it could see the genre’s fan base grow again.
Mark’s first solo album, which was also a pop rock AOR friendly affair quickly made me a fan of the man as a songwriter and vocalist, but “All In” blows it completely out of the water, with a fantastic production job from Michael Voss and some of the most memorable songs you’ll ever hear. I’m a big fan of his vocals, I think having had classical vocal training has helped him to develop a strong vocal style and ease with crafting memorable vocal melodies. This is a great collection of pop/rock tunes with a modern slant and some amazing ballads.
Lead single and opening cut “Line Of Fire” is a quirky, memorable slice of American style pop/rock. This modern AOR track has a strong chorus and an insistent guitar riff which makes it a memorable and impressive kick-off to the album - I really like the short and sweet guitar solo on this one. “Why Do You Hate Me” is a mid-tempo rocker which captures the pop/rock sound so prevalent in the US. It has plenty of gritty, punky guitars and they hook it up with a sing along chorus, to make it another classy song. “Still Alive” is an atmospheric and emotive ballad, quite sparse and simplistic musically but amazingly effective in creating the desired mood. A top notch chorus is accompanied by some of Mark’s strongest and impressive vocals on the album.
“Gimme A Sign” is inspired by the 80’s pop sound in it’s melodies and style, but coupled with some fantastic guitar licks give’s it the desired rock edge and it contains a BIG memorable chorus. “Leave It All Behind” is a melancholic ballad and is a duet with Pearl, who blows me away with her amazingly beautiful vocals on the chorus. “Sinner” is very poppy, I sense a bit of a retro brit pop feel to this song, it has a strong chorus too. This is the sort of song you’d expect to pop up in a rom-com film.
“Another Day” is an atmospheric and powerful ballad, with some fantastic vocals from Mark again and some great memorable guitar work - this is a real head sticker! “Stare At The Sun” is the second ballad on the bounce and is nowhere near as impressive and a bit dull, very laid back. There is some noteworthy guitar work worth listening out for though. “Too Late” features a Bruce Kulick guitar solo, but the song’s a bit of a let down though and at this point you feel the album is going off its boil. Another mid paced ballad it’s not as dynamic as a lot of the songs on here, and seems a little plodding in comparison, still worth a listen though.
Robin Beck, whom I’m unashamedly a total fan boy of duets on the next song, the ballad “Moments”. Be warned anyone who says the following in front of me “ain’t she the bird who sung that 80’s coke advert song?’ as this will be quickly answered with an almighty bitch slap, followed by been tied to a chair and having the amazing “Trouble or Nothing” album played on a loop (It may go something like the Steelers Wheel scene in Reservoir Dogs - If your lucky!). The song is probably the most traditional sounding AOR on the entire album and it has an insanely catchy chorus - Robin of course is vocally outstanding and impressive as you’d expect from one of the best female rock vocalist’s about! “Chance” is a very dark and moody rocker with a dirty riff and low vocals building to dark but melodic chorus. “Demons” is by far the heaviest track on offer and the most similar to Mark’s band Crystal Ball. The thumping drum and bass line and symphonic metal - esque guitar playing not only make it the heaviest track but also far more metal and less akin to the rest of the album. Not a big fan of Mark’s vocals on this song but they are more in suiting with the style of the music.
I can’t recommend this album enough, and AOR anoraks (like myself) are going to really take to this album even with its modern slant. Also for fans of American style pop/rock, you’ll probably go nuts for this melodic gem, which is jam packed with memorable melodies and emotionally charged ballads.
Line Of Fire / Why Do You Hate Me / Still Alive / Gimme A Sign / Leave It All Behind / Sinner / Another Day / Stare At The Sun / Too Late / Moments / Chance / Demons