John Norum - Optimus
How guitarrist John Norum finds the time in the middle of the ongoing Europe madness to release his sixth solo album I don't know, but I'm thankful he did. Most might know John Norum as the guitarist in the now re-united Europe, but he has previously also released five solo albums, been a member of Dokken, as well been involved in other projects such as L.A. Blues Authority among others. And now it is time for his sixth solo album that is entitled Optimus, a name taken after the street where he grew up as a kid.
Just as on his last album Slipped Into Tomorrow (1999) he is taking care of the vocals himself and that is something that I find to be a good thing. Even though he has had some great singers taking care of those parts in the past, I think it is John that does it best and giving it a personal touch. Along with him he has Richard Nettermalm (Paatos) on drums and Thomas Thorberg (Snakes In Paradise) on bass and the guys form a really dynamic trio, delivering hard rock of the best quality. Melodic hard rock with a slight touch of blues and with instrumental parts that are as great as always on a Norum album.
John Norum doesn't try to create anything fancy, and is able to keep it simple and still make it very good and not seldom with a driving force like in the tracks Nailed To The Cross and Forced. These two tracks stand as some of the better ones on Optimus and are coincidentally also the two tracks that are co-written by Fredrik Åkesson (Talisman). A Norum trademark is also a heavy melodic groove as in Takin' The Blame that feels as the most typical Norum track as we are used to know him, containing melodic and heavy blues influenced hard rock at its best. The track One More Time is one that I find to be among the few weaker tracks, although not bad with the typical bluesy and colourful speaking guitar, but compared to the others it falls out of frame and must be considered a filler.
Another of the better ones is the track Time To Run. Does the title sound familiar? Remember the all girl band Phantom Blue? The band including John's wife Michelle Meldrum did this song co-written by John already back in 1993, and even if it was good then, it is actually better now when done perhaps at it was intended to be done. There are a couple of instrumental tracks on the album, like the titletrack Optimus and the ending track Solitude, that feels to be a continuation of the track Endica (Instrumental track on Face The Truth (1992) and done with vocals on Worlds Away (1996)), as it seems to be partly based on the same melodic theme. One of the things that I like the most with Norum is that there is no need of flashy 100-mph hour playing and "look how brilliant I am with my guitar"-attitude. He lets the guitar speak for itself with a laid back style, and doesn't fill his songs with solos where there shouldn't be one. He is a guitar player of class and I actually think that he is better off on his own than with Europe.
also review of: Play Yard