Man Raze – Surreal (2008, VH-1 Classic Records)
- This Is
- Turn It Up
- Runnin’ Me Up
- Every Second Of Every Day
- Spinning Out
- Can’t Find My Own Way
- Skin Crawl
- Connected To You
- It’s Entertainment
- Shadow Man
Phil Collen – Lead & Backing Vocals, all Guitars
Paul Cook – Drums & Backing Vocals
Simon Laffy – Bass, Programming & Backing Vocals
Produced by: Man Raze & Ger McDonnell
Total Time = 39:45
Man Raze is the brainchild of Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen. The band consists of long time friend and Girl bandmate Simon Laffy and Sex Pistols’ drummer Paul Cook. The band started in mid-2004 as a side project for songs Collen had been writing that didn’t quite fit into his day job with Def Leppard. With the collaboration between the three musicians, the band released a maxi-single E.P. of four rough songs in 2006 and played a few gigs. The response was extremely encouraging and the band commenced work on a full-length album, SURREAL.
The first thing I thought of when I heard about this project was how similar the music would sound to Def Leppard’s. Phil Collen is a major part of the Def Leppard sound from the writing to the guitar to the vocals (it’s Collen’s vocal style that compliments/backs up Joe Elliot’s lead vocals on every Lep record since PYROMANIA). I also figured that the drumming would have a specifically raw Punk style with Paul Cook on the kit so the idea of Def Leppard meets the Sex Pistols seemed like two polar opposites meeting to create a wall of noise. After the first few spins, I hear a variety of styles from Hard Rock and Punk to Reggae and New Wave with a touch of Glam. That’s a lot of styles to blend and reminds me of another trio…..The Police. The production is raw, almost live sounding, more like an underground garage band with a raw “in your face” rhythm section.
Opening track ‘This Is’ is a Hard Rock/Punk hybrid that’s high energy while ‘Turn It Up’ could easily be a Def Leppard song if it was polished up, it sounds like a Def Lep demo. The Police comparisons come with ‘Runnin’ Me Up’ with it’s Reggae beat and Collen’s guitar having that Andy Summers twang to it. I like The Police so this song appeals to me unlike the Punk vibe on the first two songs, the problem is there really isn’t much to the song lyrically so it becomes repetitive. ‘Every Second Of Every Day’ is a pretty good mid-tempo song with a cool hook to the chorus. It sounds like Def Leppard and could have easily fit on X or SONGS FROM THE SPARKLE LOUNGE especially in the vocal and guitar lines. Same goes for ‘Spinning Out’, it sounds like a Def Lep throwaway from the last couple of albums but what makes it interesting is Phil Collen’s vocal impersonation of Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top). The Police/Sting reggae vibe returns with ‘Can’t Find My Own Way’ but it is better lyrically than it’s counterpart ‘Runnin’ Me Up’ and it also has a few cool guitar flourishes.
The first proper single from SURREAL is ‘Skin Crawl’ and it sounds, well, like raw Def Leppard from the last few albums. I hate to keep comparing Man Raze to Def Leppard but with Phil Collen being such a major contributor to both bands it’s hard not to hear the similarities. Of all the songs so far, ‘Skin Crawl’ has the best blend of Hard Rock, Punk, and the raw sounding production and it sounds more like some of the modern garage bands. ‘Low’ follows the same path although it’s not as heavy as ‘Skin Crawl’ at least until the chorus. It’s another raw track that sounds like a Def Lep demo. When I say “demo”, I mean that in a good way because the production is a complete contrast to what Phil Collen is normally involved with. Def Leppard is polished and slick while Man Raze is raw and rough. When I call a Man Raze song a “Def Lep demo”, it’s not because the song ideas aren’t developed, it’s because the production is as basic as a demo and the songs sounds like the Leps.
‘Connected To You’ has a fast Punk/Police vibe going for it while the guitar parts in ‘Halo’ sound very close at times to Def Leppard’s new single ‘Nine Lives’, it’s definitely almost the same tone. ‘It’s Entertainment’ has a catchy chorus and some interesting guitar and is probably one of the more polished songs on the album. I like Collen’s use of a little extra accent in his vocal and it comes off very similar to Joe Elliot. Actually, throughout SURREAL, you really get an idea of Collen’s vocal contibutions to his man band’s sound because he sounds almost exactly like Joe Elliot at times, especially the current lower registered Elliot. It’s obvious that his background vocals are a huge part of the Def Lep sound. ‘Shadow Man’ is another one of those songs that sounds like a Def Leppard song, especially in the vocal and guitar lines.
I’ve been spinning SURREAL for a couple of weeks and I’ve found this album to be somewhat of a “grower”. At first, I wasn’t digging it, probably due to the fact that I wasn’t really expecting much from this side project. The different styles and raw production made the album seem fragmented especially when compared to Phil Collen’s main band Def Leppard. It’s hard to not compare Man Raze to Def Leppard because many of the songs sound like raw, unpolished Lep tunes. That’s due to Collen’s vocals and guitar tone but there is enough different styles included to make things interesting, especially the Reggae tracks that sound like early Police. Reggae is not my thing but it’s definitely something unexpected and fresh. I thought ‘Skin Crawl’ was the best song on the album and I enjoyed hearing the songs that sounded like Def Lep ideas. I’m a Def Leppard fan, it’s hard to separate it all. Definitely a grower of an album with enough different music to make it interesting.
Favorite songs: ‘Skin Crawl’, ‘Every Second Of Every Day’, ‘Spinning Out’, ‘Low’