Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens – Play My Game (2009, SPV)
- Starting Over
- The Cover Up
- Pick Yourself Up
- It Is Me
- No Good Goodbyes
- The World Is Blind
- To Live Again
- The Light
- Play My Game
- Death Race
- The Shadows Are Alive
Tim “Ripper” Owens – Vocals
Bob Kulick – Guitars (Tracks 1, 4, 6, 8, 9, 13)
John Comprix – Guitars (Tracks 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 11)
Craig Goldy – Guitars (Track 2)
Jeff Loomis – Guitars (Track 3)
Mike Callahan – Guitars (Track 4)
Steve Stevens – Guitars (Track 4)
Carlos Cavazo – Guitars (Track 5)
Bruce Kulick – Guitars (Track 6)
Doug Aldrich – Guitars (Track 7)
Michael Wilton – Guitars (Track 8)
Neil Zaza – Guitars (Track 10)
Chris Caffery – Guitars (Track 12)
Rudy Sarzo – Bass (Tracks 1, 2, 5, 10, 13)
James Lomenzo – Bass (Tracks 3, 11)
Dennis Hayes – Bass (Track 4)
Billy Sheehan – Bass (Tracks 6, 7)
David Ellefson – Bass (Track 8)
Tony Franklin – Bass (Track 9)
Marco Mendoza – Bass (Track 12)
Simon Wright – Drums (Tracks 1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 10, 12)
Brett Chassen – Drums (Tracks 3, 6, 11)
Ray Luzier – Drums (Track 4)
Bobby Jarzombek – Drums (Track 9)
Vinny Appice – Drums (Track 13)
Producers: Brett Chassen & Bob Kulick
Total Time = 53:01
Back in the mid-’90s when Judas Priest were searching the globe for a new lead singer to replace the legendary Rob Halford, no one expected the former Winter’s Bane singer to be the man chosen for the job. We all know the story: Owens was fronting British Steel (a Judas Priest tribute band), a tape got to the Priest camp, and Owens beat out some heavy cometition from the likes of Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear) and D.C. Cooper (ex-Royal Hunt). The story inspires the Rock Star movie, Judas Priest releases two studio and two live albums with Ripper and things are looking up for the once unknown vocalist. Then the eventual reunion with Halford comes and Ripper is let go from the Priest camp to make his own way.
Ripper has done pretty well for himself since the Priest split by joining two big names in the Metal world and creating his own projects. He joined Iced Earth for two studio albums (2004’s THE GLORIUS BURDEN and 2007’s FRAMING ARMAGEDDON) and he sang on last year’s release from Yngwie Malmsteen – PERPETUAL FLAME while finding time in between to get his own band together, Beyond Fear, and release a solid self-titled album in 2006. Amid rumors of a Winter’s Bane reunion and a Beyond Fear sophomore release, Owens has come back with an album under his own name loaded with a ton of guest musicians. All the tracks on PLAY MY GAME are written by Ripper or with co-writers that performed on the album. This marks a significant change in Ripper’s career because he has been involved in projects where the material is already created and it is his job to lay down the vocals. This solo album is much like the Beyond Fear debut in that it is Ripper in control of the material instead of being a “singer for hire”.
Overall, PLAY MY GAME is a Traditional Metal album rooted in Judas Priest and Black Sabbath influences but mixed with a very melodic Hard Rock groove. Opening track ‘Starting Over’ is a melodic mid -tempo Dio-styled song that doesn’t really pick up until the chorus. Same thing with ‘Believe’, it’s a bit heavier but it leans more toward a mid-tempo chug where the vocal seems to be subdued. Ripper’s main strength is his voice and he can easily match a Halford or Dio as far as power and range but his performance on these first two songs throw up warning flags for me. Don’t get me wrong, he can sing and he sounds great but the album is a “Tim Owens” album, the focus is going to be solely on the vocals and songwriting. Ripper is known for his metallic wail not melodic rock singing.
‘The Cover Up’ gets things back on track with a more metallic sound and a more intense vocal with plenty of high screams. Nice to hear Steve Stevens all over this track on lead guitar and I like the UFO/alien subject matter in the songwriting. Unfortunately, ‘Pick Yourself Up’ gets back to the sludgy mid-tempo pace of the first two songs and it really doesn’t stand out at all. Same thing with ‘Is It Me’, another song that follows a heavy but subdued approach with flashes of aggressive vocals, and ‘No Good Goodbyes’, a track that tries hard to get heavy. These songs remind me of the two Judas Priest records (1997’s JUGULATOR and 2001’s DEMOLITION) Ripper was a part of: doomy, sludgy, heavy but not enough memorable moments to satisfy. The first half of ‘The World Is Blind’ is very promising with it’s uptempo groove but the second half moves in and out of a slow Dio fronted Black Sabbath epic. The contrasting styles make it an interesting song but the best part has to be Billy Sheehan’s bass lines.
Ripper and the gang get back to a melodic Hard Rock style with the biographical ballad ‘To Live Again’. It’s a pretty cool track and definitely introspective as Ripper sounds like he’s using his past experiences as the focal point. There’s a bunch of songs that bleed emotion and feeling over the last few years of being the man in one of the biggest Metal bands on the planet to being asked to leave so they cane reclaim lost glories with their original singer. Songs like ‘To Live Again’, ‘Starting Over’, ‘Believe’, ‘Is It Me’ and ‘No Good Goodbyes’ all have that common songwriting thread and that makes PLAY MY GAME a truly honest album. There is more mid-tempo sludgery on ‘The Light’ that makes it sound like more of the same but the vocal is decent and the title track doesn’t stray too far from the formula either. Thankfully, the album’s best track finally kicks in! ‘Death Race’ is the song I’ve waited for patiently for 10 songs complete with inspired axework from Beyond Fear guitarist John Comprix, powerful drumming and a vocal performance from Ripper that doesn’t sound like he’s trying hard to hold back. The final cut is the dark and brooding ‘The Shadows Are Alive’, a song co-written between Ripper and Chris Caffery (Savatage). The song speeds up halfway through with Caffery’s superb guitar and a lively bass and drum sound from veterans Marco Mendoza and Simon Wright. Even Ripper himself sounds like he has more energy and power…..a good way to end the album.
I am a Tim Owens fan. When he joined Judas Priest, I supported him completely as I bought all the albums and caught the live show. When he was asked to leave for the reunion, I thought the alliance with Iced Earth would be Earth shattering but it turned out to be a bit mediocre for me. That’s the thing that has plagued Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens so far in his career, he has always been given material to basically just sing. Over the course of the five studio album he’s made with Judas Priest, Iced Earth and Yngwie Malmsteen, Ripper has only 3 writing credits and they are all co-written with the main composers. That is where PLAY MY GAME lives and dies…..in the songwriting. Every song is either written by Ripper himself or co-written with a member of his all-star cast and that basically leaves the quality of the songs in Ripper’s hands. I like the personal lyrics that Ripper has written on half the songs but I wish the songs were faster with more power. Don’t get me wrong, the slower doom laden style that encompasses most of the album is very well done but everything starts to sound the same after a while. Even the more melodic sounding songs still have that mid-tempo pace and that really makes it hard for individual songs to stand out despite the excellent roll call of musicians that contributed to the album. There are some standout songs like ‘Death Race’, ‘Is It Me’ and ‘Starting Over’ that are completely different from the overall mid-pace package but they aren’t enough to push this record past average. It’s too bad because I was really looking forward to it…..I’ve had the album since early May and I’ve kept it in my regular rotation but repeated spins hasn’t made me enjoy it that much more.
‘Death Race’, ‘Starting Over’, ‘Is It Me’, ‘The Shadows Are Alive’