Nelson – Lightning Strikes Twice (2011, Frontiers Records)
- Call Me
- Day By Day
- Ready, Willing And Able
- How Can I Miss You?
- You’re All I Need Tonight
- To Get Back To You
- When You’re Gone
- Take Me There
- In It For The Money
- Change A Thing
- Kickin’ My Heart Around
Gunnar Nelson – Vocals & Guitars
Matthew Nelson – Vocals & Bass
Brian Burwell – Drums
David Morgan – Piano & Background Vocals
Gary Corbett – Piano & Keyboards
Gary Schlecta – String Arrangements on tracks #6 & #8
Steve Lukather – Guitar solo on track #6
Producers: Gunnar Nelson & Matthew Nelson
Total Time = 54:07
If you listened to FM radio or watched MTV in 1990 & 1991 then there was no way you were going to miss Nelson. Matthew and Gunnar Nelson, twin sons of the legendary Ricky Nelson, debuted with the AOR/Melodic Rock bombshel AFTER THE RAIN (1990), an album that produce the #1 hit ‘(Can’t Live Without Your) Love And Affection’ and three other hit singles while selling 4 million copies. The band was every label’s dream: two good looking twins who had the family musical legacy, crafted slick pop-flavored Rock, and made the girls swoon and the guys quietly sing along. I admit to buying AFTER THE RAIN back in the day and proudly playing alongside my Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Metallica albums but, after too much exposure, the party ended in 1991 and the backlash began. The brothers became the butt of the joke, kind of like Winger did, and the Grunge movement spit in the face of sugar-coated melodies and sweet ballads. By the time 1995 rolled around and Nelson released their follow-up, BECAUSE THEY CAN, mainstream fans had moved on and the album went unnoticed. The Nelsons never left, they just started in a new direction over the last 15 years by releasing a darker edged concept album, IMAGINATOR (1996), going a little Country on another album and covering their father’s songs on 2000’s LIKE FATHER, LIKE SONS. All this and doing it all in house on their own label and continuing to tour. Now 20 years after their successful debut, the Nelsons release what could easily be termed as the natural follow-up to that record with LIGHTNING STRIKES AGAIN.
***(Before I get into the review, let me explain the album’s release year. Technically, this album was released in late 2010 on Frontiers Records everywhere BUT North America. I wasn’t going to buy an import, especially when postage rates to the U.S. from Europe & Japan are so high, so I decided to wait for the U.S. release. I ended up picking this up in February, shortly after the January U.S. release. So technically it’s a 2010 release but I’m counting it as a 2011 release because of where and when it got proper distribution.)***
Opening the album is the infectious ‘Call Me’, a hit single if I ever heard one, that is complete with melodic guitars and the signature Nelson harmonies that make every song sound huge. ‘Call Me’ has that good time party vibe that gets you singing along right away and immeadiately transports you back to 1990. As if that wasn’t enough to hook a melodic rock fan in, the brothers continue the upbeat retro sound with the Bon Jovi slick ‘Day By Day’ (a song Jon Bon Jovi would kill to have written, maybe it would have saved his last record!) and the harder edged ‘Ready, Willing And Able’ that has a ’70s Classic Rock feel to it with the big harmonies and superb vocals. Both songs follow ‘Call Me’ perfectly and could easily be singles in their own right and they continue that “big hair” sound from the late ’80s/early ’90s that made the Nelsons platinum successes. The album takes a twist with the opening Scorpions style guitar intro that reminds me of ‘Still Loving You’ and hints of a ballad with the opening lines, then the song turns into a dark rocker that moves into a heavier groove until that big harmonized chorus. It’s kind of hard to describe a Nelson song as dark, maybe moody is a better? Maybe harder is better than that? What grabs me here is the guitars…..listen closely and you can hear that Scorpions tone in the licks and it just works. It’s harder but melodic, it’s Nelson but slightly different. The band heads back into the classic AOR sound for the first proper single and video from the record — ‘You’re All I Need Tonight’. This is classic melodic Nelson at it’s finest, easily a hit single if this was 20 years ago and definitely a great song today that should get radio airplay.
Surprisingly, we haven’t had a ballad yet! That changes with ‘To Get Back To You’, a song that Jon and Ritchie would probably kill to have written for that last Bon Jovi album! This is a signature ballad with acoustic guitars, piano, keyboard orchestration and the big vocals from the brothers…..definitely one of those “raise your lighters” moments. Add in a special appearance by guitar maestro Steve Lukather (Toto) for the guitar solos and it all comes together perfectly. More catchy Melodic Rock returns with ‘When You’re Gone’, a song that sounds like Bon Jovi mixed with Damn Yankees on the vocals and melodies with a touch of Tom Scholz guitar (Boston). This is one of my favorite songs on the album, probably because it’s one of the more truer Rock songs but with that catchiness that gets me singing along immeadiately. It’s a feel good song…..actually, the whole album is feel good! Isn’t that what good music is about? Ballad #2 arrives with ‘Take Me There’, another one Jon & Ritchie wish they stole, I mean wrote! ‘Take Me There’ doesn’t feel like a ballad because the guitar really kicks in for extra power (listen for the solo!) and the song builds into the glorious chorus. Another straight ahead rocker comes with ‘Come’, a song that channels Damn Yankees at their commercial best with a vocal that sounds very Tommy Shaw like. ‘Come’ is heavy mid-tempo with some heavier guitar work and more up front drums but I’m a little distracted by the vocal and, among an album of strong songs, I’d have to call this the weakest so far but it’s still pretty good. ‘In It For The Money’ is another catchy song that has an underlying Classic Rock feel to it and it has the one thing you expect from a poppy, melodic, party album…..handclaps! The chorus is extremely catchy too. ‘Change A Thing’ is a moody mid-tempo ballad that becomes the weakest song instead of ‘Come’ because it just sounds out of place on such a happy rock record. It’s not a bad song, just out of place and a level below the rest of the songs on the album. Last tune is ‘Kickin’ My Heart Around’ is another mid-tempo track that has a crunch to it when the guitars kick in for the chorus but goes mellow for the rest. For me, not one of my album favorites but a decent song in it’s own right.
I never thought I would honestly say this but Matthew and Gunnar Nelson have made an album that equals, if not surpasses, their multi-million selling debut and I think it’s one of the best Melodic Rock albums of 2011. Twenty years after AFTER THE RAIN, the Nelsons have given us a worthy successor with LIGHTNING STRIKES AGAIN and, while it’s not going to sell millions, it’s still going to be a success in returning mainstream popular Rock to an audience willing to rejoin the party. Maybe the time away from this kind of music fueled the fire? Maybe the next album the brothers release will be a continuation of this sound that made them famous? Either way, LIGHTNING STRIKES AGAIN is a great comeback for two musicians that really never went away. I was really surprised by this album right from the opening of ‘Call Me’ and I have listened to this probably more than any other new album this year. I can honestly say I like this record better than AFTER THE RAIN and I’m going to put the latter day Nelson albums on the Want List because I’m sure there’s something I haven’t heard and am missing out on. This is a must for Nelson fans and fans of AOR/Melodic Rock but also for those of us who were kids back in the day that secretly listened to Nelson but made fun of them around our peers. The joke is on us because this is a great record well worth checking out!
‘Call Me’, ‘Day By Day’, ‘Ready, Willing And Able’, ‘You’re All I Need Tonight’, ‘To Get Back To You’, ‘When You’re Gone’