Glam rock was, and still is, effectively the pinnacle of decadence and kitsch in our favorite genre. Much like the premise that everyone is entitled to an opinion is used to falsely conclude that everyone’s opinion ought to be taken seriously, glam rock is not a serious type of music but it can still be thoroughly enjoyed. It’s a big, loud, and fun spectacle, essentially fun pop music with loud guitars. It’s candy-coated escapism, and fortunately, unlike the bland preteen-oriented fiction of Harry Potter, grown adults don’t embarrass themselves by orienting their moral compass and judgments on the real world to its contents. Unlike the beer that goes so well with the sound, nowadays glam is enjoyed responsibly. With that preamble in mind, let’s tackle the highly anticipated (at least for me) new record from Canada’s Striker.
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of these Albertans’ sound. It’s basically the best parts of the 80s glam scene roughed up a good bit (to refer to Steven Tyler’s famous thoughts on, the dudes no longer look like ladies) by the addition of modern heavy metal party rock like Holy Grail and their ilk. Striker’s sound is similar to a well-made cheap beer like Old Style Pilsner: perfectly agreeable, easy to swallow, easy to enjoy in large quantities, even better when inebriated, and palatable to a wide range of folks. Beer, like everything else, has calories and can satisfy thirst and even hunger. The question is, how many of these calories are fleeting and empty?
Striker, like City of Gold, begins with some strong hooks and tight performances. “Former Glory” sets a confident tone with its lyrics, leaves little if any room for improvement in its structure, and sees Dan Cleary delivering his Belladonna-ish vocals powerfully and fittingly. It’s a quintessential Striker song, and it rules because of it. “Born to Lose” apes Lemmy’s old mantra and mixes in some clear Motorhead influence into the verse, leading into one of the better singalong choruses Striker has written; this is a live staple in the making. “Over the Top” adds more heaviness than normal to the proceedings, and exploits this fully with a tremendous lead and a rough-edged arena rock chorus that’s unfairly catchy.
Despite all of the above praise, I just can’t bring myself to like Striker nearly as much as City of Gold. “Pass Me By” gets heavier than anything off that record, but it loses a lot of that big grin that made City so palatable. “Cheating Death” is an interlude that adds nothing to the record. “Freedom’s Call” is a good enough song, but it never fires on all cylinders; the verse is okay, the chorus is short of the mark and falls flat, and the solo is competent but unmemorable. “Curse of the Dead” sounds like an inferior knockoff of City of Gold’s excellent “Crossroads” in too many spots, and while it’s still an enjoyable track it’s irritating because Striker is, as they’ve shown before, better than this.
What’s difficult about this record, and why it took me so long to hand my almost too forgiving bosses here my final draft of this review, is that all of the elements are here: the band sounds essentially the same with a few minor tweaks, the production is polished, convincing, and thick like their last rodeo, the songs are structured well yet familiarly, and Cleary is still a great frontman. And yet, something is a wee bit off. Striker is neither as fun nor engaging as City of Gold, and there were times when I found myself wanting to just spin that record before this one ended. At the same time, I don’t dislike Striker; there’s quality material here, and the band hasn’t lost their creative spark. Off-days and minor setbacks fortunately aren’t the end, and Striker is still a fresh and hugely entertaining force in the arena-ready metal world. I was hoping for a homerun, but Striker hit a single with a bit of fanfare; safe, but not as exciting as it should’ve been.