I love complex music as much as the next metalhead. The potential for progressive structures and technical wizardry are some of the elements that set rock and metal apart from most other forms of contemporary music. But sometimes, I just want to kick back with something that’s catchy and dumb, and if there had not been plenty of people who agree with me, we’d never have had glam metal. Licence play in that nebulous area between hard rock, early heavy metal and glam, using basic riffs and a party attitude to concoct an easily digestible album called N.2.O.2.R, which stands for Never Too Old To Rock. If you guessed that on the first try, you know exactly what kind of album this is, one that should more than satisfy the cravings for catchy, dumb fist pumpers. But does it?
Well, at least basic competency won’t hold the band back. The riffs are basic as expected, but they’re executed with precision. One catchy Mötley Crüe hook after another fuels each consecutive chorus, powered by guitar player Steam Thiess. His daughter Jacky Coke1 handles vocals in a style that brings to mind a transgendered Dave Mustaine. The gruff delivery supports the rock-as-a-lifestyle lyric base and does add a little more badassness to a style that’s not known for its masculinity. The production, furthermore, is quite good, with great clarity and balance. Kudos to Achim Köhler (Primal Fear et al) on that front; the man knows how to weigh modern fidelity against old-school textures.
But why does it have all the liveliness of a dead accountant? Listening to N.2.O.2.R is a more boring experience than I could ever have imagined. Licence play the musical equivalent of a Volvo station wagon. Sure, it’s basic and does what it’s supposed to do well, but there is nothing exciting about it whatsoever. And considering the genre, that’s just baffling to me. From glammy hard rock, I expect either quality rocking out, or something earnest but hilariously bad. Artists in this segment of the market are often short on modesty or self-reflection, but they’re rarely short on spirit or afraid to go over the top. This is one of those rare instances. While the lyrics speak of drinking, partying and playing rock ‘n roll forever, the delivery speaks of drinking a root beer and being in bed by 10.
This dearth of excitement comes from a range of causes. The riffs largely conform to a narrow range of chords that constantly re-use the same tired tricks like the double chug locomotive on every verse, there is only one song structure used for all tracks and the solos, while still the best feature, are not very inspired. The vocals only exacerbate the issue. Jacky’s range is more limited than a T-rex with his hands glued together, and I have to wonder whether or not it’s caused by her need to force that Mustaine rasp at all times, because it smacks of trying too hard. I’m not expecting a range like Floor Jansen (Nightwish) but this is the other end of the spectrum, and it underlines the monotony that pervades the album.
The foundation of Licence is just fine. They know what they’re doing with the material, and there’re some catchy riffs to be found. The production is solid and the whole package is good in a very superficial way. But when every song has the same structure, the same rhythm, the same delivery, the same key, it all becomes so… same-like2. It irritates in its relentless formulaic structure and bores before the halfway point even gets close. There’re no standout tracks, not even the cover of Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” because it too has the exact same delivery the rest of the album does. At least the color scheme for the cover is accurate; whereas I expect violent neon from this kind of music, for better or for worse, N.2.O.2.R resigns itself to a monochrome of washed-out greys.