Sound — 8
So as I promised in my "Wildside" review - here I bring you probably the better known of the Canadian rock band member's solo records - Paul Dean: Hardcore.
Paul Dean is one of those guys in music whom has been at it far longer than you'd expect, the guy has been in something like 15-20 different bands since the sixties, has had commercial success with Streetheart and Loverboy. He is considered the "Metal Element" of Loverboy. The guy has also designed guitars that have gone to market (the Odyssey Paul Dean, Hondo Paul Dean II and III, and Kramer Paul Dean), built guitars, and now considers himself a "Guitar breeder" - so no more fitting place for me to review this than Ultimate-Guitar. Hehe.
So in 1987, 88ish, Loverboy broke up, and what's a musician to do when his band splits? Go out solo of course. So Dean brings in a mix of songs penned by him and various pals, and the result very much stands on it's own with a few ghosts of Loverboy roaming around here and there.
Overall, the music really feels like late '80s hard rock, bordering on hair metal, without reaching hair-metal's over-the-top imagery, and without coming off as a snooze fest either. I'd put it sort of a halfway between Turbo-era Judas Priest and Hysteria era Def Leppard sound-wise, but with a gritty older dude on vocals.
Overall though, the sound and production is spot on, and I feel it conveys what Dean was up to in those days. Prior to the breakup, Loverboy was on the same track into Dokken/Winger/Whitesnake territory.
On this album, I hear plenty of Hiwatt, Marshall, the 64 strat is here, 12-strings, acoustics, Odysseys, Dean Machines, Wildside Parts Mutts....his sound moves all over the place on the album but with that typical stinging, buzzy, distorted sound, but unlike Wildside, there's a bit more warmth to it. Also seems, much like the greatest hits compilation Loverboy reformed for 3 songs on - Big Ones - he's enjoying using cross-faded Delays a lot.
And on Dean's singing, it's obvious he's not a 100% full time lead singer, he can do it, and do it well. He's more a singer in the sense that Sammy Hagar is a singer - not so much in the way his Loverboy bandmate Mike Reno is. If you like vocals more like a yelling David Coverdale or that have a bit of that old Bluesman vibe mixed with '80s backing vocalist - that's what you get here. There are a few places where his pitch veers a tad, but that's something I kind of like having come from the Nirvana school of Vocals myself - it gives this very glossy produced (read EIGHTIES produced) album a bit more organic edge than it's glossy contemporaries, something I kind of wish a lot of records of that time had.
Overall, I give it an 8, great album, not perfect, but definitely great and still gets heavy rotation at my house. Good guitar modding music.
Lyrics — 8
Loverboy was a cut and dry party rock band - The Cars were a arty post-punk new wave rock band - Paul Dean is... somewhere in the middle. A lot more symbolism, a lot less party, a lot more aggression on this album. I like that. However, same alphabet soup of writers - even moreso actually - than Wildside did.
"Sword & Stone" - This song was written by Desmond Child, Bruce Kulick, and PAul Stanely - yes, 2 members of Kiss and a known "hit" writer. Actually, KISS did a demo of this song sometime around 86', but Dean adopted it for this record. TBH, I like Dean's version better, although - probably thanks to the slick 80's production - it comes off a bit soundtrack-y in it's execution. Not one of my favorites on the album but fun once in awhile.
"Doctor" - One of two songs here only written by Dean. This one is a double entendre song the same way Bon Jovi's "Bad Medicine", UFO's "Doctor Doctor", or Van-Halen's "Somebody Get Me A Doctor" is. Tongue in cheek lyrics that may be cheesy to some, but that's what this song is pretty much about - fun. Has possibly the most dementedly weird rhythm guitar of anything I've heard Dean play. Whole lotta flanger.
"Draw The Line" - Written by Canadian rock peers Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance, and was already done before on Ted Nugent's Penetrator album in 1984 (probably the one part of Ted's career he probably does not want to remember, LOL), but Dean does this song 1000X better here with ominous flanged guitar, and lots of bluesy soloing throughout. Plus I like Dean's vocal work on this better than Derek St. Holmes singing on the first version (forgive me if I'm wrong... not much into Ted these days). Dean sounds genuinely angry on this one without coming off as corny - and that's a hard thing to pull off, the Nugent original seemed a bit, uh, played up.
"Dirty Fingers" - Taylor Rhoades and Tom Deluca wrote this one. Some of this album I think was for Dean and co to be a bit more randy about things than they could get away with on a regular release from one of their respective bands. Not a bad one, one of the more even keel tracks on the album despite rocking hard. Dean really pushes his voice here, leaning just on the edge of Kurt Cobain screaming territory, but for a different reason.
"Under The Gun" - Dean, Loverboy cohort Mike Reno, plus the two main songwriters from Bon Jovi (Jon himself and Ritchie) wrote this crazy thing that sounds like it could have come straight off of Lovin' Every Minute of it if it were not for 2000 guitar overdubs. Sounds like a good song for a 80's spy flick.
"Action" - A Streetheart song - this is the leading track off "Meanwhile Back in Paris" from 1977, but remade for 1989. IT rocks harder than the original, but it also does not have as much of an impact as it did on the 1977 Streetheart version that's far more funk and less crunchy metal.
"Down to the Bottom" - In this Paul Dean written piece about the ups and downs of a relationship, Dean brings the angst of said relationship to light with a lot of vocal and guitar-grit.
"Black Sheep" - Dean, Rhoads, Terry Cerney wrote this one that probably could have been, and would have been the title track in different circumstances (it starts off with a somber sounding Dean singing "hardcore....through and through, I'm a three times loser, no thanks to you" over a piano to start it off). Of course, after it's somber introduction, things quickly pick up into a harmonica and slide guitar drenched hard rock song that appears to be about not fitting in but advancing against those imperfect odds.
"Politics" - Dean, Brian "Too Loud" McLeod, and some guy named Foster wrote this, though it sounds like Dean may have written the lyrics. What's interesting is this came BEFORE the music and politics thing was really big in the early 1990's - because that's what this song targets with the key line being "you're so concerned with what you are, that's why I don't sing I play guitar" - with a subtle dose of irony because Paul Dean, background vox aside, is the guitar player and not the singer, and he's been singing this whole album. The message I get from this is "don't mix politics and rock music, it don't fit" - while catchy, seems a bit hypocritical coming from the same guy who wrote "Strike Zone" about Thermoglobal Nuclear War after walking around a ground zero site, or "War Bride"...
But overall, this whole album really comes off as an intersting mix, it feels a bit like a rock album that came out of another dimension in a way, because it's catering just enough to late '80s production values and musical values at the time to come off as a product of the late 80's, but through the rampant use of slide guitar, harmonica, blues influence, less-as-show-offy soloing most of the time, and not to mention Dean's lower voice and general growling voice compared to the almost girly voiced hair metal bands of the time, it's a welcome change. It's basically, a good straight ahead rock album worthy of the 8.
Overall Impression — 8
I'd say a close comparison - by nature - would be the solo albums of other artists outside their bands. Ever wondered how it would sound if your favorite band went one-sided - and if they existed in the '80s during the solo record heavy period? Just take something like this for a spin. When you spin up Benjamin Orr's "The Lace" - you get The Cars Drive X1000 in general vibe, plug in Elliot Easton's "Change No Change" - you'll be staring at a Ferrari dealership of Cars guitar riffs, and if you put on Paul Dean Hard Core, you're basically getting the metal, harder, darker side of Loverboy, which is what I stumbled upon listening to this.
Standout tracks include Draw The Line, Black Sheep, which I prefer to call Hard Core, is catchy, Politics has a great message though Dean does put some politics in his writing, Under the Gun, there's not a stinker here. Probably the lowest would be Sword and Stone, and I'm not sure WHERE to put Doctor because it's funny, cheesy, and cool all at once in my eyes.
It's a interesting and unique look at how Loverboy's guitarist did things in the late 1980's. What's nice is unlike most of Loverboy's albums, the guitar is always out front somewhere, weather it's the 64' strat bubbling around on the neck pickup, the Kramer's whammy barring away, 12-strings jangling out of the corner of the sonic space. Guitar guitar, everywhere, and nary a broken string (to my knowledge).
However, I find I do have to be in a special mood to listen to this, it's not something I'd grab for right away, but It is something I'll put on if I want to listen to something from that late '80s "Big Hollywood" era of rock. Personally, out of personal values, I'd pick this over GNR any day, but that's just me.
Anyway, it's available on CD, vinyl, and tape. I stupidly passed up a copy years ago at a used CD shop thinking it'd be terrible. It's a good get if you are into '80s big rock, like Van-Halen, AC/DC, or want to hear Loverboy style rock done a bit heavier than usual.