The last time I saw Dennis Ward, he was playing bass in Magnum, at their 50th anniversary -cum- Christmas gig in the Black Country.
You can’t even call that the “day job” because Ward is one of those blokes who seems to turn up everywhere. Wherever melodic rock exists, then so does Dennis.
As far back as 1989 I was buying Pink Cream 69 records (and by God, there was enough of them!) Ward founded them. Slightly more recently he was in the wonderful Unisonic.
He’d stepped into sing for Khymera in 2005 too (and he’s a fine singer by the way), when Steve Walsh of Kansas dropped out, and since then, the band have periodically released records from the very top draw whenever they could get together.
“Hold Your Ground” is another from that school. Look, it oozes class, skill, hooks, technical ability. And it seeps European sounds from every pore.
“….Ground” is 11 songs and 40 minutes that pretty much could have only come out in one place in this world. Italian record label Frontiers has made such things as this the bedrock of what they do, and this is the most “frontiers-y” album you’ll ever hear.
You’ll probably only need 24 seconds to make your mind up in truth. That’s exactly how long it takes to get through the intro of “Don’t Wait For Love”, the swathes of keyboard and Michael Klein’s guitar. Then the chorus. Pete Newdeck (drummer to everyone) gives it harmonies (he only sings backing vocals here) and the tone is set.
“Firestarter” (can I be honest? I hoped for a Prodigy cover) is actually a slice of chunky FM sounding stuff (“one wish, one kiss, one night I’ll always remember” goes the hook and you can imagine Steve Overland cursing at home that he didn’t write it), while “Hear Me Calling” is the sort of stuff I’ve been buying since I was a kid. Bands like Steelheart and Tyketto made this a pastime back then, and the torch is being carried here for certain.
“Sail On Forever” could have been on Bon Jovi’s second record and it underlines the importance of Eric Ragno’s keyboards to this album (Ward also plays keys) and the piano led “Our Love Is Killing Me” is as big as power ballads are going to get. This is huge, chaps. It’s unashamed too.
Nothing here is too long. Which is a neat trick considering “Hear What I Am Saying” has a flavour of Magnum’s epic sound, and the sweeping soundscape of “Believe In What You Want” is like mid-period Europe, but neither have anything approaching excess fat anywhere near them.
This is not a record that bares its soul. It is, however tempting to imagine “On The Edge” – a thumping fists up rocker – and “Could Have Been Us” as two halves of the same song. The former is a break up, the latter, casts Ward as “on the way to City Hall with the papers in my hand” while “she” leaves him. The whiff of regret is thick in the air.
“Runaway” isn’t a Bon Jovi song, its is the most riff heavy one here though, and on a record that you could never describe as “loose”, there’s one more polished attempt at mid-paced rock in “Am I Dreaming” and there’s nothing wrong with it all.
Indeed, in football terms, “Hold Your Ground” is Mikel Arteta’s hair. Not a thing out of place, smart and never changing. It doesn’t take chances. It doesn’t want to. It’s perfect. Perhaps too perfect. Rock n roll without the danger, maybe, but as a masterclass on how to do what they used to call AOR when Tommy Vance played it on the Friday Rock Show back then, you won’t hear a better one.