Jon Oliva's Pain - Global warming 3.5/5

Reviewed: 9-5-08





Tracklist:

1. Global warming
2. Look at the world
3. Adding the cost
4. Before I hang
5. Firefly
6. Master
7. The ride
8. O to G
9. Walk upon water
10. Stories
11. Open your eyes
12. You never know
13. Someone/Souls
14. No more Saturday nights


Jon Oliva needs no introduction. With a larger-than-life personality, a distinctive and versatile voice, a remarkable songwriting talent, and a seemingly boundless capacity for alcohol, the Mountain King was a driving force behind Savatage (R.I.P.) and is currently reaping the commercial rewards of his craft with the uber-successful Trans-Siberian Orchestra cash cow. In his spare time, Oliva writes, records and performs music with his solo band, Jon Oliva's Pain. He has recently become quite fond of deflecting inevitable Savatage questions in interviews by proclaiming that J.O.P. is the closest thing anyone will see to that legendary band, only with a different name out of respect to the former Savatage members. The problem with that analogy, however, is that J.O.P. is a much more experimental, self-indulgent beast than the 'Tage ever was, serving as an outlet for Oliva's Beatles fetish, his Zeppelin tendencies, and his wanderlust to foray into distinctly un-metal realms at times. To his credit, however, Oliva has continued to pay due and proper respect to his past on each J.O.P. CD, offering up at least a few nuggets guaranteed to please ardent Savatage fans the world over. So there's the rub: At some level, Jon Oliva's Pain is too wimpy, piano-driven, Beatles-y, and left-field-oriented to appeal to the troo metal crowd, but too menacing and bruising to win over the peace-and-love, hippy-dippy, flower-power set.

For better or worse, this assessment holds true on 'Global warning', the band's 3rd CD overall. Let's start with the positives. There are a handful of simply phenomenal tunes on here in the classic Savatage style. As on 2006's 'Maniacal renderings' CD, Jon has culled old unused riffs and song fragments that he wrote with his brother, the late, great Criss Oliva, in the Savatage days and reworked them into complete new songs. The vibe and spirit of 'Sirens' and the 'Power of the night' opus is alive and well on songs like "No more Saturday nights" and the jaw-dropping "Stories" (holy cash cow, what a riff!!!). "Adding the cost" would have fit nicely with the very heaviest material on 'Gutter ballet'. "Firefly" is a beautiful ballad that has 'Streets' written all over it. And then there's my favorite cut on the CD, "Before I hang", which sounds like an amalgamation of the 'Hall of the mountain king' and 'Streets' eras of Savatage. Just superb. Unlike so many bands today that strive and fail to replicate their signature sound from the 80s, Oliva pulls it off effortlessly because each of these mentioned songs has its genesis in that period, so it's not like he's working from a blank canvas trying vainly to put himself in the same mindset he held 2 decades ago. But the flipside of the coin is that a number of songs on 'Global warning' are just painful. The title track has no perceptible structure and is overwhelmed by an extremely annoying Hammond organ, which has to be one of my least favorite instruments. "Master" is heavy enough, but it's ruined by techno beats and yucky filtered vocals, like J.O.P. going White Zombie or something. Too many of the other songs are just plain boring laidback numbers, with the guitars taking a backseat to the tinkling ivories and maudlin lyrical themes as Oliva channels Lennon to the best of his abilities. I can appreciate the musicianship, and I love Jon's voice, but these songs (like many on 'Tage Mahal', for instance) just don't speak to me.

When the 65-minute musical journey of 'Global warning' finishes, you have to ask yourself: Is the glass half-full or half-empty? I'll go with the former option. "Stories", "Adding the cost", "No more Saturday nights", "Firefly" and especially "Before I hang" are absolutely worth the price of admission all by themselves. These aren't good Jon Oliva songs, they're great Jon Oliva songs that pay tribute and indeed add to the impressive Savatage legacy. I will readily tolerate the less-than-compelling nature of some of the other tracks as long as those hammers are waiting for me on every spin through this CD. But if you eat metal and expel chains, to paraphrase Timo Tolkki circa his loony-bin days, then you might draw the balance differently than I.



KIT




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