German hard rock institution Axel Rudi Pell released the first Diamonds Unlocked album a decade and a half ago, more or less, and, like the proverbial curate’s egg, it was rather good in parts. All of ARP’s band here save ex-Rainbow drummer Bobby Rondinelli featured on that opus, and the quintet (augmented then by skin beater Mike Terrana) made tidy work of covers from artists as diverse as Riot, Michael Bolton, Kiss and Phil Collins.
Fast forward to today and, having seemingly grown tired of the increasingly formulaic nature of their ‘normal’ albums, the lads are back with another bunch of covers – some obvious, some not so much. But all stamped with the indelible mark of Herr Pell.
That mark often involves making a song sound like a long lost Rainbow outtake – Geordie‘s Black Cat Woman here sounds more like Dio-era Rainbow even than the actual Dio- era Rainbow track featured, Lady of the Lake. On the other hand Tony Carey‘s Room With A View – Carey, you’ll remember, used to be in Rainbow – a great song in it’s own right, somehow transmogrifies into Bon Jovi circa New Jersey thanks to a gritty performance from vocalist Johnny Gioeli,
Perhaps the most successful track here is Sarah (You Take My Breath Away), originally performed by gravel-throated Smokie frontman Chris Norman. The original is a solid slice of eighties pop rock in it’s own right; Simple in structure, punchy and direct in the chorus, it’s pretty hard to mess up, but Axel Rudi takes it to another level thanks to some great lead playing and another committed vocal from Gioeli.
Less noteworthy are takes on Paint It Black – still, after fifty five years, nobody can touch the Rolling Stones original – and Tom Jones‘ She’s A Lady, which doesn’t work at all and ends up sounding stilted and uncomfortable. And taking on an Abba classic to close the album, whilst undoubtedly brave, was probably a foolhardy decision. The version of Eagle included here won’t be giving the original an sleepless nights in the foreseeable future.
Not bad overall, then, if not quite touching the heights of it’s 2007 predecessor. But as a break from the usual grind of Axel’s usual recorded output this works quite nicely.
Diamonds Unlocked II releases on July 30th.