Here we are again; It’s 2020 and German guitar institution Axel Rudi Pell is back with his nineteenth solo album. Vocalist Johnny Gioeli has been part of the furniture now for over twenty years, and even ‘new’ member Bobby Rondinelli is on his fourth full-lengther with the band. Solidity incarnate, you might say.

The trouble with solidity, of course, is that there isn’t much room for movement, but both Herr Pell and his large constituency of fans (one million plus album sales with seemingly unlimited power to add) like it that way, which effectively renders any criticism of lack of ambition or adventurousness invalid. Those of you looking for a bit of experimentation or anything other than tightly regimented fun times should back away now.

But whilst this sort of stick-to-your-guns obduracy is faintly admirable, the mindset that breeds it is atrophied in the extreme. Any band in 2020 that can come up, unironically, with song titles like Bad Reputation, Sign of the Times, The End of the Line, Wings of the Storm and Into The Fire and not expect to get called out for laziness is, erm, living in a dream. And then there’s the music…

Sign of the Times offers no surprises musically at all. Even the album’s best track, Waiting For Your Call, is really at heart simply a reworking of the main riff from Judas Priest cast off Heart of a Lion; and whilst there’s no doubting the effective techniques of Pell, Rondinelli and Gioeli (or even bassist and keyboardist Volker Krawczak and Ferdy Doernberg, though neither get much of a look in throughout the record), it’s disappointing that they can’t come up with more than a couple of ideas that ignite more than a spark or two of enthusiasm from the non-com observer such as me. Living in a Dream starts off as a reggae jam – surely something that the band thought would raise a few eyebrows when they came up with the idea in the studio – but soon becomes another piece of sub-Rainbow bombast just like all the rest.

I don’t mean to come across so critically – I really don’t. There is still a market for basic hard rock like this, I’m sure, but that doesn’t make listening to talented musicians selling themselves short any easier, I’m afraid. Best avoided.

Sign of the Times will be released on May 8th.