FM, one of Britain’s finest AOR bands, add to their impressive catalogue with this, their tenth, eleventh or twelfth album (depending on whether or not one wishes to include Indiscreet 30 and regard Rockville and Rockville II as separate releases). Despite a period of hiatus between the mid-’90s and 2010’s excellent Metropolis, there has been a great longevity to the band due, in no small measure, to the quality of their songwriting, their accomplished musicianship and the fact that Steve Overland has one of the finest voices in melodic rock.
Synchronized is an aptly named record; the band seem to be more complementary to one another than ever before. The interplay between guitar and keyboards, the tightness of the rhythm section, the songs arrangements are thoughtfully constructed and have the whole band working together whilst still enabling them to stand out individually. Jem Davis and Jim Kirkpatrick, in particular, weave together some superb solo slots which showcase their talents. If I had one reservation about some of the earlier albums, it would be the manner in which the keyboards had become underused as the band transitioned to a bluesier rock style. Not so here, there is a decent range of musical styles on offer for all rock appetites.
The album’s strongest songs fill the first half of its runtime, with Ghosts of You and I and Broken being the finest of those cuts. The title track opens the running order and it’s an indulgent slice of ’80s AOR. The synth lines and guitar riffs call to mind the likes of Starship and Toto and the hooky chorus really sticks in one’s head. Superstar is much more familiar early FM ground and all of its component parts stand out. It’s really catchy and the repeated lyric in the verse is very effective, whilst the chords in the bridge offer a few surprises.
Best of Times follows with a Bon Jovi/Richie Sambora vibe to it – definitely one for the rock guitar lovers. Another catchy chorus which, by the time I got to the end of the album, had me wondering if the track order should have been rethought. Ghosts of You and I follows. The album’s finest ballad sees Davis’ piano and keyboards front and centre, ably supported by Kirkpatrick. The melodies are delicate and make the best use of Overland’s emotive voice. The Kirkpatrick guitar solo is short and anthemic and the key change at the end is really effective, without feeling cheesy.
Broken has a fantastic repeated hook for the vocals, keyboards and guitar in the chorus. The chord changes in the verse and bridge are an unexpected shift which prevents the chorus becoming repetitive. It is a seemingly simple song on the face of it, but one with a range of complex layers. I’ve no doubt this will become a concert staple beyond the Synchronized tour, and rightly so. Another song which sticks in one’s head long after the last note ends. Change for the Better is another of those tracks that calls early FM to mind; I could quite imagine this gracing Tough It Out without feeling out of place.
Track seven sees a shift to longer, slightly more contemplative songs. End of Days attempts to sink its teeth into some of the political issues facing modern society. There is some menace to the guitar that fits the tone of the song well which, unfortunately, isn’t really backed up by the chorus which feels rather weak by comparison. Pray opens with some Gospel chords before moving into more familiar musical territory. The guitar solo is excellent (and I enjoyed the ‘cute’ reference to Praise You in the organ phrase that followed). The vocal performance on this track is one of the album’s best. Walk Through the Fire has a Phenomena feel to it, but it is at least a minute too long.
Of the album’s closers, there is likely to be some enthusiasm for the blues-rock of Angels Cried. I suspect this may be a bit of a ‘Marmite’ song as I am sure some people will think it’s the album’s best track. Personally, it’s not for me, though the playing is exquisite and the song undoubtedly well-written. Ready for Me, though, is a great one to end on. This track is a really punchy little rocker and reminds me a little of Lou Gramm’s solo material from the late ’80s.
Overall, the first half of the album is modern FM at its very best, and I’ve no doubt it won’t be far from my summer listening. The album’s second half has some superb musicianship, but some of the tracks feel a little overly long and could maybe have benefited from being interspersed with some of the catchy shorter pieces. Having said that, I am pleased that FM continue to keep things fresh by using a variety of musical styles and chord arrangements that elevate them above the usual crop of AOR bands.
01. Synchronized (4:35)
02. Superstar (5:07)
03. Best Of Times (4:03)
04. Ghosts Of You And I (4:27)
05. Broken (4:04)
06. Change For The Better (4:46)
07. End Of Days (5:04)
08. Pray (5:26)
09. Walk Through The Fire (5:43)
10. Hell Or High Water (5:47)
11. Angels Cried (6:20)
12. Ready For Me (4:23)
Total Time – 59:45
Steve Overland – Vocals, Guitars
Jem Davis – Keyboards
Jim Kirkpatrick – Guitars
Merv Goldsworthy – Bass Guitar
Pete Jupp – Drums
Record Label: Frontiers
Catalogue#: FRCD1028 / FRLP1028
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 22nd May 2020