Album of the Week 52-2013: Soul Sirkus – World Play

Generally, I hate supergroups. Usually the names and egos are greater than the actual music. Sometimes it feels like the musicians involved in these projects have too little to prove to actually come up with good material. Soul Sirkus is a notable exception. Something just makes sense here, possibly caused by the fact that Journey guitarist Neal Schon catches himself in a different playing scenario than he is generally known for. Also, he’s working with Jeff Scott Soto, who is one of this world’s best singers as well as one of the best songwriters ever to grace this planet. Whatever the cause, ‘World Play’ is a fantastic album.

It’s not that Soul Sirkus is a radical departure from Schon’s AOR past. This is still highly melodic Hardrock. However, there is much more of an edge to both the music and Schon’s guitar approach. Soto has an enormous range with just the right amount of rasp to his voice and the formidable rhythm section of Virgil Donati and Marco Mendoza is a perfect fit. Both are virtuosos in their field, but opt for a strong foundation with only occasional flashes of their wizardry instead. The true heroes of this record are the songs, since they’re all fantastic.

Schon and Soto have written a handful of fantastic Hardrock tunes for ‘World Play’. Most of the songs have a bluesy flair and are decidedly riff driven. Even though the album never goes into Metal territory, there are riffs in the passionately subdued ‘Another World’ that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Black Sabbath album. The groovy – and surprisingly proggy – riff on the fantastic opening statement ‘Highest Ground’ is something of a stomping surprise as well. Another subdued masterpiece here is the dark and goosebumps inducing ‘Periled Divide’ and ‘My Love, My Friend’ is another expert case of Soto’s choral Queen worship.

However, this album truly excels when Soul Sirkus takes a slightly edgier approach to AOR and the big choruses and heavy riffs push each other to great climaxes. ‘New Position’ is one of the first examples of that. The song has a Rock ‘n’ Roll swing to it and a spirited performance of Soto – who never disappoints – but Schon’s hand is quite obvious in the chorus, especially the riff that closes it. Closing track ‘Close The Door’ is another case of brilliantly written AOR euphoria. My personal favorites have to be ‘Friends 2 Lovers’ and ‘My Sanctuary’ though. The latter has a monstrous, yet sexy groove and powerful chorus, while the former could have been a huge hit in the late eighties. It has heartwarming lyrics as well.

Don’t let the supergroup label scare you away from ‘World Play’. It’s actually one of the few albums bearing that label that is actually, well…super. This is one of those albums that makes you want to just get up and move. And with its great riffs, swinging grooves and – I can’t emphasize this enough – Soto’s simply amazing vocal work, it’s kind of hard not to. This is definitely one of the finest hours of every musician involved and I can’t imagine anyone into melodic Hardrock not getting into this.

Recommended tracks: ‘My Sanctuary’, ‘Friends 2 Lovers’, ‘Close The Door’, ‘Another World’

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