Review Summary: Johnny Gioeli's first and (thus far) only solo record can be construed as an all-around triumph – at least by those who accept the singer's chosen direction, and are willing to keep an open mind.
Branching out is typically one of the most controversial decisions any artist can make, regardless of their field. Admirers who have connected to said artist through their original line of work tend to present an inflexible, gatekeeping attitude towards any kind of deviation from that initial status quo, and the artist's desire to expand their reach or try for a new fanbase will usually be met with varying degrees of derision. Counter-culture, subversive or 'cult' icons, in particular, are almost certain to experience this the minute they attain any degree of recognition outside undeground circles, or attempt to apply even the slightest change to their art. It is, therefore, no wonder that most projects of this type are short lived, at best, or completely derail a promising career, at worst.
And yet, in spite of all the odds, there are
still those in the arts world who choose to go their own way and do what they want, regardless of public opinion. Those who have, say, a reputation as a hard'n'heavy vocalist, yet choose to release a solo album with precious little connection to the style that made them famous. Those like Italian-American singer Johnny Gioeli.
Known mainly for his stints as frontman for Hardline, Crush 40 and (later) the Axel Rudi Pell band, Gioeli deservedy made a name for himself as one of the best talents within the warmer-voiced section of modern hard rock and metal vocalists. The singer's unique combination of croony hard/AOR raspiness and wailing heavy metal power has been featured everywhere from the Sonic the Hedgehog series of games to the Genius rock opera, allowing him to break out of the notoriously restrictive hard'n'heavy medium into broader sectors of the public consciousness, and putting him in a prime position to use his clout towards the creation of a personal project.
Said personal project materialised in 2018, in the form of aptly-titled solo album One Voice
. Described by Gioeli himself as something he simply woke up one morning and decided he wanted to do, it sees the singer pair up with competent, if anonymous, talent from the most prolific nation for hard rock/AOR in the modern Western world – Italy – to deliver a final product likely to be closer to Gioeli's own heart than those of his fans.
Indeed, admirers of the heavier side of the singer's career are advised to steer well clear of this album, as the vast majority of these eleven tracks (twelve in the Japanese edition) are almost entirely devoid of anything even remotely resembling hard rock or heavy metal; instead, the record's sound alternates, on an almost track-by-track basis, between the softest, radio-friendliest side of AOR and the sort of borderline-schmaltzy, over-earnest, countrified pop-rock power-ballad usually reserved for Christian post-grunge groups. This pattern is established as early as the first salvo of tracks, with rocking opener Drive
being followed by back-to-back power ballads, before Mind Melt
picks up the tempo again; from then on, the record is split almost exactly down the middle between the two styles, with neither ever quite winning out over the other.
The notable (and notorious) exception is Hit Me Once, Hit You Twice
, where the singer and his cronies make a conscious attempt to infuse some actual weight into their sound, and create the sort of modern hard rock stomper KISS have been serving up for the past two decades; unfortunately, the end result comes across as more than a little forced and hackneyed, making for something of an odd-man-out in what has been, until then, a naturally-flowing and earnestly-performed album.
Outside of those markedly anomalous four minutes, however, the sound on One Voice
is closer to a mix of Giuffria, Survivor and Third Day than to anything Gioeli has presented with any of his 'main' acts - a choice which will almost certainly alienate a large portion of the singer's heavy rock fanbase. Those who choose to persevere and keep an open mind, however, will find a firmly above-average radio-rock album lurking behind all the cheese.
In fact, one of the biggest points in One Voice
's favour is how consistently good it is. Even accounting for the aforementioned heavier-tinged misfire, no song on this album can be considered outright weak. On the contrary, most of them range from good to great, and fully deserve their place on the tracklist - even if the likes of Deeper
or Out Of Here
do tend to slip from memory more easily than their counterparts. Overall, however, the dozen or so tracks included here mesh together into an incredibly pleasant AOR listening experience, sure to please fans of the softer side of the genre.
Even songwriting quality does not, however, mean a lack of standout tracks, and this album definitely does deliver some above-average moments, on both the AOR and country-rock sides of the spectrum. The former yields Mind Melt
and Let Me Know
, two incredibly catchy, upbeat slices of commercial hard rock, with all the elements fans of the genre have come to expect from its modern iteration, while the latter produces the absolute best moment of the album – the immense title track. Towering head and shoulders above every other one of its counterparts, One Voice
– the song – is a mammoth of a country-rock power ballad, and a perfect showcase for its eponymous record as a whole. All the common connecting elements of the album's sound are here, from Gioeli's warmly powerful vocals, to his and guitarist Eric Gadrix's penchant for crafting a sticky hook, to lyrics that are uplifting and spiritual while still remaining decidedly non-denominational – although a line like 'if you believe in your whatever/then I pray it makes you better'
could potentially be construed as problematic by less tolerant listeners. Still, this is but a small niggle in what is otherwise a fantastic radio rock track, and the album's absolute standout.
While never quite reaching the level of the standout tracks, the remainder of the songs on the album do provide strong enough backup, with rockers like Drive
keeping the singer in good stead with the AOR faithful, and big-ballad representatives The Price We Pay
and Oh Fathers
managing to remain on just the right side of schmaltzy. The latter even comes close to matching the title track for sheer quality, snatching a well-deserved fourth slot on the standout list, and ensuring even the album's better moments are divided squarely down the middle between its two musical strands!
In short, then, Johnny Gioeli's first and (thus far) only solo record can be construed as an all-around triumph – at least by those who accept the singer's chosen direction, and are less adamant about his talents being confined to the realm of hard rock and heavy metal. To be sure, the overall sound does occasionally come across as overly slick, and the record as a whole is as lightweight and squeaky-clean as a rock album gets; none of this, however, detracts from the fact that One Voice
is a fantastic collection of catchy, easy-listening pop-rock songs, as suitable for cranking up while driving as for playing in the background while performing house chores or light morning stretching. If only all radio rock was this good, one suspects the genre would not get quite so much flak...
Let Me Know