Forcefield

Forcefield III: To Oz & Back

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    6
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Vocalist Graham Bonnet fronts this group consisting of drummer extraordinaire Cozy Powell, guitarists Ray Fenwick and Jan Akkerman, with Chris Cozens on keyboards, and guests like Terry Pack and Mo Foster on bass. The album begins awkwardly with a bit of bombast called "Hit and Run" but gets more hard pop with "Always," a drum beat that Roxy Music utilized on Manifesto, and that Elton John chose for "Healing Hands" under a melody that sounds totally derivative. Rocking harder than "Touch Me," the 1974 hit Fenwick composed for his group Fancy, but not as aggressive as that Top 20 song, there's the balancing act going on here of Cozy Powell's arena rock attitude and Ray Fenwick's pop sensibilities. Graham Bonnet isn't the best choice for a vocal sound on Denny Laine's composition, "Stay Away," and the reggae, almost calypso sound also clashes with what could have been a pure pop masterpiece. "I still got the taste of true love that went bad" is a great, biting Denny Laine line, but Forcefield delivers it with a sledgehammer. Fenwick's work on material by Jo Jo Laine & the Firm on Mercury a few years before this was more in the pocket and had the balance missing here. "Desire" seeks that Journey market, and it is almost there, Fenwick's organ parts and the over-played guitar totally '80s. The final cut on side one, "Tokyo," is instrumental, and the listener gets a break from the vocal overkill of the great hook on the song before. One of the more interesting cuts is a re-working of the Kinks' "Who'll Be the Next in Line," which opens the second side. Production ideas are shamelessly lifted from the 1983 Yes hit "Owner of a Lonely Heart," and while the arrangement is intriguing and might bring a smile to Ray Davies' face, right up to the 1985 "A View to a Kill" nick, it is Graham Bonnet who deflates this party. He does a decent job with the second Denny Laine contribution, "Wings on My Feet," but this production is out of Phil Collins' textbook for the 1985 hit "Easy Lover." Yes, it sounds like Earth, Wind & Fire meets Wings, and it is certainly an odd combination. Both songs written by Laine, it would be interesting to hear the composer performing them, as they seem more suited for a pop album. "Firepower" is more hard stuff with definite guitar riffs, co-writer Johnny Mars' distinctive harmonica, and along with the next track, "Hold On," maybe Bonnet's best vocal performance. "Hold On" sounds like Mickey Thomas and the Starship from 1987 -- it's the strongest hook on the record, and like six of the other ten titles here, it is co-written by producer Ray Fenwick. "Rendezvous" is beautiful. Not only is it more subtle than everything else on To Oz and Back, it is also the most creative and original piece, a stunning instrumental which leads to one conclusion: Had Denny Laine fronted this band instead of merely writing two of the ten tracks, and had he added more of what he gave to the Moody Blues and Wings, this album would be as excellent as the final track. That the vocal work is so disappointing shows the dexterity of the musicians; they still escape with a "good" rating, but just barely. As an instrumental album, this recording by Forcefield would be cherished by many; as it appears in this form, it is a crew of talented semi-name musicians having fun recreating work that was being released earlier in the decade by their friends and peers. It's an interesting experiment.

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