Zebra IV

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Neo-classic rockers Zebra return from hibernation with their first studio recording in 17 years. Unlike most bands, however, the trio remained active, touring the East Coast, with mastermind Randy Jackson fostering some low-key side projects (China Rain, Sign). Here and now, the one-two triumph of openers "Arabian Nights" and "Light of My Love" shows the boys haven't missed a trick since the halcyon daze of '80s AOR. As in Zebra's signature single, "Who's Behind the Door," Jackson still ponders deep thoughts like "Why" (a veritable "Blackbird" rewrite) and "Who Am I" (a bizarre take on the Bible with animal rights sentiments similar to the earlier FM chestnut "Bears"). And only Jackson could create a cosmic, comic crack like "So I Dance." Admittedly, the crass "Free" stands as one of his weaker moments, but Jackson soars everywhere else on Zebra IV: Freed from the sterile production marring the otherwise excellent 3.V, he pumps each tune with grandiosity while retaining his invaluable sense of melody. This vital component keeps Zebra dancing in the ruins of other post-pop/prog bands that search for vitality and marketability by sacrificing the simple hooks and passion that made them famous in the first place. Zebra is a proud dinosaur, and Zebra IV is an eminently listenable record of epic insignificance. Now here's hoping Zebra V comes along a little faster.

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