Axel Rudi Pell - Best Of Anniversary Edition
Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Though his fans are as loyal to him as Doro Pesch's worldwide acolytes, Axel Rudi Pell suffers from the same affliction as the Queen of Metal; both refuse to give up the fight, both are respected well above most of their peers, both give their all into every project tagged to their names and in the end, the deserving spotlight only awaits them in select corners of the world.
Axel's devotees need no rehashing of his career, but to bring everyone up to snuff in light of his new compilation Best Of Anniversary Edition, the German guitar wizard has been operating with a never-say-die solo ethos since the late eighties following his stint with cult metal favorites Steeler, also one-time host to Yngwie Malmsteen, Rik Fox and Ron Keel. While Malmsteen went on to claim notoriety as a Bach-addled neoclassical shredder, thus setting a precedent for heavy metal guitar playing, Axel Rudi Pell's far more understated (though no less talented) style of playing has historically relegated him to the minor leagues of the genre.
Having had in his solo stable vocalists such as Jeff Scott Soto, Charlie Huhn and Rob Rock, Pell by all rights should've enjoyed a heftier career than he has. At times his compositions border on the elegant side while at heart, the man is simply a rocker, plain and true, his Ballads album series notwithstanding.
In 1998, Pell recruited Johnny Gioeli to the front position in his band, a working relationship that hasn't wavered since. This is the focus upon Best Of Anniversary Edition, a collection piece showcasing moreso Gioeli's presence in the band than Axel's.
2000's The Wizard's Chosen Few is by far a better hits collection than this one, simply due to the fact it's a tad more comprehensive with songs represented by Pell's earliest albums Wild Obsession, Nasty Reputation and Eternal Prisoner, also captitalized by a few new and live tracks. The Wizard's Chosen Few likewise bears a few of the same Gioeli-sung ditties appearing on Best Of Anniversary Edition, i.e. "Carousel," "Oceans of Time" and "The Masquerade Ball."
So what else are you getting with Best Of Anniversary Edition? Honestly, not a heck of a lot. "Carousel," one of Pell's more fun tracks, even at a hefty running time of 8:01 is always pleasing to listen to, and "Edge of the World" from Shadow Zone and "Strong as a Rock" from Kings and Queens take you right on home to the days when heavy metal may have been a huge cash cow but it commanded far less respect as an art form than it does today. These aren't exactly artsy tunes, and cool enough for that. One of Pell's strengths is his effortless replication of bobbing classic metal songs which are usually melodic but almost never on the mainstream side.
You're also going to be treated--in case you missed Pell's Diamonds Unlocked covers album--to slightly edgier takes on U2's "Beautiful Day" and Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight." While the latter remake is worth checking out for Pell's riffing and wicked cool soloing not to mention a groovy percussion sequence worthy of Phil's own drumming cadence (which somehow got abandoned prior to his squeaky-clean Disney deal, a too-polite vibe appearing in everything he's done since), it's not wholly worthwhile to have two selections from Diamonds Unlocked appear on this compilation. All that Pell has recorded in his career, to relegate two of the twelve tracks on Best Of Anniversary Edition to cover cuts isn't showing much faith, sorry to say.
With a couple of slices from Mystica including the title track, one of Pell's nicest offerings from Ballads III, "Forever Angel (Acoustic)" and a helping from his most recent album Tales of the Crown, "Ain't Gonna Win," if you're unfamiliar with these albums or just beginning to seek out the work of Axel Rudi Pell, then of course Best Of Anniversary Edition is a cozy place to get started.
Then again, considering Pell has enjoyed the rare fortune of being on the same label he began his solo conjecture with, Best Of Anniversary Edition is a slight bit done on the cheap and not fully reflective of this artist's respectable career. A nice tribute to his 11-year frontman, sure, but for the fan's money, not much to get excited about, at least until Pell's next studio work arrives. The rating is only for the lack of buying power, not for the quite excellent content.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Axel Rudi Pell - Best Of Anniversary Edition