Tokyo Motor Fist is a melodic hard rock project fronted by the dream-team of vocalist Ted Poley and guitarist Steve Brown. Bass and drums come in the form of veterans Greg Smith (Rainbow) and Chuck Burgi (Red Dawn) respectively. I would normally be very wary of this sort of career vehicle but the blistering riff and infectious singalong chorus of the opening track are enough to make me think that this time, maybe - just maybe - I might be on to a bit of a winner.
Since his original Danger Danger days, Ted Poley has committed a wealth of disappointing musical misdemeanours, with the worst of his solo efforts bordering on self-parody. Poley’s incomparable talent and character as a vocalist makes it all the more tragic that he’s failed, in my view, really to find a proper home since his days in Bone Machine in the mid ‘90s. It’s heartening, therefore, to see him getting together with Trixter axeman Steve Brown, as the two artists actually seem to have some real chemistry going here. They’ve known each other for many years and Brown stood in for Danger Danger guitarist Rob Marcello on some 2016 live shows and again, more recently, on the Monsters of Rock Cruise earlier this month.
Brown, a notorious Eddie Van Halen disciple, founded Trixter at a ridiculously young age and the band’s 2015 latest album Human Era showed them, a quarter of a century after their debut, to be as youthful-sounding and promising as they ever were (see the RGM reviews archive for further reading). Brown’s credentials as a world-class guitarist are further cemented by the fact that he was Def Leppard’s touring replacement for Vivian Campbell while Campbell was undergoing cancer treatment. That’s not an easy gig to come by, I’ll bet, and it means that, playing-wise, Brown is currently on form like never before. The confidence and energy that comes along with that is audible in every riff, lick and solo here and helps Tokyo Motor Fist feel fantastically alive.
Opener ‘Pickin’ Up The Pieces’ is the quintessential melodic rock anthem of the type that Bon Jovi could’ve easily sold several million copies in 1989. Its riff, chorus and guitar solo are taken directly from the textbook but, unbelievably, it doesn’t sound tired or staid. It’s a cracking statement of intent and at this point I’m just praying that the rest of the record is going to be half as good.
‘Love Me Insane’ is the sort of energetic foot-tapper that peppered Trixter’s Human Era while party-rocker ‘Shameless’, with its singing, octaved guitar break is a little more easy-going and melodic. It’s not exactly groundbreaking stuff, but if you’re a melodic rock devotee, then there’s more than enough to keep you happy. My ears really start to prick up at track four, ‘Love’, which has the feel of Danger Danger’s ‘Don’t Walk Away’ with a dash of Def Leppard’s ‘Hysteria’ for good measure. The song allows Poley’s more intimate lower register to shine through.
The pairing of ‘Black and Blue’ and the high-octane, punky chuggachuggachug of ‘You’re My Revolution’ that follows leaves me feeling completely pummelled, to the point of possibly not ever wanting to hear a distorted guitar ever again, so it’s something of a relief that the six-eight lighter-waver ‘Don’t Let Me Go’ changes pace. My ears get to recover as everything is given a little more space to move under the smooth keys and acoustic picking of the verses.
The huge gang vocals of ‘Put Me to Shame’ put me in mind of both the Blue Tears and Southgang debuts (neither of which any self-respecting hard rock fan should be without) as well as present-day Danger Danger and Trixter of course. Poley’s delivery here is much more muscular and gruff than usual and I’m not convinced it really suits, but no album of this type is complete without a quality, ballsy fist-pumper and this - like so much of the album - shows Tokyo Motor Fist simply delivering the goods. Sort of like the Ronseal of Hard Rock.
The banner-waving ‘Done To Me’ is, again, superbly and satisfyingly Def Leppardish and deserves to be heard in stadia the world over… have we ever thought of offering our material to Messrs Elliott and Collen, Mr Brown? Mid-tempo ballad ‘Get You off My Mind’ continues in the same vein and is gloriously melodic and, for once on the record, Steve Brown shows some restraint with a surprisingly low-profile guitar solo. Closing number ‘Fallin’ Apart’ is a fairly forgettable heavy pounder - surplus to requirements really - but at least it enables Tokyo Motor Fist to go out with a rock-tastic bang.
The balance and mix of material here is good and it’s a fantastic showcase for the considerable talents of both men. The safe stylistic box-ticking is something we’ve all heard before but, unsubtle as it all may be, it’s not often done with as much panache and flair as Mr Poley and Mr Brown bring to the party. As such, this will be both a giddy thrill-ride and a guilty pleasure for any hardened MHR fan. I am mildly concerned that Steve Brown has just squandered a lot of material here that he could’ve used for the next Trixter record but I’ll let him worry about that when the time comes. For my part, I got what I came for; Tokyo Motor Fist did exactly what it (would have) said on the tin (if it had come in a tin).
Review by Rich Barnard