It’s not easy being a heritage act like FM. Your fans want a nostalgia hit but they also want new releases. You’re trapped. You may want to move on, but you don’t dare go too far. Despite lacking the international successes of Def Leppard or - to a lesser degree - Thunder, FM remain one of the UK’s best-loved melodic hard rock bands and their new record is an impressive balancing act between that rock and that hard place. They might just be the one band on the scene that can manage to please nearly all of the people… nearly all of the time.
The band’s reverence for the past was evident in the labour of love that was 2016’s Indiscreet 30, the anniversary re-recording of their 1986 debut (RGM Review). Nostalgia box ticked. FM’s desire to move forward is, however, just as strong and since their reformation in 2007, their touring and recording schedule has probably been busier than it was even in the ‘80s and ‘90s. The consistent quality of the band’s latter-day releases has helped them shore up their existing fanbase while gathering new admirers. So, armed with the sort of silly album title that bats not an eyelid in the hard rock world, FM present... Atomic Generation.
Opener ‘Black Magic’, with its sizzling talkbox riff, is a thick slab of traditional hard rock, replete with wo-oh-ohs that any tone-deaf, half-drunk metal fan could easily spout, vaguely in key, without spilling their Tuborg. The feel of the song took me back to the terrific Hardline debut from 1992 and indeed the heavier episodes from FM’s own Aphrodisiac album. Quite schizophrenically, the band then flip to a vintage early ‘80s AOR sound for track two, ‘Too Much of a Good Thing’, which comes across more like i-Ten than Ten. Oops, there goes the Tuborg, all over that guy in the front row wearing the Journey t-shirt. Thankfully, it’s soon handshakes all round, as FM strike the perfect middle ground with the super-catchy ‘Killed By Love’, a feelgood singalong AOR anthem straight from the textbook and Goldilocks-warm.
The hefty blues-rock stomp of ‘In It for the Money’ is familiar territory for FM and the guitar work in particular will please fans at the heavier end of things. With slick BVs and wonderful tick-tocking clean guitars, the keyboard-flooded ‘Golden Days’ wouldn’t have been out of place on the band’s 1986 debut and as such will charm those at the warm and fluffy end. If only it hadn’t committed the unforgivable crime of being a song about nostalgia I could have crowned it the finest AOR song of the decade.
The steamy soul and brass of ‘Playing Tricks on Me’ is the perfect setting for guitarist Jim Kirkpatrick to channel his inner Carlos Santana and for vocalist Steve Overland in turn to make a decent fist of impersonating Michael McDonald. Not everyone’s cup of tea but the band are clearly having plenty of fun. There is more barroom blues in the cautionary tale for fame-chasers that is ‘Make the Best of What You Got’ before we find ourselves once more in very old-school AOR territory for ‘Follow Your Heart’. Jem Davis’s vintage pomp keys stab away pleasingly under the glorious vocals and wah-wah guitars and there’s even a glimpse of some roll-bar action in the song’s outro. Nice.
A straighter classic rock sound is pitched in ‘Do You Love Me Enough’, a melodic arm-waving anthem that will no doubt prove very popular live. This track in particular finds Overland on staggeringly good form before ‘Stronger’ takes us back once more to organ-swathed chunky metal territory. It’s a good thing the guy in the Journey t-shirt has toughed it out though because the record closes with a properly soppy acoustic ballad in the form of ‘Love is the Law’. I can picture both him and the Tuborg-swilling biker walking off into the sunset with an affectionate (yet manly) arm around one another.
So, Atomic Generation is, in effect, FM’s Bill & Ted moment. They move between the many touchstones of melodic hard rock with such ease and so much class that they might actually be able to achieve a kind of global peace (well, at least in the hard rock-loving world). There are very few bands around that could make such a varied album sound so effortless. You wouldn’t have read as far as this if you weren’t, like me, partial to some guilty hard rock pleasures and by now you ought to know if you can count yourself among... (Insert keyboard swell here) ...the Atomic Generation!
Review by Rich Barnard