Since reassembling their original five-piece line-up nearly ten years ago, Unruly Child have given us three top-notch slices of gently progressive AOR in the vein of their classic 1992 debut. Worlds Collide (2010) and Can’t Go Home (2017) were both put out by Frontiers while 2014’s Down The Rabbit Hole was independently released but all three albums showed a band that still has plenty to offer. Now, in their 27th year, the band return with Big Blue World. Marcie Free’s indestructible, made-for-rock voice has lost nothing and it’s this voice - along with Guy Allison’s upfront keys and Bruce Gowdy’s ability to fuse acoustic and electric guitar textures - that make Unruly Child so unmistakable.
Fantastic opener ‘Living In Someone Else’s Dream’ is full of shimmering keys, chugging guitars and metaphors about driving. It is, of course, an AOR box-ticking exercise but is beautifully executed, particularly in its will-they-won’t-they-of-course-they-will pre-chorus tease. The tougher ‘All Over The World’ will no doubt please fans of a harder persuasion but personally I found it ploddy, overlong and pretty forgettable. ‘Dirty Little Girl’ follows and the less said about that the better.
So, by track four I’m starting to worry… but then ‘Breaking The Chains’ comes along and it’s much more interesting, with a spacious acoustic guitar (and do I detect mandolin?) arrangement and a return to the hippyish be-true-to-yourself message of the album’s opener. ‘Are These Words Enough’ follows and is refreshingly laid-back and bluesy in its verses but again, at five and a half minutes, just feels a bit long. Next, the gloriously feelgood ‘Will We Give Up Today’ comes over like a long lost Def Leppard classic and therefore does more than enough to get me back on side.
The portentous piano-led balladry of ‘Beneath A Steady Rain’ is completely unchartered territory for Unruly Child and Free’s markedly gentler vocal delivery here is almost unrecognisable. Once I’ve recovered from the initial shock, I find the change of pace and palette to be a very good thing for the album overall and I’m pleasantly surprised that, even clocking in at nearly six minutes, it doesn’t feel like it outstays its welcome. Busy rocker ‘The Harder They Will Fall’ is more identifiable as UC, managing successfully to pay homage to Led Zeppelin and Yes at the same time, a feat that any other band on the planet would find impossible. ‘Down And Dirty’ is a curious marriage of melody and meatiness before Gowdy’s singing guitars play the album out with ‘The Hard Way’, a premium slice of keyboard-swathed melodic rock, executed in the way only Unruly Child can.
While Big Blue World isn’t without its flaws, existing fans will find enormous amounts here to love. The high points of this record really are as good as the band have ever been and, in a modern hard rock scene where dozens of bands are indistinguishable from one another, Unruly Child offer a take on melodic rock that is uniquely theirs. This record adds a handful of new classics to the band’s enviable back catalogue and tries out some new things too, which is all to the good in my book. As far as they are into their career, I suspect and hope that Unruly Child’s definitive record is still yet to come but for now, this will do very nicely indeed.
Review by Rich Barnard.