Houston - 'III'

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Houston - 'III'

It certainly may stick to a tried and trusted formula, but why tamper with something that sounds and feels this good?

Using an American location name as a band moniker in AOR is nothing new – Kansas, Boston, New England and Chicago all plundering the atlas for inspiration. Back in 2010, Swedish newcomers Houston joined that not so elusive club with their super-slick self-titled debut. Doesn't every self-respecting AORster put out a self-titled debut album? After a couple of time-filling compilation/covers albums ('Relaunch' and 'Relaunch II') and a follow-up second album ('II') in 2013, it's finally time for Houston to make the step up and build on that promise they have so far shown. The pertinent question must therefore be, is 'III' that record?

What better way to start than with 'Cold As Ice'; no, not the Foreigner song, but one full of pulsating keyboards and soaring melodies with lush vocal harmonies and the slick vocals of Hank Erix. The following 'Everlasting' kicks off with a guitar riff that'd nestle comfortably on Touch's debut, while 'Dangerous Love' floats by on a fluffy cloud of AOR candy with a huge hook-laden chorus.

No AOR album would be complete without the big mobile phone/lighter-waving weepie and 'Lights Out' delivers that big time. Back in 1988, this would have lit up stadiums and dominated the airwaves for months on end, admittedly maybe not so much now, but there's no accounting for taste. 'To Be You', which appears later on, is even better as it's more melodramatic with a slightly darker melody, but may well be not only the albums high point, but the finest slab of AOR you'll hear all year, maybe even this decade; it's quite, quite brilliant!

The album sticks very closely to the AOR blueprint. It's well played, superbly performed and sounds great. The only real gripe is that the drums sound a little stilted giving something of a drum machine sound which does detract a touch from the songs, but that's a minor niggle; besides, who listens to an AOR album for its drum patterns? 'Twelve-Step' and the Starz-like melody of 'Road To Ruin' take you back to times before plaid shirts and Rap Metal kicked all things melodic into the gutter, while album closer 'Interstate Life' keeps the motor running right until the end.

It may not be original, it may not break new ground and it certainly may stick to a tried and trusted formula, but why tamper with something that sounds and feels this good?

Mick Burgess

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