Wednesday, 5 January 2011
MORITZ - Undivided
I first became aware of Greg Hart in the mid 90s when he teamed up with ex-Ya Ya vocalist Sam Blue and Airrace’s bassist Toby Sadler to form the short lived band GTS. Their debut release ‘Tracks From The Dustshelf’ contained a few great pieces of Brit AOR, though I have to confess, as good as the album may have been, I much preferred the unfussy approach of their original demo recordings. I backtracked and checked out one of Greg’s previous bands, If Only, subsequently finding myself completely underwhelmed, despite having read good reviews.
A few years previously, Hart was the guitarist with Moritz, a Brit-AOR band who were contemporaries of Airrace, FM and Virginia Wolf. They released a couple of self-released singles and played regular shows at London’s Marquee, but failed to gain any record label interest. Various Moritz recordings dating from between 1986-88 were belatedly issued on a compilation album, ‘City Streets’ in 2008.
Following the cult success of ‘City Streets’, the original members of Moritz – Pete Scallan (vocals), Greg Hart (guitars), Mike Nolan (guitars), Ian Edwards (bass) and Andy Stewart (keys) – decided to reunite. Augmented by Mick Neaves on drums, and delivered long after their heyday, ‘Undivided’ is the band’s first full album.
It may have been delivered over two decades later than planned, but fear not, this album features all the hallmarks of mid-80s melodic rock and the original Moritz sound, with no other influences creeping in. While musically, it’s still has much in common with Moritz of old, fans may notice that Pete Scallen’s vocals aren’t quite as strong as they once had been, now sounding a little rougher around the edges due to the ravages of time.
The title cut is one of the strongest examples of Moritz’s songcraft, as they combine a hard hitting riff with huge chorus vocals. The mid-paced stomping style shows obvious influences from Survivor and while the chorus could have been a little more interesting, big backing vocals lend its main hook plenty of punch. The mid-paced power ballad ‘Should’ve Been Gone’ is top notch, making good use of choppy guitars and very 80s keyboard sounds. It’s almost certainly something you’ll have heard time and again (and quite often on songs called ‘Don’t Walk Away’), but Moritz more than give it their best shot. While the production is a little homegrown and Pete Scallen’s lead vocal style isn’t quite as smooth as some, the overall arrangement is classic AOR, and the featured guitar solo is superb.
‘Who Do You Run To’ features another great chorus featuring harmony vocals from Jackie Bodimead (ex-Girlschool) and acoustic guitars overlaying the electric rock elements. Listen beyond the obvious hook and you’ll also notice that Andy Stewart’s piano work is rather busy, giving an already fairly cluttered number an extra layer; when all thrown together it works rather well. I wish I could be as enthusiastic about the album’s second power ballad ‘Can’t Stop The Angels’, which aside from a superb guitar solo, is incredibly stale. Scallen over-sings constantly throughout a rather cheesy number and as a result everything feels overdone. Swathes of keyboards open ‘World Keep Turning’ and continue to play a huge role as they pump their way through a great number which utilises the best elements of mid-80s melodic rock. It’s another number which brings a decent chorus and although it’s very by-numbers, it’s one which captures Moritz in good form. a great chorus. Against the keys, the rhythm section keep things grounded and the guitar riff is suitably crunchy. The hugely pompy ‘Power of the Music’ is also recommended listening, with its huge vocal arrangement and pumping bass, settling somewhere between Boston and Angel for a number which gives a knowing nod to AOR of the 1970s. Despite harbouring great feel good intentions, Scallan’s vocal style and a rather cutting solo make the track a little less smooth than its main influences, but overall, it’s a very tight performance.
Vibrato-led guitars step to the fore for ‘Can’t Get Away’ – the album’s only cover tune. Written by Laurence Archer, the song has a history, having first been demoed by Phil Lynott in 1984 (recordings of which exist in almost unlistenable quality). It appeared regularly in live sets by Lynott’s Grand Slam (of which Archer was a member), but did not get recorded properly until 1986, when it finally appeared on Archer’s 1986 solo release ‘LA’. Listening to that recording, it’s clearly a great song, but is marred somewhat by Archer’s woeful vocal performance – he growls and croaks his way through its four minutes, killing any spark it may have had. Thankfully, Moritz give ‘Can’t Get Away’ the kind of treatment it really deserves: the guitar fills during the verses are perfectly balanced by some top keyboard stabs and the guitar solos (Nolan and Hart, bother differing greatly in tone) are a definite high point. Scallen’s vocal performance runs rings around Archer’s, though undoubtedly, it still doesn’t have that charisma it could have had, if only Lynott had recorded a definitive version. It’s pure speculation, though. Although most of Moritz’s own songwriting is okay (barring the pretty ropey ‘Same But Different’), in terms of arrangement and hook, this track is a cut above – a really classy example of 80s melodic rock.
Aside from their take on ‘Can’t Get Away’, you won’t find anything here from Moritz that could hold a candle to ‘Can’t Stop Loving You’ or as infectious as the ‘Hearts On The Line’ demo from their ‘City Streets’ release. However, it still contains some decent – albeit old school – rock tunes. It features a few clunkers too, but when the album’s good, it hits its mark. On the negative side, it has the sound of a polished demo and there are more than a few occasions I really wished they had a different vocalist. It’s unlikely to make Moritz stars in the genuine sense, but for die-hard AOR buffs – particularly those who witnessed the band live back in the day - ‘Undivided’ is a welcome release. As good as this may be in places, though, we can only but wonder how much better Moritz would have sounded, had they been given the opportunity to record for a major label and get an album released back in ’87...