Axel Rudi Pell - Sign of the Times

Axel Rudi Pell Sign of the Times cover
Axel Rudi Pell
Sign of the Times
Axel Rudi Pell has been going on for more than thirty years now, having produced albums almost every other year. The high work ethic of the German guitarist and the fact that he’s managed to hold on to for many years to the golden vocal strings of one Johnny Gioeli, who came in succeeding another great such as Jeff Scott Soto, along with some pretty seminal albums dropping around that time has helped propel and solidified his career at least throughout Europe.
While, his guitar tone is nice and his mannerisms have the signs of Rainbow and Malmsteen all over, his solos tend to be a little less impressive than those of his idols. Still that’s no small feat. On this album, there’s also a rather welcome return to a more neoclassical influenced style, since on most of the recently released album, within this past decade, things seemed to tip decidedly towards hard rock.
What I found rather annoying was the production. Certain songs sound as if someone pretty much killed almost all the bass in the mix. Case, point and prime-suspect is opener “Gunfire”, which comes hot on the heels of “The Black Serenade”, a rather neat little intro, which doesn’t segue into it, but rather abruptly takes over from. While it’s a neat enough tune in the vein of many ARP openers, the lack of bass is disturbing.
“Bad Reputation” sounds like some metallized Tom Petty mixed with melodies from older songs of the band and it manages to stand up to closer scrutiny, just because of Gioeli’s spirited performance, its pretty good chorus and I suppose the interesting solos that permeate it, but as you guess originality is not its strongest suit.
Nor is the title track, “Sign of the Times”, any more original, as it’s reminiscent of older ARP, but at least, it references the better area of the band, namely the mid-90s to early 00s.
“The End of the Line” is pretty cliché as well, with a lot of self-referencing/recycling and only Gioeli there trying to pull the chestnuts out of the fire, so to speak.
“As Blind as a Fool Can Be” is a by the numbers ballad, which might find its way to one of Axel’s collections of slower songs (is it up to a fifth volume at this point?), but for all its worth it’s nothing special. Again Gioeli manages to raise the bar, even on an average song, but it really doesn’t bode well for the album as a whole, over-relying on having an extremely emotive singer to “sell” the songs.
“Wings of the Storm” isn’t ground breaking, but at least it’s cliché ridden lyrics and melodies that are reminiscent of “74” Deep Purple manifest with a lot more conviction – thus leading the album in a temporary resurgence, after the slower number that preceded it.
“Waiting for Your Call” has the air of the more commercial Rainbow moments, combined with Gi’s huskier delivery and overall it’s not bad, when it struts it stuff.
“Living in a Dream” after a reggae intro (?!) tries to pick up the slack, but it’s probably bogged down by an over-reliance on moogs and rather average melodic inventions, thus failing to leave a serious mark.
Last but not least, “Into the Fire” goes for a slower pace and a heavier sound and it manages to fulfill its potential rather fully, being at least a good track with which to close the album.
Very uneven and on the back of releases that are far from being countered among Pell’s best, “Sign of the Times” at least shows some promising moments again, where the German guitarist seems able to recapture his songwriting mojo. Gioeli is dependable as always, as are the rest of the members, with the exception of Mr V, whose bass seems to have been lost in the mix… sadly, which leaves the album unnecessarily treble sounding and brittle, which is really sad. Fans of Rainbow, Malmsteen, Rob Rock, Impellitteri etc., can’t go really wrong, but this is not exactly seminal Pell.