Axel Rudi Pell – Wild Obsession
Reviewed by Kevin Hathaway
Once upon a time, there was a budding young guitarist who was in a very 80s hair metal band called Steeler. After some time with Steeler, this guitar maestro decided that it was time to go solo. Doing so proved to be a wise move on his part, as the hair metal phased died out, while the guitarist’s virtuosity was recognized enough to establish his solo career as something a bit more than “just” a solo career, despite an inconsistent line-up and a fairly interchangeable discography. That guitarist’s name? Mr. Axel Rudi Pell.
Who did you think I was going to say after that wind-up? Yngwie Malmsteen? Hmm, I can see where one might have thought that. But no, this is Axel Rudi Pell, whose musical career does have uncanny parallels to that of everyone’s favorite Swedish shredder (but thankfully with less embarrassing album covers). Their playing styles are even pretty similar, but Pell puts a bit more emphasis on melody and riffs than Malmsteen’s pure speed, and Pell also has a bluesier aspect to his playing, sounding like a more power metal version of Ritchie Blackmore. Although you wouldn’t know any of that, listening to Pell’s solo debut, Wild Obsession, which still sounds pretty similar to Steeler’s material (the German Steeler, not Yngwie’s first band) – that is to say, very 80s hair metal. Axel Rudi Pell’s music has always been stuck in the 80s, but this debut is where the worst of that decade comes out. Shrieking effeminate vocals, squealing and sleazy guitar lines, incredibly lame 80s lyrics about women and being “wild”; truth be told, there really isn’t much going in this album’s favor. Pell’s solos lack that tasteful neoclassical flair he would later perfect, and those sections come across as simple, mindless shredding. The riffs and vocal hooks are also a bit weaker than on subsequent releases. Instead of wearing his Dio/Sabbath/Rainbow influence proudly on his sleeve, Pell seems more to be cashing in on a trend that was basically on life support by ’89 when this album was released. Vocalist Charlie Huhn is nowhere near the pedigree of his successors Rob Rock, Jeff Scott Soto, or Johnny Gioeli, with a voice nearly indistinguishable from every other generic 80s hair metal singer ever, and at times even sounding like a bad Bon Scott impersonator (you know, because Bon Scott doesn’t sound bad enough).
A few shining points keep this from being completely disposable though. Pell always knew how to kick things off with a bang, and “Wild Cat,” despite being nowhere near his best opening track, is still quite a bit of fun once you get past the cheese. The following track, “Call Of The Wild Dogs”, also entertains with its gang vocals, which I have ashamedly always been a sucker for. Yeah, two tracks in a row with titles pertaining to wild animals. Originality has never really been Pell’s strong point, but that’s just ridiculous, I know. “Call Her Princess,” originally written by Pell for Steeler, is an energetic go-getter of a tune with guitar solos galore, and is also pretty fun despite the amateur lyrical theme (a stripper? Really?). “(Don’t Trust The) Promised Dreams” has a good atmospheric bit halfway through the song, and is overall a pleasant change of pace from the womanizing lyricism thus far, closing things off on a more ambitious note.
Wild Obsession proved to be a bit of a rough start for Axel Rudi Pell, but things would get better on the next release with the letting go of Huhn and the recruitment of melodic hard rock superstar Rob Rock, if only for one album. But a reinvention of his music was clearly what Pell needed after this middling debut.
2.75 // 5