Violently unfashionable in the States, and destined for cult status among the AOR and hard rock fans who keep ex-members of TUFF in business, THE BEN JACKSON GROUP deliver an unrepentant dose of smooth, glossy melodic rock on "All Over You". Jackson, former guitarist of CRIMSON GLORY and PARISH, assumes vocal duties here and redeems himself well, carrying these dated arena rockers and delivering the hooks with the right mix of grit and finesse.
A word of explanation — this isn't POISON or PRETTY BOY FLOYD. As cock-rock was ascending the charts in the late 1980's, a classier, more sophisticated strain of hard rock was caught up in the hype. Few of these bands made a commercial dent, although many have a rabid following to this day, and the style remains popular in Europe and Japan. This is closer to PRETTY MAIDS or PINK CREAM 69 than, say, WINGER or "Cherry Pie"-era WARRANT. A minor clarification to all but six of you, I'm sure, but it needed to be said.
Unfortunately, after a promising start with “Turn It On" and the glowering "Mean Machine", the songwriting quality on "All Over You" heads south pretty quick. The lyrics are often howlingly bad '80s clichés strung together with a Sunset Strip-vintage rhyming dictionary. Songs like the title cut and "Eyes of Ice" are impeccably produced and played, dazzling with studio gleam, but their component pieces sound like they were fished from the trash can behind Michael Wagener or Beau Hill's studio — soupy backing vocals, overblown and self-important solos, riffs that were tired when FIFTH ANGEL and MARCHELLO failed utterly with them years ago. By the album's end, "Heavy On My Mind" and "Rock and Roll Heaven (Or Bust)" do little more than inspire rolled eyes and snickering — there's plenty more life in this style of hard rock, but the key to finding it isn't by beating the very dead horses that made it a public laughingstock in the first place.
Basically, if you like anything released after 1988 in the United States, stay far away from THE BEN JACKSON GROUP. This is defiantly glossy pomp-rock, proud to be cut from the cloth of a bygone era, and the integrity here is beyond reproach. If only the songwriting was a little more inspired, "All Over You" could send the band to the top of the "big in Japan" melodic rock heap, instead of just sounding like a well-executed pastiche of a style largely passed over by history. Bump the rating up one point if you can name every ex-member of ROYAL HUNT, and two if you've ever had anything autographed by Ted Poley.