|Musical Style: Melodic Hard Rock||Produced By: Michael Sweet|
|Record Label: Big 3||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2014||Artist Website: Michael Sweet|
|Tracks: 13||Rating: 85%|
|Running Time: 50:03|
There can’t be a simpler formula in the hard music world than that behind making a solo album: Mix equal parts inspiration of your full time band with your own unique musical spin on things while throwing in a few unexpected twists and turns along the way. That would be the best way to describe I’m Not Your Suicide, the spring of 2014 fourth full-length solo album from vocalist and guitarist Michael Sweet. Sweet, obviously, needs no introduction as a founding member of Stryper, one of the more easily identifiable and recognizable names in the Christian music scene since its mid-eighties inception and regardless of style, trend or genre.
The artist’s solo career traces to the early nineties and his departure from Stryper with the goal of pursuing a mellower musical direction. An interview with Heaven’s Metal back in the day found him summing things up best: “I also felt that, from the whole musical side, I don’t know if that it’s I’m getting old (but) musically I changed a whole lot from the beginning of Stryper to the end of Stryper. I haven’t turned into Michael Bolton or anything, but it’s definitely a bit mellower”. In terms of songwriting, he goes on to add that, “I’ve done a lot of experimenting with my writing. If I were to try to sit down and try to write an old style Stryper song, I couldn’t do that. I’m sure age has a part to play in that.”1
His first two solo albums reflect that mellower touch. Michael Sweet from 1994 took a guitar driven pop heading in a similar vein as Richard Marx, Bryan Adams and Bon Jovi and 1995 follow up Real a propensity towards AOR influenced acoustic rock. The artist did not begin to flex his muscles again musically until 2001 and the melodic hard rock with alternative leanings of his third solo outing, Truth. No, not heavy as Stryper, albeit the likes of “Save Me” sound as if written with Stryper in mind, while “The Ever After” features an Oz Fox guitar solo. Others such as “Achilles Heel”, “Blue Bleeds Through” and “Wool And Chiffon” are quite good in helping make Truth represent the best collection of songs from Sweet since his Stryper days.
The artist, as one might imagine, placed his solo career on temporary hold from having released three studio albums, two cover albums, one live album and one compilation following the 2003 reformation of Stryper. Repeat listen to Stryper’s most recent album, No More Hell To Pay from the fall of 2013, reveals Sweet to have come a long way since his mellower “I haven’t turned into Michael Bolton” days, while songwriting proves he has recaptured his prime form in terms of composing “an old style Stryper song”. I’m Not Your Suicide reflects such growth either way in not only representing his most consistently heavy solo release but also maintaining the same high level of quality in terms of songwriting.
I can see “Taking On The World Tonight”, with its metal based guitar edges and polished backing vocals, and “Anybody Else”, crunch heavy as it gets in upholding a prodigious bass line, appealing to any Stryper aficionado. The high-energy boogie flavored hard rock to “Unsuspecting” even comes across as if written with mid-eighties Stryper in mind. The uplifting and spirited disposition of “All That’s Left (For Me To Prove)” and darker and more accessible form to “The Cause” produce a commercial hard rock sound that also hint of Stryper.
But it is not all Stryper influences in that Sweet is not afraid to branch out and stretch musically and prove I’m Not Your Suicide is a solo work in the truest sense. Consider the acoustic laced hard rock of “Miles Away” and “Strong”, ranking with the albums best from their richly textured underpinnings and engaging chorus hooks. The two hearken back to Truth in this regard. The albums title track even explores modern hard rock territory- and very well at that! From a classic rock standpoint, consider the artists heavier rocking rendition of Neal Young’s “Heart Of Gold” with its complementary use of organ and steel guitar.
Sweet takes the opportunity to explore ballad territory as well. My favorite is “This Time” from its orchestral and classical flavorings, but you will also encounter the country- western themed “Coming Home”, in which use of more steel guitar is made, and “How To Live”, albums mellowest in featuring keyboards, piano and string arrangements. A Michael Sweet solo album with several ballads makes sense, particularly when factoring the strong ballad moments he has had in the past (“First Love”, “Honestly” and “The One”). And besides, I would much rather have him get any ballad proclivities out of his system on his solo material as opposed to the much heavier Stryper.
Vocally, Sweet might sing in a slightly lower register in comparison to his eighties prime but maintains much of his trademark power and range nonetheless. “Unsuspecting” proves without a doubt his ability to stretch and still reach a high note with the best of them! He remains ever underrated from a soloing standpoint, as “Unsuspecting”, “Taking On The World” and “All That’s Left (For Me To Prove)” highlight with their skillfully done lead guitar stretches.
As befitting most solo albums, guest appearances abound. Legendary drummer Kenny Aronoff (Chickenfoot) handles timekeeping duties, while Doug Aldrich contributes lead guitar work to “Anybody Else” and Stryper rhythm section of Tim Gaines and Robert Sweet their abilities to “How To Live”. Tony Harnell (TNT), Kevin Max (DC Talk) and Chris Jericho (Fozzy) make vocal appearances along with Electra Mustaine (daughter of Megedeth main man Dave Mustaine), who performs a duet with Sweet on the bonus track version of “Heart Of Gold”.
If into Stryper (or melodic metal and hard rock in general) then I’m Not Your Suicide comes strongly recommended in that the group’s influences, obviously, cannot be understated. There is, however, much more to the album in that you will also encounter musical styles as diverse as acoustic, modern rock, classic rock and even country-western. I’m Not Your Suicide stands out as a genuine solo outing in this regard. That said, do not pre-judge the album based upon Sweet’s previous solo work either in that this is a completely different animal. Again, I’m Not Your Suicide delivers the greater heaviness overall while touching upon the stronger musical consistency. In other words, the same quality songwriting one expects from the artist is present even if not falling under the Stryper heading.
Track By Track
The classy melodic metal of “Taking On The World” gets things going. This one proves radiant all the way, with hard charging guitars, wailing sirens and driving momentum playing lead roles. Impetus backs off a step (if even just slightly) for the show-stopping chorus. Put this on any eighties Stryper release and it would sound right at home. Lyric snippet:
Is it just me or have we crossed the line
In more than one way we’ve sold our souls
I can’t give up I’m gonna try to find
The treasure that exists beneath the coals
I’ve got the power and the glory
I don’t know what I’ve waited for
I’m taking on the world tonight
I know it’s dark but there’s a Light…
“All That’s Left (For Me To Prove)” maintains the guitar driven proclivity but with more of a melodic hard rock feel. Plenty of weighty initiative carries things front to back, as a pounding rhythm section and engaging melody set the decisive tone. A skillful stretch of lead guitar tops things off.
“The Cause’, another accessible hard rocker, brings commercial hooks in abundance. Keyboards get things underway prior to the onset of anthem-like guitars, with the emotionally driven scene defined by the pristine backing vocals upholding the catchy chorus. Several quieter passages with distant keyboards help round things out. Lyric snippet:
We’re lost, we’re found
We’re free, we’re bound
We’re high, we’re low
And in between we’re shy, we’re bold
Oh, we have a soul, we have a heart
That we can show
We’re here for The Cause, bigger than life
This is one we know
Ballad “This Time” moves its length as keyboards and piano interweave with lighter guitar edges. A classical element prevails in the process, reflected in the occasional orchestral moment and luxurious environs at hand. This one hints of Stryper ballad “The One” (off No More Hell To Pay).
Albums title track takes a modern hard rock heading. Plenty of profound guitars (particularly for the momentous chorus) in addition to lighter touches (for the atmospheric verses) lend to the staunch mid-paced impetus at hand. Solid hook cements the song among the more memorable tracks here. If into Reborn I can see you getting into this one. Lyric snippet:
They say that time can heal the pain, the scars
Forgive, forget – that only goes so far
You were someone I opened my heart to
Till I asked you for help, you became someone else
I was sanctified – I used to feel justified
Only to be crucified, by you – by you
My life has just begun, I’m standing in the shining sun
I’m not gonna run and hide, lay down and die
No, I’m not your suicide
Artist throws a bit of a curveball with country-western ballad “Coming Home”. What immediately stands out about the song is the laid back slide guitar, adding to the songs relaxed and easygoing demeanor that has moving emotion written all over it. Traces of rhythm guitar add a heavier rocking element, while a slight Gospel feel can be found as well.
“Miles Away” melds acoustic guitars with a hard rocking mentality. The song ranges from staunchly driven verses in which snarling guitars lead the way to an uplifting chorus that finds the artist exhibiting the full range to his voice. Solid melody that borders on radio friendly helps make rank this with the albums best. Lyric snippet:
Life’s taken the heart, that once was within me
I said from the start, that you’d always save me
But my doubt conceives
That You’re miles away
That You’re in another place, and I’m lost with a trace
What I would do to know You
What I would give to run to You
I’m crumbling from deep within, these miles away
“Strong” brings ample doses of emotion with its semi-ballad feel. Polished vocal melodies play a lead role here, particularly for the enticing chorus, while additional acoustic guitar lends to the poignant sensibilities at hand. What we have is another choice track that finds the artist at the top of his game songwriting wise. Lyric snippet:
A storm can hit you with full fury
And you know, that it’s coming soon
What good does it do to worry
When in the end, there’s a sky with a moon
In the end, there’s a summer with June
Cause you are strong in every way
Don’t say it’s over now, believe in every day
Your strength isn’t gone – don’t say it’s over now
There’s hope beyond this play
When I heard that Stryper band mates Robert Sweet and Tim Gaines were making guest appearances on “How To Live”, my initial expectation, as one might imagine, is that it would be an all out barnburner. Much to my surprise, however, the song is actually the albums mellowest as keyboards, piano and string arrangements create a ballad based environs. I guess you could say the artist threw us a bit of a curveball in that regard!
“Heart Of Gold” represents a very well done cover of the Neal Young classic. Sweet lends his signature heavier rocking imprint in melding organ and decisive rhythm guitars with touches of steel guitar. Yes, a slight country-western feel (sort of like “Coming Home”) but not to a fault. Also, note the bonus track version featuring a guest vocal appearance from Electra Mustaine, daughter of Dave Mustaine (Megedeth). Overall, good job and she has a nice voice- if looking to pursue a career in the music industry she is off to a strong start.
“Anybody Else” is the first of two hard rockers to close the album. The resounding guitar walls at the start of the song speak heavily of Stryper, as does a trademark falsetto scream. Verses are powerful as all get out from their portent mentality, while backing vocals step forward to drive the immaculate chorus. This one sounds as if written with No More Hell To Pay in mind. Lyric snippet:
I’ve seen the middle, the ups and downs
I’ve been a targeted man
It’s been hot and colder than hell
And just for taking a stand
I’ve learned to shake the dust from my clothes
As I get back on my feet
I’m here to tell you, nobody knows
Just how to fight like me
“Unsuspecting” upholds the heavier direction with its up-tempo and high-energy boogie hard rock slant. Momentum is infectious, as knife-edge guitars play a prevailing role along with complementary bluesy underpinnings. If The Yellow And Black Attack had included a seventh song this could very well be what it might have sounded like.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Taking On The World Tonight” (3:45), “All That’s Left (For Me To Prove)” (3:49), “The Cause” (4:10), “This Time” (4:11), “I’m Not Your Suicide” (3:49), “Coming Home” (3:57), “Miles Away” (3:34), “Strong” (4:00), “How To Live” (4:15), “Heart Of Gold” (3:11), “Anybody Else” (4:04), “Unsuspecting” (4:09), “Heart Of Gold” (Bonus Track) (3:11)
Michael Sweet - Lead Vocals & Guitars
Paul McNamara - Piano, B3, Moog & Keyboards
Pete Adams - Steel Guitar
John O Boyle - Bass
Kenny Aronoff - Drums
Electra Mustaine - Vocals
Tony Harnell - Vocals
Kevin Max - Vocals
Chris Jericho - Vocals
Doug Aldrich - Guitars
Timothy Gaines - Bass
Robert Sweet – Drums
1. Dave Muttillo. “How Sweet It Is,”, Heaven’s Metal 46 (1994): 4-6.