|Musical Style: Hard Rock||Produced By: Michael Sweet & Kenny Lewis|
|Record Label: Fifty-Three Five||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2004||Artist Website: Stryper|
|Tracks: 14||Rating: 85%|
|Running Time: 63:58|
As I am sure most of you reading this are aware, Stryper reunited following a twelve year hiatus for its 20th anniversary and starting in the fall of 2003 embarked on a tour across America. 7 Weeks: Live In America, 2003, Stryper's long overdue and first official live recording, does an excellent job capturing the energy and emotion of the bands performance during the tour in question. Stryper, like fine wine, has done nothing but improve with age, the band sounding just as tight and heavy as it did during its eighties heyday. Lead vocalist Michael Sweet has not lost the abundant range to his voice either, and as the bands frontman, does a terrific job maintaining a good rapport with the audience. Michael combines with lead guitarist Oz Fox for plenty of tight sounding rhythm guitar harmony ("Reach Out") and energetic dual lead guitar work ("Soldiers Under Command"). Bassist Tim Gaines is still a force to be reckoned with, while visual timekeeper Robert Sweet remains a strong and steady presence on drums.
The strength to the production of 7 Weeks: Live In America, 2003 resides in its live feel, the album doing an excellent job capturing the sound of the audience and placing it prominently in the mix. The rhythm guitar, produced with just the right amount of upfront edge and crispness, still leaves you amazed at how heavy Stryper comes across in a live setting. The bass guitar and drums both cleanly rise above the instrumentation.
While its production is quite sound and Stryper puts in a very fine performance, 7 Weeks... is by no means a perfect album. For example, the band pretty much performs each song in the exact same manner as it did in the studio. Not once do they "deviate from the script" by cutting loose with any extended instrumental passages that would allow for a drum solo from Robert or a lengthy guitar solo by either Oz or Michael. (The reason I bring this up is because these were part of the bands live set back in the eighties.) And I am sure this was an oversight, but nowhere on the album are the members of the band introduced to the audience.
At the same time, the album artwork - featuring the bands logo engulfed in flames over a black background - is on the generic side. I cannot help but think it would have made better sense to include a flattering concert photo of the band instead
You could not ask for a better track to open a live album than the catchy and pop influenced "Sing Along Song". Following a keyboard based introduction, the rhythm guitar aggressively kicks in and provides the needed crunch to help the song translate that much heavier in a live setting. I like how after its three minute mark the song stops dead in its tracks leaving the audience to sing in cadence with the bands vocal melodies ("Whoa-o-o-o. Whoa ooo La, La") carried over Tim Gaines' punchy bass guitar.
The first impression one gets upon listening to the energetic "Makes Me Wanna Sing" is the substantial feel to its low end. After Oz cuts loose with a blazing guitar solo, Michael chats with the audience over a bit of rhythm guitar before Oz briefly takes over lead vocal duties during the songs chorus.
I can understand why Stryper chose to perform "Calling On You" live in that the band not only released the song as a single but that it received significant MTV airplay. And while I might describe "Calling On You" as musically above-average at best and not necessarily reflective of the bands better material, it does come across much better live as a result of a more upfront rhythm guitar sound.
Stryper proceeds to dive into two of the heavier numbers from To Hell With The Devil in "Free" and "More Than A Man". On "Free" Michael nails a very fine melodic flavored guitar solo, while he ends the song to several seconds of dual guitar harmony with Oz. The mega-huge power metal-like riff driving "More Than A Man" to its catchy chorus leaves me blown away at how heavy these guys were back in their prime.
"Caught In The Middle" stands out with the lyrical change taking place during its verse: "You don't know what the HECK you're feeling." At the start of the song Michael invites the audience to make some noise ("C'mon people lets make some noise right now! Everybody!") which puts forth its best effort to cooperate! I cannot complain about the choice to perform "Caught In The Middle" live (a very fine number); on the other hand, it would have been nice to hear at least one more track from the underrated Against The Law.
It came as a surprise to hear that Stryper would be including "Reach Out" as part of its live set for the first time since the mid-eighties. And, as expected, the song translates great live, particularly its thick sounding low end and the bands trademark lush vocal harmonies. The dual lead guitar harmony taking place between Michael and Oz could not have sounded tighter.
"Loud! Clear! Scream! Shout!'Loud 'N Clear'!" Michael exclaims as he introduces the only song Stryper performs from its debut EP The Yellow And Black Attack. While the live version of "Loud 'N Clear" does not come across quite as fast as the original, it holds up well after all these years with its catchy chorus and up tempo energy. Gaines' bass guitar still opens an instrumental passage ending to Oz's fast fingered guitar solo. No detail, including the resounding explosion at its end, has been overlooked.
Michael pulls no punches when introducing the next song. "This one's called 'The Waaaaaay'!" Energetic, upbeat and fast paced, "The Way" translates great in a live setting. From the deep sounding background vocals driving its chorus to Oz's distorted guitar solo and Michael's breathtaking lead vocals, no details, once again, have been overlooked.
Stryper remains in top form as Michael exclaims, "Soldiers Under Command!" before a sledgehammer-like riff kicks in followed by several seconds of melodic rhythm guitar harmony. The title track to the bands second studio release still sounds as powerful as ever with its hard hitting chorus and lead guitar trade off between Michael and Oz. Robert flat out destroys on drums.
"Soldiers Under Command" transitions perfectly to "To Hell With The Devil" as an aggressive power metal influenced riff drives the song forward. The rhythm guitar, however, drops from the mix as Michael takes over on lead vocals - "Speak of the devil. He's no friend of mine. To turn from him. Is what we've got in mind" - only to come roaring back to the songs forefront at the start of its second verse. Similar to the studio version, huge background vocals buttress its anthem-like chorus, while Oz tears it up on lead guitar.
Michael introduces "Honestly" by taking the time to deliver a meaningful message based around the theme that the song represents Gods' love from Him to all of us. "Honestly" still features a keyboard driven opening but in the end comes across even better live due to a heavier rhythm guitar sound.
How many of you reading this can name ten Stryper songs not on the album you would rather hear the band perform live than "Winter Wonderland"? I can. "From Wrong To Right". "You Know What To Do". "Co'mon Rock". "Loving You". "The Rock That Makes Me Roll". "Surrender". "In God We Trust". "The Writings On The Wall". "Ordinary Man". "All For One".
Michael, appropriately, ends the album to a closing prayer with the audience.
I can honestly (no pun intended) say that as a compilation 7 Weeks: Live In America, 2003 features an all around solid selection of songs. I might have made a few different choices here and there, but, on the other hand, it is not possible to please everyone- which is one of the challenges facing compilation albums. Irregardless, after being out of the picture for a dozen years it is certainly great to hear these guys again. The next logical step would be to get Stryper in the studio and give us an album of all new material.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: "Sing Along Song" (5:07), "Makes Me Wanna Sing" (4:10), "Calling On You" (3:45), "Free" (3:39), "More Than A Man" (4:34), "Caught In The Middle" (4:12), "Reach Out" (5:28), "Loud ‘N Clear" (3:53), "The Way" (3:50), "Soldiers Under Command" (5:23), "To Hell With The Devil" (5:56), "Honestly" (4:15), "Winter Wonderland" (3:39), "Closing Prayer" (6:01)
Michael Sweet – Lead Vocals & Guitars
Oz Fox – Guitars
Timothy Gaines – Bass
Robert Sweet – Drums
Brent Jeffers – Keyboards