Cinderella began as a metal band and judging by the two discs worth of demos I possess they must have had three albums worth of material to choose from by the time they hit the studio to record their debut, Night Songs, which is an absolute classic of the genre. There's a reason it sold three million copies, it's great. The band shifted direction on second album Long Cold Winter, thoroughly indulging in a seventies rock vibe. Who would have thought they could top Night Songs, but they did. Long Cold Winter also sold three million copies and should be on any Rock Songwriting 101 syllabus. The band's third album Heartbreak Station upped the ante on the seventies rock thing and Keifer continued to astonish with ace compositions like "The More Things Change" and the beautiful title track. Heartbreak Station sold one million copies.
During the Heartbreak Station tour (I was lucky enough to see the band in Milwaukee with Lynch Mob and yes, Nelson opening) Tom Keifer damaged his vocal cords and was forced to undergo surgery to repair them. The band had a minor hit with their contribution to the Wayne's World soundtrack called "Hot and Bothered" but it took four years for them to release another album and the rock landscape had changed considerably in the interim. Their 1994 album Still Climbing went virtually unnoticed upon its release, I for one was a bit disappointed by the record. After Still Climbing tanked the band was in limbo for a bit but in 1999, thanks to John Kalodner's unsuccessful efforts to revive the eighties metal scene, they signed with Sony, unfortunately they were unceremoniously dropped by the label before an album was even released. They've toured intermittently ever since but Keifer has continued to be plagued with vocal issues.
That brings us to The Way Life Goes, Tom Keifer's brand new solo debut. One listen and it's apparent that Keifer poured his heart and soul into the record, he gave it everything he had. The album is very well-produced by Chuck Turner, Tom, and Tom's wife Savannah. It's clearly a personal and cathartic record and it is wonderful to witness such a stirring comeback. There is zero pandering on this record, no overt effort to sound relevant to today's version rock and roll, whatever that is. In all honestly, is there any version of rock and roll today in America? I mean real rock and roll? The mainstream American audience seems to have forgotten or forsaken the genre. We need Tom Keifer like we've never needed him before. America needs some real goddamn rock and roll again. The state of rock and roll in America has been an embarrassment for years. Finally an American rock record has surfaced that we can be proud of as American rock fans. Thank you, Tom Keifer.
The album starts strong with "Solid Ground," a vibrant rock song very reminiscent of Cinderella but imbued with a rejuvenating spirit. It's a celebratory song about a struggle overcome. Second song "A Different Light" is a very inspired track, I was shocked on first listen when the unexpected and transcendent chorus unfolded from such an ethereal verse. The next two songs, "It's Not Enough" and "Cold Day In Hell," are driving, hooky rockers with punch and attitude. That pair of rockers is followed by a pair of striking ballads, the pretty piano-based "Thick & Thin" and genuine, country-tinged "Ask Me Yesterday." Next up are my two favorites on the record: jaunty "Fool's Paradise" is a skillfully arranged rock epic and "The Flower Song" is a wonderful acoustic ode to joy. Keifer's voice is in very fine form on both tracks as he delivers the beautiful melodies with deft precision.
Perhaps the heaviest song on the record is next, "Mood Elevator," a fast-paced kickass rocker. Next up is my least favorite song on the album and not coincidentally its most contemporary sounding track, "Welcome To My Mind," which is followed by an excellent ballad called "You Showed Me." A chunky southern rock ditty called "Ain't That A Bitch" follows. Apparently Keifer played all of the guitar on the record and he kills it. The last two songs are the bluesy title track and finally one of my favorites, "Babylon," a straight ahead trippy rock song with a killer chorus.
The Way Life Goes is a great album by a gifted artist and consumate professional. It's truly inspirational to hear such unpretentious, honest and heartfelt rock songs in 2013. The record should not make you feel nostalgic, it should make you feel hopeful. This music is not yesterday's news, it is very present and vibrant. No matter what they name their album Fall Out Boy are not going to "save rock and roll," but Tom Keifer might.