Halo Entertainment Group
Into the eye of the “Glass Tiger”…
Not too many bands (let alone Canadian) can say that they’ve been together for more than 31 years, but the boys from Newmarket, Ontario can speak to that unique perspective. In true celebration style, this iconic band returned to the studio while continuing to honour their legacy, by giving fans a 21st century updating of their songs from their previous catalogues. Glass Tiger (formerly Tokyo) is comprised of Alan Frew (vocals), Sam Reid (keyboards), Al Connelly (guitars), Wayne Parker (bass) and later on, Chris McNeill (drums). Like lightning in a bottle, they captured the imagination of Canadians (or those lucky enough to have enjoyed and latched onto their music tracks) with their mid ’80s Canadian pop style. But here’s the rub with this album, the band have re-imaged the songs to a more modern taste and feel. Going into this review, I was looking forward to listening again to the band’s original 3 albums, The Thin Red Line (1986), Diamond Sun (1988) (anyone else remember the funny Beatles-esque ending to the album?) and Simple Mission (1991) and then comparing and contrasting the songs to the new “31” album through a 2018 lens, while reliving all those awkward moments of growing up in Toronto as an East Indian / Trinidadian teen in mid 1980s. Ah, the memories…
With the lead track, Alan Frew’s crisp, clear vocals start us off on “Someday” while the female vocals in the background reminded me of something similar to Marc Cohn’s “Walking in Memphis” (2:49ish). Later on in the album, the call and response French “Someday” version with Veronic DiCaire is a nice, added touch. It’s rare these days that you hear mainstream English language singers throw in French translations. Imagine hearing Frew singing in French while trying to hide a Scottish accent! This was a great start to the album to get your feet wet. Next on the docket was a track that really threw me for a loop (and not in a good way), the unplugged celtic version of Animal Heart (and yeah, I get it, Frew is Scottish). I have some really mixed feelings about this track. Am I supposed to be bummed, or just accept it as an unplugged, modern cover with fiddles, Hammond-like organ, and bodhrán? I remember Animal Heart in the 90s being like the quintessential ’90s rock song (a la Def Leppard wall of sound) as the heavy guitars crescendo’d with the vocal notes singing Animal Heart were held by the other band members voices as Frew’s larynxial assertions completed the awesome hook for the song. With this new version, I’m underwhelmed by the lack of raw power from the instrumentals / track. But the blame can be put squarely on my shoulders and my expectations, as one should realize that Canadian country music artist Johnny Reid is the recorder and producer on this album, so that should have been my first clue to not expect the usual Glass Tiger sound. It was a bit heavy on the celtic side, though. Throughout the album, the tempo is well varied from song to song, to the slow paced, slide guitar of “I Will Be There” to the staple Glass Tiger representative sound in “My Town” and “I’m Still Searching” (the updates STILL sound the same after all these years!!!!!), to the ballad, “Rescued by Arms” while the two new tracks “Wae yer Family” and “Fire it Up” show some legs in their pace to get us through the compilation. Guest stars abound in the forms of Alan Doyle (Great Big Sea), Julian Lennon (loved Valotte!! and Too Late for Goodbyes), Véronic DiCaire (Franco-Ontarian singer), Susan Aglukark (Juno winning Inuk musician) and David R. Maracle (Multi-Instrumental Mohawk artist). From a sociological perspective, this album unfolds as a fascinating Canadian experience here, layered with East Coast, French and Indigenous roots.
The general feel of the album is a stripped away environment with an acoustic celtic / country vibe, and that’s not a bad thing, especially if you’re into that. The album genre as a whole comes off as adult contemporary where it’s easy listening. The songs are not too long, but the wall of sound that’s created comes off as a bit redundant throughout the album. If you’re a Glass Tiger fan, don’t go into this album thinking that you’re going to hear the guitar thrashing sounds from the Simple Mission album, because that’ll probably be saved for their live shows / concerts. I have to give credit where credit is due though, as Frew’s (he’s 61???) earthy vocals sound fantastic, considering that he had a stroke back in 2015!! Great to see you back in fine form, Alan! The interplay between the 4 band members is seamless and effortless as they bring a different sensibility to the forefront of this compilation.
If you’re 35 and above who was into the Canadian rock scene back in the mid 1980s, this band will give you a heavy dose of nostalgic, sentimental feels with a reimaging of some of their greatest hits. But don’t expect the same ’80s sound on this album. The fact that this band made such a Canadian impression internally and internationally, in such a short window of time (5 years), AND just before the grunge era, epitomizes the fact that Glass Tiger still enjoys what they do. They’re not scared to go against the grain to evolve their sound and as a fan, you can’t ask much more from a band that will be starting their fourth decade together to keep things fresh. They won’t be fading into the sunset anytime soon as they have shown us, it’s all about quality of songs produced, and not the quantity.
SPILL ALBUM REVIEW: GLASS TIGER – 31