In the early nineties, it was not unusual to see bands cross-pollinating genres. Whether it be the funk rock hybrid of the Dan Reed network, or the heavier work outs of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers (who slipped effortlessly into the vacant space left by the DRN with latter-day albums like ‘Californication’) and Faith No More, there was a sense of adventure that seems to have fallen by the wayside in recent years. Radio-friendly, but in a good way, the Dan Reed Network straddled that fine line between commercial rock (helped along by Bruce Fairbairn who produced the band’s debut album) and hard rock, digging into funk and soul in a way that separated them from the majority of their peers. A band defined by their refreshing positivity (although such an outlook is not always fashionable in a music industry more often given to cynicism), the Dan Reed Network weathered the vagaries of the industry for another two albums before quietly disbanding, much to the dismay of their very vocal fan base. It has been twenty-five years since the band last entered the studio for 1991’s ‘the heat’ and yet, with one listen of ‘fight another day’ there is no sign at all that such an amount of time has passed. A warm, melodic album that captures the band at their very best, ‘fight another day’ is a stunning return to action from a much-missed band.
Opening with ‘divided’, a mid-paced rocker that recalls Slash’s recent output with Myles Kennedy, DRN get off to a cracking start, dishing out a powerfully melodic and hopeful chorus that manages to lodge itself firmly within the cranium with just a single listen. At the song’s heart, of course, lies Dan’s vocals, still smooth as silk, whilst the layered harmonies of Brion James, Melvin Brannon II and Rob Daiker help to flesh things out nicely. Next up is the funky workout of ‘the brave’ which, with its driving bass and synth stabs, has hit single written all over it. The sort of track that would have dominated the radio for months on end, ‘the brave’ is destined to be a live favourite. Melvin Brannon II keeps the bass pumping on ‘infected’, a track that recalls Peter Gabriel’s gazillion-selling ‘So’ album with its deft mixing of radio-friendly hooks and artistic integrity. Next up is ‘champion’ a powerful ballad with depth and melody by the skip-full that allows the listener a moment to truly appreciate the stunning production on the album. The short ‘ignition’ segues directly into ‘give it love’ which announces its presence with drums that sound like holy thunder and this rounds out the album’s first half with a driving pop anthem that recalls latter day Genesis.
The second half of the album opens up with the sweet ballad ‘b there with u’ which, horrible text-speak aside, recalls the big pop hits of the eighties. It is, perhaps, a touch sickly for some and it certainly lacks the punch of other tracks on the album, but there’s no denying the emotion at its core. Fortunately, ‘save the world’ has a funky swagger that gets the blood pumping once more, whilst ‘eye of the storm’ is a pop-rock delight. Emerging from a swell of synth, ‘reunite’ has a nostalgic tone and plenty of pop muscle but the band can’t resist another ballad with the smooth bass and soulful overtones of ‘heaven’ recalling Massive Attack’s early excursions with Horace Andy. A brilliant track that showcases the best of the DRN, ‘Heaven is a late album highlight. A ‘sharp turn’ once again utilises classic synth sounds (think the burbling 303 sounds of the acid movement) to great effect before the album concludes with the inspirational ‘stand tall’, a track that sees the album out on a musical and lyrical high.
Few artists are capable of balancing the tight rope that crosses the gulf between commercial music and art, all too often falling too heavily on the side of commerce and ending up a shadow of their former selves. Of the artists that have succeeded, the name Peter Gabriel most readily springs to mind and, like Peter, Den Reed steadfastly refuses to adhere to any one genre, offering up rock, funk, soul and more in a beguiling package that is as memorable as it is endlessly listenable. Like Peter Gabriel, also, Dan has surrounded himself with a team of musicians who are at the peak of their powers and the musicianship across the album is faultless, as is the production which is, truth be told, stunning throughout. This is pop music as it’s meant to be – played with heart and soul by flesh and blood musicians and you can imagine how easily the album will come to life in the live environment. ‘Fight another day’ is a life-affirming album that will brighten even the dullest day with its taut rhythms, soulful vocals and hope-filled outlook. A most welcome return.