Malice In Wonderland
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Donald A. Guarisco [allmusic.com]
As the 1980s began, Nazareth decided to return to the AOR experimentation they had toyed with during the 1970s on albums like Close Enough for Rock & Roll and Play 'N the Game. They also made a play for AOR viability by hiring West Coast session legend Jeff ''Skunk'' Baxter to produce the album. However, they managed to retain their identity as a hard rocking group this time out by tempering their pop experimentation with a tougher sound that took advantage of their new dual-guitar lineup. The end result is an album that effectively blends the energy and firepower that fueled Nazareth's best hard rock recordings with a slick, radio-friendly soundscape that is easy on the ears. A good example of this careful balance is the album opener ''Holiday,'' a witty send-up of rich rock & rollers that effectively layers a sing-along chorus done in a mock-calypso style and some slick harmonies over its boogie beat and fat power chords. Other experimental highlights include ''Big Boy,'' a mid-tempo rocker with a reggae chorus, and ''Ship of Dreams,'' an acoustic rocker with a Spanish-inspired flamenco melody. Meanwhile, the group satisfies their hard rock fanbase with tracks like ''Talkin to One of the Boys,'' a lightning-speed rocker built on a blinding dual-guitar riff, and ''Showdown at the Border,'' an insistent guitar showcase with riffs and solos to spare. Malice in Wonderland also produced a notable hit for Nazareth in ''Heart's Grown Cold,'' a kiss-off ballad that starts with a delicate acoustic melody and builds into an all-stops-out production where bombastic guitars support a group of backup singers wailing the song's chorus. All in all, Malice in Wonderland is one of the high points in Nazareth's career and the best-ever fusion of their hard rock and AOR tendencies. In short, it's required listening for the group's fans and also an album likely to please hard rock lovers and AOR fanatics alike.