In the mid-Eighties, a band of five extremely different musicians of mixed musical and ethnic backgrounds sauntered out of the American midwest and into the international conscience. Taking their name from the charismatic, and often enigmatic, lead singer, the Dan Reed Network engineered a combination of hard rock, funk and jazz that wasn’t as in your face as contemporaries such as Living Colour and the Red Hot Chili Peppers but nevertheless proved a huge success with those of us prepared to broaden their horizons in terms of pushing the boundaries of the overall hard rock genre. Then, after five years, and with their most successful album (‘The Heat’) under their belts, it was over as suddenly as it had begun…
While the band never officially split up, and with Reed himself continuing to tour and record, it would be a full 21 years before DRN would perform together again. Since that reunion in late 2012 the band started to tour more and more – in between Reed’s own extensive live commitments as both a solo artist and partner to Tyketto’s Danny Vaughn for the acclaimed ‘Snake Oil And Harmony’ shows – before, late last year, clues started to emerge, with the inclusion of new songs in the sets, that this may indeed be something of a more permanent arrangement: and so it has proved to be with ‘Fight Another Day’, the band’s prophetically titled fourth album in their three decade long career.
What is immediately obvious from the first joyous thumping bass chord of opener, and first single, ‘Divided’, is that DRN have picked up the torch exactly where they left it smouldering back in ’91 and effortlessly re-ignited it. Reed’s deeply personal, politically and emotionally charged lyrics pump with an adrenalin rush matched by Brion James’ punchy guitar, which dips in and out with a smooth simplicity. ‘The Brave’ and ‘Infected’ are more laconic and soulful, reflecting the introspection of Reed’s more recent ‘Signal Fire’ and ‘Transmission’ solo offerings, yet very much breathe as an entire entity. The first big surprise of the album is the nominal title track ‘Champion’, which you would imagine would be an uptempo anthem of rebellion but instead is an eerily beautiful paean to the sort of love you feel when you wake up on a Sunday morning with the musky aroma of the one you love loitering longingly on your pillow.
After the almost dupstep interjection of the mysteriously placed instrumental ‘Ignition’, ‘Give It Love’ picks up the pace again, with a snappy, snare-driven beat from the ever reliable Dan Pred leading into a densely dynamic and driving main riff which in turn is counterpointed by Melvin Brannon II’s reggae-fuelled bass line, in a great demonstration of the band’s ability to mix and match genres with effortless ease. ‘B There With U’ picks up the lyrical and musical theme of ‘Get To You’, from DRN’s self-titled 1988 debut, with the ease of reaching for a discarded piece of paper left on the bedside table after a moment of midnight inspiration, and is a beautifully forlorn ballad with a suitable uptempo twist. ‘Save The World’ is both one of the album’s most uptempo songs, driven by a beautiful funk/reggae interplay between James and Brannon, and it’s most overtly political in its theme, with its central question of “who’s gonna save the world?”: it’s contrite, remorseful and energetically hopeful in equal measures.
The album’s last third kicks off with one of its heaviest numbers, ‘Eye Of The Storm’, which again has a massive funk-driven undercurrent to its classic hard rock vibe, while ‘Reunite’ has a hopefully elegiac feel which is extremely reminiscent of Reed’s own deeply personal solo albums, reflecting how he pours his heart and soul into every aspect of his artistic expression. ‘Heaven’ slows things down again, showing once more Reed’s recognition of the importance of pacing, but in the right context, as it speaks of the importance of living in the moment and how its subject is what you make of it, yet also reflecting the singer’s deep spirituality. ‘Sharp Turn’ does just that, bringing the electronica motifs which have subtlely inflected the album more to the fore, while remaining true to the overall ethos of the album as a whole – and the atmospheric piano outplay is just sublime. Closer ‘Stand Tall’ is apt: driven by a crunching guitar line and a suprisingly low key bass motif, it’s an ode to joy and you can almost see the smiles of Reed and co emanating from the speakers as they laugh and dance their way around this triumphant return.
‘Fight Another Day’ is an album which lives up to its title. It’s also one which is complex and mystifying, entrancing and inspirational in equal amounts. Its deeply personal yet universal themes appeal at every level of emotion, and Reed enunciates the anger which many of us feel at what it going on in our lives, both personally and universally, and expresses our apparent sense of helplessness at being able to change the situation yet highlights the knowledge that, with individual and collective passion, we can, indeed, live another day to fight that battle…
Tracklist: Divided / The Brave / Infected / Champion / Ignition / Give It Love / B There With U / Save The World / Eye Of The Storm / Reunite / Heaven / Sharp Turn / Stand Tall
Recommended listening: Divided / Champion
‘Fight Another Day’ is released via Frontiers Records on Friday 3 June.
Dan Reed Network play a special album launch show at the 100 Club in London on Wednesday 15 June.
Wednesday May 4 – Southampton, The Brook
Thursday May 5 – Evesham, Iron Road
Friday May 6 – Cardiff, Fuel
Sunday May 8 – Newcastle, The Cluny
Sunday May 15 – London, The Underworld
Tuesday May 17 – Norwich, Waterfront
Wednesday May 18 – Birmingham, Hare and Hounds
Thursday May 19 – Sutton in Ashfield, The Diamond
Friday May 20 – Chester, Live Rooms
Saturday May 21 – Grimsby, Yardbirds
Sunday May 22 – York, The Duchess
Live photographs taken at Rockingham, October 2015, by The Dark Queen.