In the late 1980s, Vixen were one of the few bands that looked like women who actually were women. They achieved some success during that hair-metal era, and a couple of their singalong tunes got them some airplay. Having Richard Marx as a producer and a co-writer helped them, too.
By the time of their second coming, a decade later, they’d adopted a more grungey sound, and it wasn’t really Vixen.
They still pop up occasionally, albeit on tour rather than as a recording band, but now – nearly three decades on from the pop-metal of ‘Edge Of A Broken Heart’ – frontwoman Janet Gardner delivers her first solo offering, and it sounds like neither of Vixen’s incarnations.
Teaming up with husband Justin James, Gardner gives us a decent slab of hard rock. Her voice is more gravelly and this is much edgier than the MTV-friendly stuff she is best known for.
‘Rat Hole’ gets the album off to a good start and is just the first of a clutch of songs that are pedal-to-the floor rockers. ‘Hippycrite’, meanwhile, is underpinned by a crunching riff and it highlights how Gardner has successfully combined a heavier sound without sacrificing the ability to write catchy numbers.
Things dip occasionally, mainly when Gardner slows things down. ‘Candle’ doesn’t really go anywhere and ‘Best Friend’ (the obligatory ballad) is very much take-it-or-leave-it. But the rest of this impressive album makes up for the filler. ‘Your Problem Now’ and ‘Lost‘ keep the momentum going while the best moment is ‘The Grind’, which veers in and out of industrial metal territory. It’s more Trent Reznor than Bret Michaels, heavy guitars and a powerful rhythm section driving the song along.
‘The Good Or The Bye’ is another faster-paced track, rounds things off much in the way they started, and while this might not be the stuff that whets the appetite of MTV executives like Vixen’s hits used to, there’s no doubt that this is Gardner’s strongest outing yet.
The best thing about this album is that Gardner has defined her own sound rather than trying to revive past glories. When she returns to her day job, it will be interesting to see if she can marry this harder edge with the more commercial feel of that band. If she can, any future Vixen album should prove to be well worth a listen, too.