Honey-soaked licks, emotive lyrics from the heart, sweeping synths and killer choruses to build an AOR city on — it’s been another monster year for fans of melodic rock.
Simon Rushworth settled into his comfort zone to round up the Best Melodic Rock Albums Of 2021.
10. Vega — Anarchy And Unity (Frontiers)
A magnificent seventh album from Brit stalwarts Vega? You bet.
Planet Rock playlisted the very best of Anarchy And Unity’s anthemic standouts and for a reason…
…this was Nick Workman’s masterwork as Vega delivered on more than a decade of slow burning potential.
The canny recruitment of ex-Inglorious fret burner Wil Taylor added a diamond-tipped cutting edge to a band on the brink of greatness.
9. Chez Kane — Chez Kane (Frontiers)
Back in March this spellbinding solo debut from Kane’d singer Chez Kane put a spring in the step of the Rushonrock crew.
And the album’s been on constant rotation for the last 10 months with killer tracks like Rocket On The Radio and All Of It soundtracking our melodic rock year.
Helmed by Crazy Lixx’s Danny Rexon, Kane channelled her inner Robin Beck, Lorraine Lewis and Lita Ford to deliver a riveting glimpse of the future.
This week’s news that she’d returned to the studio with Rexon to work on a 2022 follow-up filled us with festive joy.
Read the full review of Chez Kane here
8. Hardline — Heart, Mind And Soul (Frontiers)
Thirty years down the line and Hardline proved they still deserved their place atop the melodic rock tree.
Heart, Mind And Soul served up rich pickings for those looking to add a retro AOR-fuelled flavour to their melodic rock collection.
Frontman Johnny Gioeli fuelled a career-best set but what about fret-melter Mario Percudani? His genius contribution elevated this record into the big leagues.
The natural successor to genre classic Double Eclipse? We thought so.
Read the full review of Heart, Mind And Soul here
7. Night Ranger — ATBPO (Frontiers)
Forget the clunky title…the fact that Night Ranger opted to play on in 2021 was manna from heaven for melodic rock aficionados.
This was a lucky 13th studio set as Brad Gillis turned to his expansive collection of classic axes to reprise that trademark Ranger sound.
Opener We’re Coming For You left fans in no doubt that this was a band that still meant business.
Blades and Kelly Keagy boast a partnership — on and off stage — the envy of peers.
On ATBPO that intuitive collaboration reaped the richest of rewards.
Read the full review of ATBPO here
6. W.E.T. — Retransmission (Frontiers)
Soaked in saccharine sweet harmonies and awash with heartfelt hooks this was W.E.T. at their wonderful best.
Jeff Scott Soto, Erik Mårtensson and Robert Såll pulled out all the stops at the start of the year to set the standard for 2021’s melodic rock assault.
And Retransmission saw W.E.T. kick up a storm as classic after classic rained down from the masters of the genre.
Big Boys Don’t Cry, the Europe-esque Call To The Wild and power ballad What Are You Waiting For were seismic blasts of AOR-fuelled fantasy rock. Talk about a W.E.T. dream.
Read the full review of Retransmission here
5. Eclipse — Wired (Frontiers)
That man Mårtensson had a busy year lending his talents to some of this year’s most outstanding melodic rock masterpieces.
And Wired was some of his best work yet as super Swedes Eclipse continued to outpace H.E.A.T, Reckless Love et al.
This bold, brash and utterly brilliant example of supremely crafted, radio-friendly songwriting raised the bar and raised the temperature.
It’s 20 years since Eclipse dropped cult debut The Truth And A Little More but tracks like Carved In Stone, Twilight and Bite The Bullet proved the band has retained its golden touch.
Wired flicked the switch to outstanding.
Read the full review of Wired here
4. Houston — IV (Frontiers)
Produced by former Houston hero and captain of AOR Ricky Delin, the band’s fourth record represented another glorious step towards melodic rock nirvana.
IV (following 2010’s self-titled debut, II and III) saw honey-tongued frontman Hank Erix reprise his role as the modern-day Lou Gramm.
And a band that’s always promoted quality ahead of quantity doubled down on the essential AOR tropes that have underpinned a decade of excellence.
She Is The Night, A Lifetime In A Moment and You’re Still The Woman were sublime, surreal, genre-defining moments in a year when melodic rock thrived.
IV play? IV ever.
3. The Night Flight Orchestra — Aeromantic II (Nuclear Blast)
Need some new REO Speedwagon in your life? Still not convinced by the latest Styx album? Born and raised on Boston?
Believe it or not, Swedes The Night Flight Orchestra satisfied all of your AOR needs and more on the truly magnificent Aeromantic II.
The companion piece to 2020’s Aeromantic managed to outshine its perfectly perfunctory predecessor with waves of joyful melodies born in mid-70s North America.
But there were still plenty of well-positioned nods to polished 80s pop as vibrant opener Violent Indigo, red hot Burn For Me and Journey-meets-Genesis of I Will Try took the podium places.
2. Crazy Lixx — Street Lethal (Frontiers)
Not content with launching Chez Kane’s solo career, Danny Rexon reminded old school hair metal fans of his day job as the voice of Crazy Lixx.
And Street Lethal was a spandex and leather-draped deep dive into everything that made the genre such an adrenaline-fuelled thrill ride at its excessive peak.
The crazy folk at Crazy Lixx left no stone unturned in their quest for the perfect retro-fuelled set of fist-pumping late 80s-styled bangers.
Anthem For America, Reach Out and Caught Between The Rock N Roll couldn’t fail to get a summer festival crowd partying like they were front row at a Poison show circa 1990.
And fingers crossed the proof will be in the pudding as Crazy Lixx take Street Lethal on the road throughout 2022.
1. Nestor — Kids In A Ghost Town (Nestor Prestor Music Group)
It’s no coincidence that five childhood friends from the Swedish town of Falköping founded Nestor in 1989.
This is a band that bleeds the AOR-tinged pop metal that made the 80s such a special decade for fans of emotive, chorus-driven melodic rock.
Produced by singer Tobias Gustavsson and mixed by The Night Flight Orchestra’s Sebastian Forslund (see above), classic songwriting coursed through the colossal Kids In A Ghost Town.
There wasn’t a bad tune here but 1989 and On The Run were the spine-tingling standouts as Nestor made Steel Panther look like washed up wannabes.
Samantha Fox made a guest appearance on power ballad Tomorrow and she smouldered from start to finish alongside the impressive Gustavsson.
There was nothing else like Nestor in 2021. It looked like The Kids In A Ghost Town were all grown up.
Enjoyed our round up of the Best Melodic Rock Albums Of 2021? Check out last year’s top picks here