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Casablanca Records were surely hoping that Angel's new LP; White Hot would incur and increase in record sales compared to the first three from the band. Their debut album, Angel, came and went pretty much unnoticed with it's confusing sound of progressive rock conflicting with an overt glam look. Helluva Band, which was a vast improvement over their debut, still hadn't made any significant money for the label either. On their third album On Earth As It Is In Heaven, they almost completely dropped the progressive sound, opting for a more digestible commercial rock sound. If they didn't already have enough problems, after the tour of Japan for On Earth As It Is In Heaven, original bass player Mickey Jones was fired from the band. In an interview with Circus magazine, the parting of Jones was described as mutual, but when Jones quickly filed suit over his termination, the cat was out of the bag. Keyboardist Greg Giuffria recruited new bass player Felix Robinson into Angel from a band named The Word. Giuffria was very impressed with Robinson's musical ability and may possibly be the initial reason for Jones' early termination.
By the time White Hot came out they seemed to have mastered the pop rock sound as far as they could. The album contains some really good songs that sound as if they were radio-ready. Yet because Angel's sound had changed with each album, inching more toward a more commercial sound, this career pinnacle still owned a stigma of a band striving for their big break. This results in the fans sensing something a bit phony, which is probably the case here. But now back in retrospect with more than 30 years that have passed, that kind of thing doesn't matter anymore. The only thing that matters is the only thing that's left, and that's the music. White Hot proved that for at least once in their career, Angel could deliver at 100%. Each of the ten tracks is as enjoyable as the last.
The opening track Don't Leave Me Lonely easily sets the tone as what to expect from White Hot. With few exceptions their sound was now a cross between The Raspberries, The Bay City Rollers, and Boston. The song had a bunch of little hooks, and would have made a great single from the album. In contrast to the debut album, the band truly worked as a tight unit with an agreed vision of what the songs would sound like. Angel decided to cover an old Young Rascals song to compliment their album, and hopefully give the band a hit single. The song is Ain't Gonna Eat My Heart Out Anymore, originally written by Pam Sawyer and Lori Burton. The song gave the band their only hit single, although the highest the song would climb in the charts would be a dismal #44, stalling right outside the coveted Top 40. In my opinion, it was a bad idea to promote this song as the single, when their own material was much stronger.
Hold Me, Squeeze Me has an awesome intro, which showcases Felix Robinson's bass playing. The song's very heavy intro was immediately watered back down into the pop rock genre. Yet, we have some really amazing solos from both Greg Giuffria and guitarist Punky Meadows, there are some moments where the musicianship really shines. Over and Over is pretty typical of Angel, as it could of fit nicely on either of the past two albums, except with the handclaps thrown in as well as a cowbell intro (I just gotta have more cowbell!), which gives the song a bit more accessibility.
For the duration of Angel's short six-year career, they have been compared to other bands that are unfounded except when you factor in the glam image. They have been compared to KISS for the obvious reason as they both shared the same record label. They have also been compared to Queen possibly because their all-white costumes may have triggered something in the brains of these lazy (and possibly deaf) reviewers to think of Freddie Mercury and Queen, but it couldn't be further from the truth. Yet having said this, there is one song here that reminds me of Queen believe it or not. The song Under Suspicion sounds eerily like something Queen's drummer Roger Taylor would write and perform, especially off of their 1977 release News of the World, particularly the song Fight From the Inside. It has that same style of funky rock, with a driving drum beat and prominent bass groove contrasted against a nasty guitar lick. Even the backing vocals mirror those of Roger Taylor, who usually takes care of that himself on the songs he writes. Under Suspicion is one of the heavier songs on the record.
The heaviest song from White Hot is Got Love If You Want It. Greg Giuffria has been trying to input his spacey synthesizer noises on all of the Angel albums; none have been so effective as the intro to this song. The alien-like sounds emerging and then encompassing the jazzy bass gives way to a song that it very reminiscent of the Courageous Cat theme song. Stick Like Glue is barely passable when you compare it to the rest of these songs, it sounds like something from the Dave Clark Five, which is too tame and kind of lame. You Could Lose Me, the longest song on the album, is almost in the same category as Stick Like Glue, yet it's catchy enough while retaining some edge that the comparison is hard to spot.
There are two ballads on the record. The first is Flying With Broken Wings (Without You), the lyrics tell the usual heartache story of a break-up, but they are ineffective as lead vocalist Frank Dimino delivers them with a distant emotional detachment. The song is a bit reminiscent of The Beatles, and my guess is that it's deliberate. The guitar lick sounds an awful lot like Paul's guitar from Abbey Road's You Never Give Me Your Money. Frank Dimino even goes as far as using the megaphone effect, which McCartney has used on a number of his songs. The last song on the album is the second ballad called The Winter Song. This song was also released as a single a few weeks before in an attempt to cash in on the Christmas season. The Winter Song is very gimmicky with all the Christmas sounds thrown in, but it's also a very pretty ballad. I would go as far to say that it's one of the better pop secular Christmas songs ever released. This is the secular version of the song; there is a more Christmas-friendly version, aptly titles The Christmas Song that was only released as a single. The song didn't do anything for the band despite some heavy promotion for it, they even appeared on Dick Clark's American Bandstand one Saturday afternoon and lip-synched it in front of a confused audience who didn't know what to make of it.
Even though, mistakes were still made as far as decisions for single release, White Hot is exceptional output from Angel. They struck gold when they recruited Felix Robinson into the band and especially with producer Eddie Leonetti. Up until this album, Dimino not only handled the lead vocals but all of the backing vocals as well. His voice is not suited to backing vocals, as he attacks his singing duties with a lead singer approach. When you have all of these lead singers overdubbed into each other it sounds like a mess, but with new guy Felix singing as well as drummer Barry Brandt, it gives Dimino's voice more room to shine, and it does. He has a very good voice, but you wouldn't necessarily be aware of this on the last three Angel albums. I think Leonetti also forced the band to work as a unit, and focus on a common sound that each song will sound. Eddie Kramer had produced their previous album, but his approach is to try and bring out the best with what the band has. He did this with KISS and Hendrix as well, but Leonetti knew he needed to change things up to make Angel sound like the great band they can be by disallowing some of the habits they had learned in the past. Sadly, without any big numbers coming in as far as record sales, this is to be the second to last studio album from Angel, who had officially disbanded in 1981. Those of us who love to reminisce about those fabulous 70s rock bands fondly remember Angel, and it's not always warranted, but at least Angel can say that they had at least one shining moment of their career.
Rating: 4 stars
1. Don't Leave Me Lonely
2. Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore
3. Hold Me, Squeeze Me
4. Over and Over
5. Under Suspicion
6. Got Love If You Want It
7. Stick Like Glue
8. Flying With Broken Wings (Without You)
9. You Could Lose Me
10. The Winter Song
Angel ~ Helluva Band ~ On Earth As It Is In Heaven