Neon Radiation – Neon Radiation II – Album Review
You know…it’s interesting…the mastermind of Neon Radiation, Gary Blake, continues to be in search of writing and producing “the perfect Pop song” one day, yet in my opinion, he pretty much already did. Back when I heard the single “Underdog” in 2018, I was basically convinced that it was gonna be the only song I’d ever need from there on in…and even to this day, if I had to choose just one tune to listen to for the rest of my life, there’s a good chance it could be that one. Anyhow. I just think it’s neat that we can all have such different perspectives when it comes to the artists and people listening. Many of you out there that have created an album or many songs over time know full-well that it’s practically never your favorite song that ends up being the one that the public likes the most, and whatever it is that the public chooses, chances are it’s the one song you almost threw away to the cutting room floor. As I like to remind us all here on these pages, we all like what we like & love what we love…and so be it.
Truthfully I’m just always happy to have more Neon Radiation coming through these speakers of mine. “Less To You Than Meets My Eye” is a solid start to the sequel self-titled record from this project…great beat, excellent vocals, stellar energy…everything stacks up to a win quickly. Production as on-point as ever, with high definition to the sound and bold hooks…”Less To You Than Meets My Eye” actually has a lot in common with what you hear from the UK-based band Feeder when they veer off into a more Pop-based direction at times. That’s A-OK with me…I dig the way this track makes such a quick melodic impact on us, and gives us that sincerity we wanna hear behind the words through the way the vocals are sung. Let’s go with something like…Feeder-meets-Styrofoam…that’s what I’m going with. That’s basically aces in my books, and the best of company to be keeping – Neon Radiation starts this record off with a perfect first track that’s guaranteed to entice you in and get ya listening to the rest of it, 100%.
Digitally shuffling on into “I Know A Girl,” the quality remains consistently high…and I might even like this track just a bit more than the opener…ask me in another month. I really like the fact that the hooks of the verses are completely tangible, but I love what I’m hearing in the chorus of this tune and how that main melodic twist lands so perfectly. It’s got a whole lot of beauty to it from start to finish…and that’s quite impressive when it comes right down to it…there’s much of “I Know A Girl” that’s not exactly typical of Pop, but it’s got the kind of special uniqueness to it that is enticing, charming, and addictive. It’s very much on the high-end of sound, which is something you notice even more by the way the song is bookended with such defined synth bass vibes…from about thirty-seconds or so in, that low-end definition dissipates somewhat, and we’re left with a more atmospheric and airy sound to this dreamy vibe. It all works out in the end though…I feel like “I Know A Girl” has the right mix of art & accessibility.
You feel that bass-driven rhythm of “Everything We Need” – and with the rest of everything that Gary has added into this cut, right in track three where you’d likely expect to find a single-worthy tune, you’ve got one. It’s kind of got that whole echo-effect or delay deal goin’ on like you’d find in a U2 song, and arguably, the uplifting feeling you get from this track ain’t all that far removed from something like that either with the addition of the guitar and how the vocals work in the background. Look – I’m not saying that Neon Radiation SOUNDS like U2, I’m just sayin’ there are similarities between the DNA of the music y’all…calm yourselves. It’s a bit more of a Rock/Pop tune than we typically hear from Neon Radiation, but in my opinion, it’s another example of the evolution that continually takes place within this project, and another really stellar cut on Neon Radiation II. If it feels refreshing to ya, it’s probably because it IS – “Everything We Need” is a positivity-based tune that straight up makes ya feel good to listen to. Turn it on up loud & proud, this track deserves it…there’s not a thing I’d change about “Everything We Need.”
I’m probably more on the fence about “You Fly” than any of the others in the first four tracks of this record…it’s Neon Radiation, so I ain’t turning it off or turning it down, but I probably won’t remember this particular cut in about a week or so. I know, I know…y’all hate it when a critic gets critical, but I’m just being honest with ya…”You Fly” is alright, when the rest of the material has been outstanding so far. Is that my fault, or Gary’s? Like I said…it’s not something that I’m gonna skip past, I still like it – I suppose it simply seems a bit less substantial in terms of melody or uniqueness is all – and that’s OK! Not every song we’re ever gonna write is gonna recreate the wheel, and there will be more than enough people out there that’ll tell good ol’ Mr. Blake that this track is the best track they’ve ever heard, so he really doesn’t need me to grant him any kind of false confirmation. Honesty is always the best policy over here, and he knows that’s all I’ve ever been with him. “You Fly” is a decent tune, it’s just not one of Neon Radiation’s best…there’s no harm in saying that. All you can ever do as an artist is give a moment everything you can to what you’ve got to work with in the material…the quality is still there in terms of the performance…I don’t think there’s anything that could have been done to turn this B-side into an A.
I like that there is a verifiable range of sound, styles, and ideas found on this record though. For being a synth/digitalized record as we know Neon Radiation to make, the variation you’ll find from track to track is fully tangible. “Soul Of A Sinner” offers another dimension we haven’t heard yet on this record, and it gives Neon Radiation II another avenue of sound that keeps the lineup fresh and exciting to listen to. It sounds like it’s got an additional layer of seriousness to it right off the drop…and I suppose there is going to be times where you’ll spin a song like this and appreciate it more or less when you’re listening to the full album, know what I mean? Sometimes “Soul Of A Sinner” will feel like the bell of the ball, and other times you’ll be looking more for something like we hear in the sweetness and melody of the first three tracks. Again, ain’t nothing wrong with mixing things up and giving the people a variety of ideas & styles to enjoy – that’s diversity and it’s usually more welcome than not. In those times where that’s what you’re looking for, songs like “Soul Of A Sinner” will stand out more for all the right reasons, but when it’s not, it’ll still fit well enough into this lineup that it’ll always be appreciated for the depth that it has.
“Take More Than You Give” is without a doubt one of the record’s best songs, and could very well be one of my favorites in the Neon Radiation catalog to-date. The vocals are absolutely outstanding, the melodic pattern & structure is perfection…this is a stunning song, straight up. From the very first moments of the music, I wasn’t quite sure it was going to be THIS amazing…but from the moment that the vocals are added into this track, there’s no looking back…great lyrics, great vocals, and the music finds its strengths as it plays on too. Listening to the way this song shifts from verse to chorus is truly something else to experience y’all, no joke. I thought I was enjoying myself more than enough as the verses rolled out, but listening to the singer hit the hooks so spot on in the chorus, in what’s essentially an extremely challenging part of the melody that not a whole lot of people would be able to hit this precisely…I’m tellin’ ya…”Take More Than You Give” ends up being one genuinely fascinating track as a result, and a song you quite likely won’t be able to get enough of. I know I couldn’t – I love this!
I’m not really hearing any quality concerns when it comes to the production or the music Gary’s been making throughout Neon Radiation II on a structural level, or in the mix. Which is great of course, and also no real surprise – the man knows what he’s doin’ at this point in his career filled with music by Neon Radiation. So it really all becomes about personal preference from there more or less. For myself personally, I’m not nearly as in love with a track like “Grow” as I was enamored with a song like “Take More Than You Give” – but you might very well feel the complete opposite, and that’s cool with me. The point is, Blake has put himself in a solid position with any of these songs to make an impact on the people listening and the top spots on their playlists…by having the quality never drop and the performances so consistent, each cut has a true chance of becoming your favorite. “Grow” seems a bit more on the generic side to me, but it’s got a great beat. I’m always looking for that special moment that practically drops our jaws in amazement & awe – like “Take More Than You Give” has in its vocals and melody…but there’s still nothing you can really take away from a song like “Grow” that’s put together with all the right pieces too. Just like I told ya…we all like what we like, and love what we love.
“Intoxicated” was interesting to experience. I could be wrong about this, because I don’t have the original to compare it to – but I reviewed this track way back in 2019…and I feel like it’s probably made some significant changes since I was listening long ago. I’ll admit, I was listening to a whole bunch of Neon Radiation singles right around that time…so it’s hard for me to say what I remember and what I don’t, or if “Intoxicated” was simply the best of the bunch that I had at that particular time. Here in the context of this record, I’m not quite sure it makes as much of an impact as it did back then, or if the changes that have been made to it improved it from what it already had goin’ on in its favor. It’s still a good song…there’s no doubt about that…the main hooks of this cut are seriously strong and that remains the case even now…but yeah…I could be the crazy one here if nothing has changed at all, but to me it sounds like “Intoxicated” might not quite measure up to what my memory of it seemed to be. I like it…don’t get it twisted, don’t get me wrong…but yeah…things always become tougher when an artist or band ups the ante significantly at some point on a record, and “Take More Than You Give” has us searching for that remarkable degree of special magic on-forward from there. Think of it this way though – “Intoxicated” is still a solid cut…”Underdog” had about a million remixes too, and I didn’t just automatically love every one of’em even though I thought the world of that particular song. Some tunes just come out better than others, that’s it, that’s all, that’s reality. Gary spends so much time in the lab remixin’ changin’ this thing & that thing, that you never know if ever feels like he should cut himself off. Personally, I salute the guy for his experimentation and trying so many different things with each song…I’m not so sure there’s ever such a thing as a ‘finished’ tune in Gary Blake’s world.
“Wolves At The Door” probably what you’d call one of the deeper cuts on the record…and I’d venture a guess that it’s likely the tune that’ll grow on ya more as you spin it. Kind of the opposite effect of how I felt about “I Know A Girl” earlier on in the lineup, I’m not entirely sure that “Wolves At The Door” isn’t a bit too heavy-handed in the low-end department this time around. It’s got plenty of great atmospheric additions to its details, which get a bit buried by the presence of the low-end on this track if I’m being real with ya…and material-wise…I don’t think I’m quite at the level of I could take it or leave it, but I don’t think “Wolves At The Door” is gonna end up being my favorite cut of the bunch this time around either. It’s a solid enough track that still fits in well with the record, and like I was tellin’ ya earlier, more Neon Radiation is always a good thing in my world, so I ain’t turning it off or turning it down…I’m not skipping ahead to the next track either…it just doesn’t quite reach the full-strength of the melody and magic this project is capable of at its finest moments, in my opinion. No reason that y’all have to share the same opinion I’ve got – you might hear “Wolves At The Door” and feel like it was the one track that Neon Radiation II couldn’t be complete without, and if that’s how you feel, you’re still cool with me.
When “Blue Skies” came on, it felt like the spark in this track highlighted a little of what was missing in the final quarter of this record. I ain’t going as far as to say that it’s my favorite either, but I do both love and appreciate the energy it brings to the finale of Neon Radiation II. Not too far removed from what you’d find in the Killers or something to do with Brandon Flowers, just a bit more entrenched in the digital realm is all. The music is what really stands out to me on this final track…and perhaps that’s the best thing in many ways…like all great musicians and programmers and whatnot, the moment a singer is added to the mix, all that hard-work and effort can often get lost on the listeners out there, even me. Gary deserves a ton of credit for how much he puts into his music & the consistent results he generates – he knows how to make a quality Pop song, and he executes on that mission time & time again. “Blue Skies” gives this record the uplifting vibe it needed for the finale, and provides that refreshing energy you wanna find to encourage your ears to repeat the experience, which is a great thing of course. Think of it this way, once you do push repeat, you head right back into the stronger half of the set on this new Neon Radiation record, and chances are, with each subsequent spin, you’ll find something more to love about the songs you hear. The real bottom line is that I’m always stoked to hear more from this project and that naturally inherent love for its digitalized melodies never seems to dull for me – I dig what Neon Radiation brings to the scene & to our speakers, and this new record has a whole lot to offer your ears.
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