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Newman – Into The Monsters’ Playground

Into The Monsters’ Playground
by Kenn Staub at 18 October 2021, 10:33 PM

England’s Steve Newman formed the band which bears his name in 1997. During July 2020 the studio band, essentially Newman with an assist from drummer Rob McEwan, began work on NEWMAN’s 13th album, “Into The Monsters’ Playground.” Released on September, 10, 2021, “Into The Monsters’ Playground” is a 12 song compendium of polished, readily palatable, synthesizer-driven AOR.

While there is nothing to seriously dislike about “Into The Monsters’ Playground,” I couldn’t help but be struck by the “formula” running through many of the songs. It’s almost as if the collection of tunes constitutes a hip, mid-to-late 1980s movie soundtrack (think KENNY LOGGINS, I did). The synthesizer/keyboards lead the way on most tracks, the drums lending an electronic-sounding beat and the guitar serving as an accent piece until it’s time to lay down a pitch-perfect solo. Through it all is Newman’s readily intelligible singing, his clear, on-key vocals a strength of the album.

The opening two songs, “Start This Fire” and “Timebomb,” respectively, establish the synth/keyboard-heavy melodic blueprint that will be heard over the course of “Into The Monsters’ Playground”. “Hurricane Sky” is moodier and a bit more of a rocker than the first pair of tunes. “I’ll Be The One” begins with an aggressive guitar line, which is then interspersed throughout the track, before becoming downtempo, almost a ballad in nature.

Icon” tells an interesting story, but otherwise sticks to the “NEWMAN formula.” “Don’t Come Runnin’” has a certain moodiness, with the synth and guitar blending smartly on a solo break. Another downtempo song, “Lightning Tree,” follows. A highlight of this somewhat brooding track is its melodic guitar line.

Give Me Tonight” is one of the straighter ahead, guitar-anchored rock songs on the album; the synthesizer serving more as an accent instrument than the featured. Again, Newman shows a knack for combining the two to establish a melody. The guitar solo stood out, as Newman stretches himself stylistically more here than on any of the album’s other tracks. About halfway through, however, the “AOR formula” re-emerges and the song loses a bit of its edge.

On “The Monsters’ PlaygroundNewman adroitly weaves an aggressive guitar line through the melody. For some reason “Spirit Cries” just didn’t resonate with me, perhaps because this song of lost love is just a bit too sterile. Though “Shadows of Love” has a solid hook, the listener will, like myself, probably find themselves focused on those parts of the track which sound uncannily like RUSH’s “Tom Sawyer.” “The Life Alone,” highlighted by an interesting guitar solo, closes the album with a VAN HALENRight Now” sensibility.

Although a little slicker and cleaner than my usual musical preference, I liked “The Monsters’ Playground.” The album is tightly melodic with nary a stylistic misstep. That being noted, it didn’t strike me as terribly original, really nothing that I don’t believe I’ve heard before.

Musicianship: 8
Songwriting: 7
Memorability: 4
Production: 9

3 Star Rating

1. Start This Fire
2. Timebomb
3. Hurricane Sky
4. I’ll Be The One
5. Icon
6. Don’t Come Runnin’
7. Lightning Tree
8. Give Me Tonight
9. The Monsters’ Playground
10. Spirit Cries
11. Shadows Of Love
12. This Life Alone
Steve Newman – Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards
Rob McEwan – Drums
Record Label: AOR Heaven


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