REVIEW: Triumph – Surveillance (1987)

Part 2 of a 2 part series by request of reader DEKE! Today we look at the final album by the original Triumph. For the first installment, The Sport of Kings, click here!

TRIUMPH – Surveillance (1987 MCA, 2003 TML)

Triumph bassist Mike Levine once called this album your proverbial “contractual obligation” record. What he meant by that, was that Rik and the boys were barely on good terms anymore, the end was near, but the band needed to crank out one more album (plus a “greatest hits” record entitled Classics) before they could call it a day.

And who can forget that awkward interview on MuchMusic’s Power Hour, when Erica Ehm unwittingly asked Rik, “Have you ever thought of going solo? Wait a second, I have the chance to break up Triumph with this question!” Rik mumbled something about how the guys in the band always gave him the freedom to do whatever he wanted, and there was no need to go solo. Then a couple months later, WHAM!  The headline was all over the Toronto Sun — RIK QUITS TRIUMPH.

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, this sounds like the last album by a once powerful band. It sounds like a band out of ideas, a tired band, a band who doesn’t care anymore.  It has an atmosphere of “let’s see if this one will stick to the wall.”

Yes, Rik Emmett was and remains a genius guitar player.  Mike and Gil, God bless ’em, were the average backing band, given a tremendous boost in our native land due to the fact that they are Canucks. There’s a certain Canadian mediocrity to Triumph — not quite as good as Rush, but similar. A loyal fanbase, but with not nearly the treasure-rich back catalogue that Max Webster has. A talented guitar playing frontman, but as a vocalist a bit shrill even by Geddy standards. A T-shirt-and-jeans type image, maple leaf proudly emblazoned on their hockey jerseys, but an image just too bland for anybody but us hosers by the late 1980’s.

Surveillance struck me from the start as Rik taking control of the machine for one last spin. It treads the progressive tendencies, with two instrumental intro tracks, a guest shot by Steve Morse, and some lyrically interesting pieces (“All The King’s Horses”). This is tempered by Rik’s increasing interest in pop — “Let The Light (Shine On Me)”, and “On and On”. On Gil Moore’s side, we have nothing but terrible filler tracks, the worst of which is “Rock You Down”. This is perhaps the worst song Gil’s ever foisted upon us. At some points trying to be R&B, at others hopelessly lost in a morass of bad lyrics and muddy mix, it is a bit of a train wreck.  The whole album suffers from this muddy mix and too many odd crashing keyboard samples.

Dark Helmet.

The best tune was the lead single, “Never Say Never” (co-written by Rik’s new protege Sil Simone).  Unfortunately this is a video that Rik soon found embarrassing to watch.  The bouffant hairdo (or as Rik referred to it, “good hair production”), the fancy wardrobe…what was wrong with jeans and jerseys?  It was 1987.  That’s what was wrong with it.

I wanted to give this album one star, as I believe it truly has some of the worst songs of Triumph’s career. Upon reflection I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t because lyrically, I like some of this album, and musically there are a couple good moments here and there that save the album from being a total torpedo. The guitar playing, like on “Carry on the Flame”, is absolutely fiery.  You know a guitar player like Rik Emmett isn’t going to lay a turd.  There are a couple interesting riffs. And, as a Power Hour nerd, I loved the voice cameo by J.D. Roberts (now known as CNN’s John Roberts).

Much to my surprise (and delight, because I didn’t like it when bands broke up), Triumph carried on with one more album (Edge of Excess) and a new guitar player.  Phil X (ex-Frozen Ghost  and currently on tour with Bon Jovi) joined the band, while Toronto’s Mladen Zarron wrote on played on the majority of the album.  Sound wise, they rocked it up several notches before calling it a day.

When they did reunite with Rik, they didn’t play any songs from Surveillance.  Can’t say that I’m surprised.

This album serves as a reminder of what a terminally ill band sounds like. You can hear the tension and lack of cohesion. Despite that, there are still a couple interesting tracks and melodies here for the Triumph fan, some of which have not yet resurfaced on a compilation CD. Check it out if you’re a fan, avoid like the plague if you are not.

2/5 stars

Also worth noting:  The guy on the cover of Surveillance is the same dude from the Never Surrender album!

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33 comments

  1. Yep the good ship Triumph has officially hit the iceberg and a SOS flare is sent high in the sky but no one responds,that’s basically Survalliance for me. At the time of this release this was the first album of Triumphs I did not purchase ( up until this point I had purchased 6 in a row) Sport Of Kings basically did me in as a fan at the time and when Survalliance was released I just turned the other way kinda like when u see you ex girlfriend for the first time after the breakup. Haha.
    I heard this album in its entirety for the first time in the summer of 91 at a friends place as he had it. Upon review 2 songs I thought were good and that would be Never Say Never and Headed For Nowhere .it wasn’t until Edge Of Excess I bought a Triumph release and after that one it wasn’t until the Live At Sweden thingy that I bought Triumph and like I have said before its just good to hear from them again kinda like a ex girlfriendy kinda of way.
    Obviously Mike u have done a great job in this review and I wish I could have seen that Muchmusic interview…that’s classic and Ehm asking that ?…she probably had no idea what she asking or someone put her up to it….

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    1. One of these days Deke, I’ll have to get a USB VCR so I can convert my old classic VHS tapes and share these excellent MuchMusic moments with you.

      That interview was excellent. Not only did Rik perform Let the Light live unplugged (first time I ever heard it) but he also performed a guitar battle with Sil Simone. (Rik won.)

      I don’t think Erica Ehm was the greatest VJ that Much ever had, but it sure it weird seeing that interview in hindsight. It would be funny to blame Uhm for Triumph’s end.

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      1. It’s appreciated!

        I’m always torn about those cases of ‘one album too many.’

        In a way, I admire the group for trying for another classic. I can’t fault the Stones for trying – I’d likely call Exile on Main Street (1972) their last peak, but good for them for going another 4 decades in search of another gem like it!

        Then again, there’s something about going out on top. When a group lasts exactly the right amount of time and breaks up before the descent or (I like how you put it) terminal illness sets in.

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        1. This is true, look at a band like Bon Jovi, who should have packed it in years ago, and certainly should pack it in now. Triumph’s commercial sellout is nothing compared to Bon Jovi’s.

          Mike Levine said this album was done for one reason only — because they owed their label one more record. As soon as this was out, the label released a greatest hits set called Classics (nothing from this album on it) and started milking it.

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  2. I had moved on from Triumph by the time this came out, and have only listened to it a couple of times in the years since. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m always happy to hear Rik Emmett’s voice & guitar work no matter how mediocre the songs or production, but as Deke wrote above, they had a creative iceberg by this point.

    Since you’ve posted about Triumph and Saga this week, let’s have a Battle Royale of Mustaches: Mike Levine vs. Michael Sadler. I’m going with Levine in a close match, simply because I think his stache has the ability to play the bass while Mike is pumping up the crowd.

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    1. Levine also wins in endurance. He has never shaved it off, at least not that I have ever seen.

      I’m just glad the guys have kissed and made up. Even if they never tour or record again, they at least salvaged their personal relationships with each other. That is so much more important.

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  3. I love this album. I’d give it 8/10 had I reviewed it and I think it’s Triumph’s best album by far. But the again, I was never a huge Triumph fan. Ok, so Rock You Down is really bloody awful but the rest of the album is great. The ballad Let The Light kills me every time I hear it and then there are Carry On The Flame, Headed For Nowhere, Never Say Never, On And On… All killers. And Running In The Night… Have you ever heard of a band called Signal fronted by Mark Free of King Kobra? Well, they made an album in the late 80’s called Loud & Clear and on that album there’s a song called Go which is Running In The Night with another lyrics.

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    1. Well Jon I always respect your opinions! In fact I’m always fascinated by albums that divide fans like this. If you like it, there must be something else to it that Deke and myself don’t get or hear. What matters is that you like it.

      I have heard of Signal but never that album. I’m guessing this is pre-gender reassignment?

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      1. I like Jon’s opinion on This fair enough I would have never thought I would see a 8/10 review though! Ha what do I know perhaps the rating of Survaillance would have been higher if it had followed Stages instead of Sport Of Kings???
        I guess for me they had a good run from Progressions thru til Thunder 7…and the S.O.K just ruined it for me so I guess they could have put out Back In Black after it and I would have still passed on it….finicky record buyer I had become but seriously they lost me after SOK’s….today actually I thru on Live At Sweden and its good to hear them though….

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        1. And Deke I come from a completely other perspective. I loved SOK at first when I was young, and I wanted and semi-expected Surveillance to be the same. I was very disappointed when I finally got it.

          All’s well that ends well though, and I think the guys are probably happier today and proud of their work.

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        2. I think it has a lot do do with the fact that Surveillence was the first Triumph album I ever heard back to back. I had heard the occasional song before, but never really listened to them and when Surveillence came out in 1987, the style of music of music they played was right up my alley – I was a total AOR and melodic rock freak back then and I guess it just appealed to me. If I had been a big Triumph fan my opinions of Surveillence might have been different.

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        3. A first album can have such a huge impact! I have a story upcoming where I discuss my top five albums of all time. Two of them are the first albums I heard by two bands. Hotter than Hell by Kiss and Born Again by Black Sabbath. There are some people who hate both albums and that’s cool, but I can’t deny they are in my top five.

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        4. It’s never cool to hate Hotter Than Hell… But seriously, I have never heard anyone saying they hate HTH, but a lot of people, including me, has opinions on the production,
          I love Born Again, but again, the production is awful. But song-wise, it’s a classic Sabbath album. I mean, Disturbing The Priest… doesn’t get more Sabbath than that.

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        1. Aha, ok. See you’re never too old to learn new words… ;)
          Yes, that was back in 1989 and I think it was Mark’s first release after King Kobra. It’s a real good album, you should check it out if you get the chance.
          He formed Unruly Child after that and if you missed their 1992 self titled debut, you really missed out. A brilliant album. They reunited in 2010, but now fronted by Marcie, not that you could tell the difference, and their latest album is awesome.

          http://etainmentnewsreviews.wordpress.com/melodic-rock/melodic-rock-reviews-2010/unruly-child-worlds-collide/

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        2. Wow…this is interesting to listen to! A huge life change like that and she still sounds like the old Mark Free. And what a cool song too! Actually it would be easier to comment on your site, so that’s where I’m going!

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  4. Damit Mike, this was one of the two vinyls I had to give you on Saturday. The magically disappearing vinyls. You know, I still haven’t found those. They have to be here. I had them by the front door when I left for our trip. Where in the heck did they go? Anyway, I’ll find them. And I’d gotten this in pristine shape for $1.99 and was just gonna give it to you. Never fear. I’m still looking for it!

    Anyway, I was looking forward to this review. Thanks! It was a good read. Man, I remember Erica Ehm. She hosted a MM dance at our high school. Terrible. Big song of the night, the one she built up as so awesome and was saving for the end? Unskinny Bop. Thanks, Erica. Actually, I never had much luck with appearances by MM VJs. I remember being at a show where we booed Sook Yin Lee off the stage. That was fun (and sad).

    Anyway, Triumph. Your review makes me want to hear it again. I just need to find it!

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    1. Well isn’t that funny, that you were giving me an album that I had lined up to review a few days later! Even though I trash the record, I’d still love a vinyl, because I like the cover (no matter what Scott thinks).

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  5. I’m going to rush right out and buy this, right after I, umm, get everything else I need to do done first, wash my hair (all of it), learn mandarin, retile the bathroom, mow the car, check the oil in the lawn …

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