Haven’t heard of Gun? That’s OK, I hear that a lot. You might know Gun best from their 1994 cover of Cameo’s “Word Up” which was a minor hit here on MuchMusic.
I first read about this band in 1990, and first picked up the debut CD in ’96. I don’t actually know a lot about them except that they are Scottish and this is the first of several albums. “Better Days” was the first single I heard. Its bright, sparse rock wasn’t quite what was happening with the mainstream in 1989. It’s very melodic, but in an unconventional way for hard rock bands at the time. The vocals of Mark Rankin were unlike other rock singers on the scene at the time; he’s understated. They also had an unusual image feature two short haired dudes and a frontman with his hair in a ponytail — you didn’t see that in 1989 unless you were INXS. Musically too, they kind of rode a line between hard rock and 80’s alternative. These are some of the qualities that attracted me to the band in the first place. “Better Days” is a stand-out track, possessing a rhythmic base, a chorus that kills and a soulful vibe that helps sell it.
Second in line is “The Feeling Within” which is harder. It still has the sparse vibe and understated vocals, but with a harder guitar riff. It too boasts a winning chorus (reminding me of late-80’s Rush actually). Once again I think Rankin is a highlight of the song, and he is accompanied on the chorus by an uncredited female backing singer. Then “Inside Out” takes us to an upbeat, sunshiny place. While Gun remain undoubtedly guitar based, the guitars are not oppressive like most hard rock, and the song has plenty of room to the breathe. It’s another standout song.
The first song that I dislike is “Money (Everybody Loves Her)”. It has a vibe similar to “Way Cool, Jr.” by Ratt, but without any balls. I’ll pass on this one. Fortunately the best song is next: the title track “Taking on the World”. Quiet acoustics back Rankin’s laid-back voice. Outstanding melody and song construction here! It gradually picks up steam, electric guitars slowly drawing in. The bass provides a steady pulse as the song builds. It closes side one on a strong note.
“Shame on You”, side two’s opener, is similarly constructed upon the pulse of the rhythm section. It has a drone-y but catchy riff, not to mention chorus. Darker tones shade “Can’t Get Any Lower”, still a good song, but lacking the punch of a memorable chorus. Unfortunately the title “Something to Believe In” is well overused, and this isn’t really a great song. It’s probably the weakest so far, though it does have some great vocal moments. But then there’s the funky “Girls in Love” which I have a strong dislike for. At least it’s the shortest song, but this sounds like a bad Bootsauce song or something. After a couple tunes like these, you need a strong album closer. Gun fail to deliver with “I Will Be Waiting”. It’s too laid back. It would have been better elsewhere on the disc, but it’s not that strong.
In summation, Taking on the World has a pretty damn good first side, but takes a hard slide on the second. Too bad. There’s enough goodness here to warrant: