Fight For The Rock is an interesting album. It's reputation often proceeding it into the room & doing more harm than good. Much of this reputation has spun off of not necessarily the music itself, but the history of the making of the album & the feelings of the band itself.
But, I don't subscribe to the belief that whatever a band says about the album is the same opinion the listener should have of the album. So, while I may agree with some of the reputation I also believe it's given the album an unfair advantage that it can surely pull out from under if given a second chance.
The general agreement is that Fight For The Rock is the worst album by Savatage - all agree: fans, critics & the band, who disown the album as much as they can, while none of the songs were performed live. The album would nearly destroy the band's reputation, let alone drive frontman Jon Oliva into alcoholism & leaving the band, while leading to producer/songwriter Paul O'Neill being brought in to rescue the struggling rockers. The main problem is that Oliva was hired as a songwriter for Atlantic records & when the previous Savatage album failed to earn enough money, the label forced Savatage to record his newest songs. Not having much control over their career, they acquiesced. Oliva in turns has decried the existance of the album ... though, he's done that since before the album was even recorded, & as so much of the animosity for the album comes from him in the long-term, though its not the best album its no monster, one must recognize his bias in judging it ... as much as mine as a fan in wanting to try to give it a second chance before blanket agreeing with him. But, thus, Savatage ends up recording songs meant for other bands.
But, there's something here that gets lost in translation by critics & Olivia himself - if Oliva was hired as a songwriter, a rare move by a label, that says something about the quality of his work. He's certainly not going to pen horrible songs for other bands. He's out to make a reputation, it's ironic the tide turned. So, essentially, these songs are actually not as bad as reputation says, but just not being interpretted by the right band. The result is like an album of cover tunes by bands that never covered the tunes. Sometimes this works & a band has success with a song written for someone else, but here it's mixed.
The faults of the album domino effect making the result weaker than it might really be. It's not going to win any awards, but it may not deserve the complete demonizing that it gets. Certainly, if the band endorsed the album its legacy would be different.
One problem is that Savatage had changed so much musically since their debut that at this point in time what is the Savatage sound? They may not even have known & thus are unable to put a strong enough stamp on the songs taking them away from the bands they were written for & making them a Savatage product. That's the real problem here. The late Criss Oliva was a great Randy Rhoads-eque guitarist, raw & over-playing at times. Here, he's turned into Bon Jovi light. The irony is that if one looks at his playing from the beginning this album stands out because of this change. He grew so much as a guitarist in a few short years. He's far from raw & unfocused here. Further, unlike earlier albums there's no general mood or feeling that permeates the whole album. Since the songs where written for others & Savatage hasn't stamped them enough the result feels like a compilation of songs taken from different record sessions. It's like a B-Sides collection, back when such things existed.
As for being B-Sides ... it's not Oliva's worst collection of songs but it's not his strongest. At his best Oliva crafted dark songs of a personal flavor, such as "The Dungeons Are Calling", but he also had more than his fair share of bland love songs & shake your fist rock'n'roll songs. Here, half the songs are of the bland flavor. So, it's a collection of the weaker side of Savatage, not necessarily bad, just weak. Probably half the album is salvagable & worth a relisten ... a lot of peers of the time could only be so lucky.
The dark story "Hyde" might be as close as he gets to a new "The Dungeons Are Calling", though the spoken opening is a good idea but poorly executed & the bad production the album suffers from pulls the song down into imitative realms. The dark undertones "Crying For Love" & "Lady In Disguise" are similiar, but are moments of glimmering. If the entire album was like these tracks history would be very different for the boys.
The magic with Savatage is that earlier albums featured bland songs but the mood & playing made up for it. Here even the intricate textures that are lost in the personality crisis that laces the album.
It's interesting that a remake of "Out On The Streets" is included, originally on their debut Sirens. It's far more polished & over a minute shorter. It's not so bad, but the bland lyrics come through while on the Sirens original it doesn't sound so bland. Covers of Badfinger's "Day After Day" & Free's "Wishing Well" are good, but returns to my earlier thought about this being like a collection of songs previously released from different albums ... these are culled from tribute albums. Good songs but strange filler for such a prolific composer. They aren't standout singles so what's the point of their inclusion?
Also of note, is that this is the debut of bassist Johnny Lee Middleton, the only member to appear on every forthcoming Savatage album, who gets a few writing credits right off the bat.
If anything, the album begs some questions: How far could have Criss gone as a guitarist? If Savatage hadn't done this what album would have come in its place? If it hadn't been a failure what would have happened instead & would Criss still be alive, being in a different place at a different time? Would Paul O'Neill have come into the picture if it had been successful? The ground-breaking Hall Of The Mountain King followed, changing their career path & sound, but would that just be another Grieg song if things had been different for Fight For The Rock? Savatage is a band of what if's. Fight For The Rock proves that point.