Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

MARS – Project: Driver (1986)

MARS stands for MacAlpine Aldridge Rock Sarzo, and it’s a fine little example of only-in-the-Eighties guitar rock, courtesy of Shrapnel records. They’re best known as the small indie label that put out guitar super-genius Tony MacAlpine’s first album out to rave reviews. In 1986, they gave him a shot to do something different and put together a “super-group,” playing some more rock-oriented tunes, rather than his instrumental and highly progressive guitar-oriented stuff. He rounded out the band with Ozzy drummer Tommy Aldridge and Quiet Riot bassist Rudy Sarzo, as well as the somewhat unknown crooner Robert Rock. (And no, it’s not that Bob Rock.)

Turns out this lineup happened almost at the last minute. The band was simply called Driver at first, and Craig Goldy was the original guitar player, but he left the band to go play with Ronnie James Dio. Sarzo recruited MacAlpine, and they wrote music with Aldridge and later recruited Rock for the singer slot. This album came after Macalpine’s solo debut album on Shrapnel, an all-instrumental guitar number closer to the Vai/Satriani school of thought, so this was a big shift for his talents.

Project: Driver, at least in structure, is nothing more than Whitesnake-ripoff cock-rock. It’s not the kind of hair metal that slutty girls swoon over, and it’s not technically interesting enough to get away with it, like Dokken or something. MacAlpine’s guitar work is decent, but the straight-up, three-minutes-forty, verse-chorus-solo-verse songs don’t let him show anything off. Plus the production tries to go for a Poison/Motley Crue sound on a garage band budget. It’s not tinny as much as it is compressed. Add on top of it that this Rob Rock guy sings like an overweight Long Island dude in leather pants belting out some Bad Company karaoke after a few too many beers.

There are a couple of “theme” songs, like “Nostradamus,” which are so Spinal Tap in quality, you’d expect the band to pop out of pods on stage to those numbers. Oddly enough, the more sex-oriented tunes like “Fantasy” and “Slave To Your Touch” are actually a bit better, because Rock’s vocals seem more convincing, and the songs bound forward a bit better when they’re more conventional and not trying to re-live Stonehenge. (Oh, in the fadeout to the latter, however, Rock squeals “you can’t ex-cape!” Doh!) The album ends with two songs, “I Can See It In Your Eyes” and “You and I,” that I would never, EVER want to listen to in a car for fear of stopping at a light with my window down and someone pulling up next to me.

Here’s the kicker, though. As bad as this album is, I really LIKE it. I don’t know if it’s a shared memory experience thing, or if it’s that some of the songs are really catchy. I also really enjoyed MacAlpine’s solo stuff, and this dovetailed nicely because of his distinctive guitar sound. For whatever reason, I always found this tape sneaking back into the player, of course when nobody was around. And I was very excited when I finally hunted down a CD version of the 35-minute classic. (My tape, with white case, actually had black oil stains on it from listening to it when working on my old car.) Anyway, I don’t expect one god damned person on this earth to understand why I like this or to like it themselves, but it’s one of many guilty pleasures, and I still like listening to it.

Rating: 7