Ambrosia’s 1982 Road Island was not so much a return to form as an exit from what I like to call their “Michael McDonald/Pablo Cruise” years. The sound on this album is not really prog, but much less R&B and a lot more R&R! It is yet another direction for the band. It is unfortunate that this would be their swan song.
Things begin very interestingly with “For Openers (Welcome Home) as big monster 80s drums come in and a David Gilmour-esque lead guitar sings a bluesy riff. This is perhaps the most progressive song on the record. It comes off as a cross between The Wall-period Pink Floyd and 80s Genesis. It also has a superb vocal by guitarist David Pack with very few of the signature harmonies they are so well known for.
As on every Ambrosia album, vocal duties are split between Pack and Joe Puerta with at least one piece sung by drummer Burleigh Drummond. It reminds me of the arrangement that Lennon and McCartney used to have with George Harrison in the Beatles. Puerta has tremendous vocal talent and takes lead for “Still Not Satisfied.” Sung with his warm and rich baritone it reminds me of early Michael McDonald with the Doobies, though Puerta’s career predates McDonald’s by a couple of years.
Pack’s approach definitely seems to have changed on this album, both in his playing and vocalizations. “Kid No More” is pure rock and roll and sung with a wild abandon, coming off like Styx’s Tommy Shaw singing Rockabilly. With all this rock and rolling going on with these first three songs you may wonder (or not) what happened to the band that produced all those R&B ballads like “Biggest Part of Me” and “How Much I Feel.” This record’s “Feelin’ Alive Again” is not on par with the quality of the aforementioned decent pop songs, but it is a contribution to that style. Truly, much of this record is not on par with most of their past work.
“How Can You Love Me” is another good pop-rocker. ”Fool Like Me” is a nice ballad sung by Joe Puerta. Puerts never sang any of the hits, but his voice is always a treat. It features a nice groove and some sweet harmonies. “Ice Age” is confusing as it tries to be progressive in scope, but always feels like it falls just short of its goal. Although it has a nice, rolling bassline and instrumental breaks with time changes over a seven minute duration, it’s nowhere near what this band used to produce on the first two albums. It then ends quietly with the dissatisfying “Endings.” Although this last tune does have another Gilmour inspired guitar solo.
This album forged a new direction for the band they never got the opportunity to realize. They veered away from the R&B-Pop direction they had been mining for the last two records and took a R&R stance that might have been interesting to see flourish. In the Prog-verse, Road Island is a step above 1980’s One Eighty, but nowhere near the quality of their first two masterpieces. Once again, not prog, but not straight ahead pop either.
Reviewed by Terry Jackson on March 27th, 2012