People love a good underdog story. The sports team that shouldn’t win, but perseveres against all odds and pulls off The Big Win with an unbelievable goal in the last seconds. The little David who takes on some kind of Goliath and slays the giant. The band who plugs along just below the Big Leagues, releasing a solid string of quality albums that, for whatever reason, never quite Break Through.
Sometimes we love an underdog story so much we create one that isn’t quite there. The tale of the Tygers Of Pan Tang is something like an underdog story. It’s one that I’ve been guilty of telling before, and it goes like this: Formed in 1978, at the beginning of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, these Whitley Bay lads released their first and best album in 1980. Wild Cat was a fun collection of street-level hard rock, mixing AC/DC barroom bluster with punkish toughness, the latter largely due to its roughshod production and Jess Cox’s nonexistent vocal range. By the next year, Cox was gone, in his place the much more melodic Jon Deverill, and a second guitarist was added in journeyman-to-be John Sykes (later of Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake, and Blue Murder). With that revamped line-up, the Tygers dropped a more polished effort in Spellbound, one suitably strong but lacking in the brawling charm of the debut. At this point, they stood with the big dogs; they coulda been contenders…
But from there, the Tygers descended further and further into party rock mediocrity with each successive album, finding some modest success with The Cage and The Wreck-Age, despite both being almost entirely awful. The band finally called it quits after the AOR disaster of 1987’s epicly terrible Burning In The Shade, by which point only Deverill and drummer Brian Dick remained.
And that’s why the Tygers’ underdog status isn’t entirely warranted – for a minute they stood beside the Saxons and Ravens. but it’s not so much that they got left behind as it is that they went off in the wrong direction. In the end, two great albums in forty years doesn’t really make up for a catalog mostly filled with poofy-haired sub-Journey radio rock, no matter how goofily likeable the band is.
Reformed in the new millennium by founding guitarist Robb Weir, the Tygers are now five albums into their rebirth, and to put a bright side on it, this self-titled effort is the best thing they’ve done since at least 1981’s Crazy Nights, maybe even Spellbound. Granted, that’s not saying all that much; though they’re universally better than the Tygers late-80s crapula, all the other reunion efforts are still plagued with mediocre songwriting and cock-rock clichés. (Except for 2004’s Noises From The Cathouse, which opens with the sleazy Crue-ish “Bad Bad Kitty” and then abruptly turns into the Tygers’ take on Fates Warning wannabe moodiness, to about as good a result as you’d imagine.) Though there are moments of merit on Animal Instinct and Ambush, neither strings together enough quality to rise above its own ultimate mediocrity.
So Tygers Of Pan Tang is better than that, yes – that’s the good news. And the bad news is that it achieves that improvement by having about four strong songs, out of eleven, which you may notice is not all that many. Opening track “Only The Brave” sports a straight-forward NWOBHM riff that could be construed as generic if it wasn’t so simply effective, and the melodic chorus hook is ear-candy, I’ll admit, but again, it’s effective. The same can be said for “Dust” and “Never Give In,” almost verbatim, although both are a heavier take on that same formula. The album’s best track is the driving “Blood Red Sky” – not surprisingly, it’s also Tygers’ most metallic number. If the band stuck to these types of tunes, they’d have an absolute gem of a new NWOBHM record. The production is stout; the band plays these four with suitable energy, and vocalist Jacopo Meille has a smooth voice with just enough bite to keep the edges rough.
But… of course, there’s the rest of the album. The acoustic “Angel In Disguise” is a two-minute love song, more of an interlude than anything. Still, at least it avoids the power ballad weakness of “The Reason Why,” which cops a verse melody close to “Black Hole Sun” and marries it to Bon Jovi-esque arena rock, and yet is still better than the stillborn “Praying For A Miracle.” The cover of Kiki Dee’s “I Got The Music In Me” is unnecessary, but at least unobtrusive, and the unskinny bop of “Glad Rags” is catchy but, at best, a guilty pleasure.
I’m the first one around these parts to sing the praises of Wild Cat or Spellbound – and particularly the former – but I’m also the first one to point out that the Tygers haven’t captured that greatness in thirty-five years now. Tygers Of Pan Tang is a step in the right direction, for sure, and it clearly shows the path, but there’s still work to do. If you simply can’t get enough AOR-style hard rock, then you’ll likely like this more than most, but if you’re looking for some long-lost flash of NWOBHM underdog brilliance from these old cats, then you’ll only be halfway happy.