Project Rod Williams is an electro-dance pop studio ensemble which is the musical brainchild of songwriter/musician Rod Williams. Musically, it is a fusion of classic 70’s disco music like Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer, 80’s synth pop such as Depeche Mode and Erasure and more modern pop artists like Justin Timberlake and Pharrell Williams. Rod has collaborated with lead vocalist Ben Dial on this album with additional vocals by Matt Williamson, Hannah Montwill, Nataly Andrade and Alex Silva.
The album, Fire, consists of eleven tracks (also featuring club mixes of nine of the songs) and has a conceptual theme. Half of the songs on the album are about enjoying the passion and seduction of nightlife and the other half are about the longing and pain often brought on by romantic relationships. The album is due for release on January 7th, 2019.
Opening track Let’s Get Out is the perfect representation of the Project Rod Williams sound and style. It grabs you from its opening bars with infectious percussion locking in with an alluring 70’s disco-style bassline. This is soon augmented by syncopated 80’s-esque synths before breaking into a full, very danceable beat that gets the toe tapping. The smooth lead vocals of Ben Dial enter the picture and his voice brings to mind cutting edge modern pop like Maroon 5 and the more recent work of Justin Timberlake. Alternate lines are layered with backing harmonies so that the music is constantly evolving and developing.
Thematically, it exemplifies the concept of the songs that celebrate living the good life, with the lyrics highlighting the appeal of escaping the daily grind by looking forward to Friday night and the weekend: “We work all week from nine to five, making money to live our lives…..”. The extremely catchy refrain captures this joyous feeling succinctly: “Leave our problems at the door, laugh, jump and scream, let our hearts be free…..”.
This is followed by an equally memorable chorus and Rod Williams shows his ability to make every part of the song a hook, a hallmark of the best pop songwriters. After the second chorus it enters an excellent breakdown section with a sophisticated vocal arrangement that brought to mind the finest Michael Jackson songs arranged and produced by Quincy Jones.
Second song Come On continues the lyrical theme but is musically quite different; smoky Rhodes and a more complex and unusual rhythmic pattern. There is a more rocky feel to the seductive and raunchy lead vocal performance, fused with Vince Clarke (from Erasure and one time member of Depeche Mode) style pulsing, futuristic-sounding synths. The descending vocal melody is fiendishly catchy, with an overt sexuality to the sultry lyrics: “I see you staring across the room, your eyes are saying what you want me to do….”. Great track.
Third song Hot To Trot returns to the more traditional dance rhythms of the first track but stands out for the addictiveness of the title hook and for featuring some very funky Nile Rodgers-esque high end electric guitar. Indeed, the way the song celebrates the hedonistic side of life (“We can be flirtatious, lose our minds and act outrageous…”) made me think of Rodgers’ classic group from the 1970’s, Chic. This infectious style is combined with low-end synths and piano lines with occasional stabs of synthetic brass to create a potent sonic concoction.
Next comes Fire, the title track of the album. It maintains the funk guitar sound of the previous song, but has a more modern EDM four-to-the-floor beat, at least to begin with. Vocally, the breathy falsetto style made me think of Prince and one of the dance classics of recent years, Get Lucky by Daft Punk ft. Pharell Williams. Once again, the title hook latches in the mind upon first listen and the use of female foreign spoken word vocals lends an exotic flavour. The falsetto lead vocals are contrasted by a section of low-end male vocals that adds to the song’s very sensual theme.
The following Invasion feels in ways a continuation but has a more rock vibe, with some low end lead guitar lines which work well with the swirling synths. The lead vocals are this time contrasted by certain lines being whispered, which adds a lot of atmosphere and encapsulates the power of seduction which is this tracks subject matter: “I can’t fight the way you hypnotize….invade my body, invade my soul…you’re taking over me, you’re in control….”.
After this, the album switches to the second aspect of the album’s theme, the pain that comes from love. Sixth song Take Cover has a much more emotional tone after the light hearted and sexually orientated earlier tracks. It’s a mid-paced synth pop epic in 6/8 time, with lyrics that are rather deep and poetic, about the tempestuous nature of romantic love: “The sky will thunder tonight, from lightning sparks my rage ignites, when flames of passion burn high you better find a place to hide…”. This kind of emotive synth pop is more reminiscent of 80’s groups like Soft Cell and The Human League.
You Were My Lady is the first truly traditional love ballad on the album (the only one not written by Rod Williams) and it’s a very well crafted one with a lilting vocal melody. It allows lead singer Ben Dial to perform in a more gentle and sensitive way, which he achieves with distinction. It’s a rather moving song about reflecting on happy times after a relationship has ended, then contrasted with the stark reality: “Now that house is empty, the music’s gone from the radio that used to play that song….”.
Bad Boys Don’t Cry returns to the more uptempo synth pop style whilst maintaining the lyrical theme of this half of the album. Musically, it has a real Giorgio Moroder vibe with rhythmic synths driving the song along. It’s about how men are not supposed to appear vulnerable or sad when going through heartbreak and contains yet another strong title hook. Ninth song Broken is rather more angry in its tone with some rather visceral lines: “Fake love you gave to me, filled my blood and clogged my veins…”.
Though the following I Say contains similarly downbeat and tormented lyrics, musically it is one the lightest moments, recalling the euphoric anthems of Erasure. The vocal melody is irresistible, providing another fine example of Williams’ melodic consistency and also features a superb synth section comprising several combined sounds.
The album ends on a rather melancholy but poignant note, with the heartfelt ballad Nobody Wants To Know, which features lead vocals from Matt Williamson. Matt powerfully conveys the troubled nature of the lyrics about not feeling supported by friends during dark times: “Can’t they see the tears I try to keep concealed?“. The music builds as the song progresses, with a sky-scraping string arrangement that closes the album on a musical high, even if the words are sad.
Overall, this is a modern pop album of a very high calibre that fuses the synth pop of the 80’s with the euphoric sound of 70’s disco, then brings it into the 21st century with cutting edge production. Aside from one track, Rod Williams has written, arranged and produced the whole thing which shows his artistic versatility. The album feels like a real labour of love and runs the gamut of emotions, from joy to despair. As if that’s not enough, the album comes with club mixes of nine of the songs, tailor made for the dancefloor. Put simply, Fire is an album laden with killer pop tracks of wide ranging appeal and has enormous commercial potential worldwide.
VERDICT = 9.1 out of 10
Release date: 7th January, 2019
Listen to the album here:
Listen to the club mix of Come On: