"Highway to Heartbreak" (Frontiers Music, SRL; 2020)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

There's a point where AOR music—and I like AOR music—gets a little too poppy for my taste. And, boy, on Stardust's "Highway to Heartbreak," they come about as close as they can without stepping over that line.

"Highway to Heartbreak" starts out with "Runaway," a track that begins with a little synthwave riff that morphs into a driving rock'n'roll song. It's really what we came for—a radio-friendly song that's still got some meat to it. Next up, however, is a cover of Pat Benatar's classic "Heartbreaker" and it's like its been gutted. The vocals are soft, the music has no sharp edges ... it's a wilted version, at best. "Bullet to My Heart" is next and it begins with something that sounds a little like something Ozzy would have recorded a decade ago, but it softens out rather quickly, too. And track four, "Perfect Obsession," just about shuts the whole thing down. It's a sappy, pop ballad that is just a little too much.

I won't bore you (like "Perfect Obsession" does) with a track-by-track rundown here. Let me just say that, when Stardust kicks it up a notch, "Highway to Heartbreak" rocks pretty well. "2nd Hand Love" sounds like vintage Def Leppard and "Highway to Heartbreak" stays pretty solid from that point on, with "Can't Stop Lovin' You" being the ballad we wanted to hear, and the surprisingly robust "Hey, Mother," holding up the back end.

Look, I know that Stardust isn't supposed to sound like Slayer or Motorhead or even KISS or Motley Crue but I was still hoping for a little nudge in that direction (well, Motley Crue and KISS, maybe, not Slayer). "Highway to Heartbreak" shines the most when the music gets turned up a notch. Don't get me wrong. I like most of the tracks on this album. It's just that ... well, I don't like the others.

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Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.

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Copyright © 2020 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.