Nelson - Imaginator

Nelson – Imaginator

90 / 100

Matthew and Gunnar Nelson wanted to release as a follow up to the smash 1990 debut.

Written by: Toffeepop

ARTIST: Nelson
ALBUM: Imaginator
LABEL: Victor
YEAR: 1996
CD REISSUE: Discogs Reissue List

LINEUP: Matthew Nelson – vocals, bass * Gunnar Nelson – vocals, guitars * Bobby Rock – drums * Brett Garsed – guitars, vocals * Paul Mirkovich – keyboards, vocals * Joey Cathcart – guitars, vocals

TRACK LISTING: 01 On Off * 02 Sinners Inc * 03 Do You Believe In Religion * 04 Kiss Me When I Cry * 05 I Don’t Mess Around, Boy * 06 Sooner Or Later * 07 We Always Want What We Can’t Get * 08 It’s Your Body * 09 She Get Down * 10 Tell Me * 11 Greed * 12 Action * 13 Ain’t Nothin’ Really Changed * 14 We’re All Alright * 15 The Judas Mirror * 16 In A Perfect World * 17 Imaginator



In his foreward to the 1993 Kerrang! Book of Heavy Metal, Metallica‘s James Hetfield sarcastically japed that LA cock-rockers Ratt were positively thrash metal in comparison to the blond-haired fluff of Nelson.

Hetfield wasn’t the first to take such a cheap shot and may even have had a point, but when ‘Imaginator’ eventually surfaced (after four years on the shelf) in 1996, he wouldn’t be the only one who had his prejudices contradicted by the so called ‘Timotei Twins’. Because, quite simply, ‘Imaginator’ rocks. Big time. Even a lethal karate kick from Gunnar (who is a black belt) couldn’t be as explosive.

Interestingly, this concept album (dealing with the dangerously hypnotic effect TV holds on society) was the record which Matthew and Gunnar Nelson wanted to release as a follow up to the smash 1990 debut – the hit ‘After The Rain’. Instead, Geffen, frightened that the concept of ‘Imaginator’ was not the easy-on-the-ear AOR that proved such a success first time round, rejected the record.

It forced Nelson to produce the acoustic flavoured ‘Because They Can’. Understandable label politics perhaps, but the fact remains that despite it’s heavy and thematically dark approach, ‘Imaginator’ still contains all the elements of classic Nelson – but with the guitars cranked up a notch or ten.

The Songs

Take ‘Kiss Me When I Cry’ – a song which contains all the melody and hooks you would associate with a co-write between Matt, Gunnar and Jack Ponti. Just like ‘Sooner Or Later’, this is pure, unashamed, melodic hard rock at its finest, but with a mildly dark and disturbing edge. Instead of the lost and spurned love of the debut, betrayal, deceit manipulation and anger are common lyric themes throughout ‘Imaginator’.

However, the strong harmonies, solid playing and well-crafted melodies of the debut remain in abundance. Interestingly, the original ‘After The Rain’ band survive on this release, but songwriting collaborators don’t include Marc Tanner. Instead the influence of Michael Rapheal is apparent on many songs such as ‘Do You Believe In Religion?’ which kicks things off with a blistering attack on the new age of Televangelists.

The first of two Nelson/EnuffZ Nuff collaborations, ‘She Gets Down’ also stands out directing it’s energy at sleazy US politicians, and is a heavier song than either band has ever produced. But Matt and Gunnar manage to mix the aggressive power of the songs with outstanding and creative harmonies and choruses.

Whether or not better production could have given ‘After The Rain’ a tougher sound is debatable, but this time the production is without fault and allows master skinsman Bobby Rock to show upstarts such as Lars Ulrich just how to pound drums, while Brett Garsed shreds the living daylights out of his guitar. Yet the album is not without it’s softer side.

‘We Always Want What We Cant Get’ and the gorgeous ‘Tell Me’ are primarily acoustic based (and I defy the hairs on your neck not to stand up during the emotive opening of the latter) but both pack a punch lyrically. But just when we think that Nelson have only briefly flirted with a heavy approach, along come ‘We’re All Alright’ and a cover of ‘Action’ to firmly put us back in our place with yet more razor sharp guitars.

‘We’re All Alright’ is the boys’ second crunching collaboration with Enuff Z Nuff which has a markedly darker feel than their version, while the version of The Sweet‘s ‘Action’ stands head and shoulders above the Def Leppard version.

Yet Matt and Gunnar save the best till last in my opinion with the breathtakingly good instrumental title track and ‘The Judas Mirror’ – a slow paced rocker with an astonishingly effective gentle opening – which stands alone as the finest song Matt and Gunnar have ever written. In terms of the concept, this is the moment of clarity when the album’s protagonist Leonard The Unlikely finally realises the hold TV has on him.

In Summary

As well as the songs, numerous non-musical interludes of excerpts from TV shows are interspersed throughout, a la Queensryche. And some full-on liner notes (including an ‘un-apology’ to Geffen A&R guru John Kalodner and an extract from Henry Rollins) further enhance the channel hopping concept of ‘Imaginator’.

Whether or not ‘Imaginator’ strayed too far from Nelson’s AOR roots is another matter, but nobody can deny the sheer quality of this awesome album, which proves their musical diversity and shows another side to the brothers’ incredible talent. Maybe it was therapy for Matt and Gunnar, but Nelson well and truly exorcised some demons with this record – The Timotei Twins? On this evidence Matt and Gunnar are more like the Titanium Twins.

As for Hetfield, he should be forced to eat humble pie for his comments while Gunnar practises some of his Kung Fu moves on him, now wouldn’t that be a joy to watch!

Nelson on Video

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