Starbreaker - Dysphoria

Starbreaker Dysphoria cover
Frontiers Music srl
Tony Harnell barely needs an introduction, as his days in Norway’s TNT are pretty well documented and almost all of his other projects, be it, the solo releases, the Westworld albums (with Riot’s late guitarist and fellow New Yorker Mark Reale and Danger Danger’s Bruno Ravel) and indeed the Starbreaker albums have received critical acclaim. When it comes to the latter, the eponymous debut that came out in 2005 was a pretty awesome “diversion”, but 2008’s “Love’s Dying Wish” was pretty bleak and dark. More than a decade later, a third chapter comes around with the introduction of “Dysphoria”, a Greek word, for feeling uneasy, agitated, generally in a bad mood, that somehow doesn’t quite seem to be characteristic of its content that seems to be more cathartic than anything else.
Opener “Pure Evil” is a dynamic rocker that grinds away a neat riff, despite the fact that Harnell effortlessly flies above it all, while emoting in a fairly poignant way by adding whispered “replies” to his own lines, which creates a mystifying atmosphere.
“Wild Butterflies” has a more modern touch, a rocking ballad not too dissimilar to what Harnell was doing on the first couple of Westworld albums. And what a chorus, that’s only complimented by a matching wailing and blues infused solo. Perfect.
“Last December” follows suit in not a much dissimilar way… probably just going further in, with its melancholic elements, but also its bizarrely uplifting chorus, which is not exactly lyrically happy, other than offering some “cathartic” release.
“How Many More Goodbyes” is another of the batch of songs that Frontiers published. It’s another contemporary sounding melodic smooth rocker that never really unfurls into a full blown rock out fest, but still manages to keep the listener’s interest, all the same.
“Beautiful One” begins as a fragile piano ballad (also offered in an acoustic rendition for Japanese editions), but has Harnell going of the deep end and probably using the top of his modal register, with Magnus unleashing a flurry of notes, solo (I like to call em flurrious) before Harnell finishes the whole business in a fitting way.
The title track, “Dysphoria”, is a claustrophobic rocker, with a nice riff and nice verses, with a chorus that’s a little unusual, but not bad, just quite unexpected and an electrified solo that might have begun life as a more fusion-y affair. In the grand scheme of things, it works, despite making you raise an eyebrow about some of its melodies.
“My Heart Belongs to You” is a dynamic piece that can’t decide if it’s a ballad or a rocker and ends up occupying a grey area between the two. It drops its “defenses” in a couple of cases (chorus certain verses) and it’s so much nicer for that… and for its inspired solo, as well.
“Fire Away” had me paying more attention to the lyrics (mostly about the toxicity in interhuman relations today) than its music, which sort of takes a bit of a back seat. It’s not bad, but it’s probably either a little less inspired than other stuff on the album, with maybe my ears becoming a bit over-saturated by slower/mid tempo stuff at this point.
“Bright Star Blind Me” opens with some sweeping keys, before heavy modern guitars take center stage, which didn’t exactly seem thrilling at first, but as Harnell laments the first verse and goes onwards; it somehow demands your attention and manages to get it. It’s a dramatic anguished rocker, done right and its release through the chorus simply feels elating.
“Starbreaker”… feels like somebody took a Purple-ish riff and “blueprint” and re-engineered it in the 80s, throwing a bizarre “hairy” Hollywood rock mantle over it. It doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the album, but at least its rocking style allows the album to close on a high note.
The acoustic version of “Beautiful One” has a different, more spontaneous vocal and it’s more mellow nature and sole crescendo make it tower easily over the “album” version as it sounds a lot more genuine.
The album charted in the main category of the American Billboard charts signifying it, not only as a critically, but also commercially acclaimed release. “Dysphoria” is a perfect union between two talented artists; Magnus Karlsson, who despite spreading his talents a bit too thin over many projects, manages to shine quite bright on this one and one Tony Harnell, who despite having professional ups and downs and more than a few aborted reunions with TNT in the past decade, manages to concentrate his essence in probably the best album he’s done since… I dunno… probably TNT’s “My Religion”? That must have been fifteen or so years ago. Forever Shine On, then!