The Diva Station

Ronnie Montrose

Enigma, 1990

http://www.ronniemontrose.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/08/2020

After the success of 1988’s heavy, intense instrumental guitar album The Speed Of Sound, the obvious thing for Ronnie Montrose to do would have been to either evolve or outright duplicate its approach—which helps explain why he did nothing of the kind. From the beginning, the more anyone tried to convince Montrose to conform to expectations, the harder he fought against them—especially the music industry types who never could manage to trap him in any of their creative boxes. As an artist, he was simply untamable.

Which brings us to The Diva Station. In a catalog filled with creative left turns, this album challenges Territory for the title of the sharpest set of curves Montrose ever negotiated over the course of a single album.

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“Sorcerer” opens things up with flair, moving from moody atmospherics into an explosive hard-rock workout that feels like a postscript to Speed Of Sound. “Weirding Way” is similarly muscular and assertive, but with a nice bluesy strut to it. Later on a pair of tone experiments at the tail end turn out to be highlights, with the searching “High And Dry” giving way to the shimmering, ever-so-slightly discordant “Solitaire.” 

In between those stronger tracks, though, things get genuinely weird. Sonic experiments are to be expected, but the willfully strange “Little Demons” is out there even for Ronnie, a gnarled exercise in anti-melody, and the vocal-effects-laden “Choke Canyon” isn’t far behind.

The decision to add three vocal tracks to this otherwise instrumental album only furthers the impression of a jumbled stew with mismatched ingredients. Two of the vocal tracks thankfully feature Gamma vocalist Davey Pattison: the airy, mid-tempo title track, and bluesy love ballad “Stay With Me.” Neither is especially memorable, though both offer evidence of the pair’s natural affinity. The third vocal track, “New Kid In Town,” featuring the anonymous “Boris” on bass and vocals, is one of the most pedestrian, forgettable tracks in Montrose’s entire recorded catalog and you’re left wondering how it got here at all.

After this patchy but determinedly different outing, Montrose would spend the rest of the decade following his inscrutable muse wherever it led, including to another purely instrumental album (1991’s Mutatis Mutandis), a reunion tour with Pattison behind the 1992 Best Of Gamma compilation, the terrific instrumental power trio disc Music From Here (1994), a two-year foray into blues-rock for the Mr. Bones game soundtrack (1996), and his first all-acoustic release (Bearings, 1999), before finally returning to the original Montrose hard-rock-with-vocals format in 2001.

Ronnie Montrose was a sonic adventurer, and like every single one of his albums, The Diva Station has moments where his inimitable passion and mastery of tone shine through. That said, it’s not one of his strongest outings.

Rating: C+

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