The Speed Of Sound

Ronnie Montrose

Enigma, 1988

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Up until this album, the ’80s had been a decade of uncertainty for Ronnie Montrose fans. After starting off with the great promise of Gamma 2 (1980) and 3 (1982), things fell apart. There was talk of a duo album with 3 keyboard player Mitchell Froom that never materialized, a long wait for the patchy solo disc Territory (1986), and a misfire in the form of 1987’s cold metal album Mean, released under the Montrose banner.

Neither of the latter pair lived up to the promise of Montrose’s talent. And then along came the solo album everyone had been waiting for: my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 The Speed Of Sound. Ten tracks of intense, often brilliant instrumental guitar excursions, a stripped-down, no-nonsense, Ronnie-and-a-rhythm-section shred-fest. Bassist Glenn Letsch (Gamma) and drummer Johnny “Bee” Badanjek (Mitch Ryder, Edgar Winter) are more or less a footnote here, but set a solid foundation for Montrose throughout.

True to its name, the album is dominated by high-velocity numbers like “Mach 1,” “Sidewinder,” and “Windshear,” each arranged to spotlight Montrose’s surging, shearing riffs and incendiary soloing. In terms of sound, this self-produced disc carries a bit of an ’80s sheen, but with the focus on big guitars delivering sleek, heavy riffage, the production actually suits the music well.

Of course, Montrose doesn’t shed his quirks entirely. Tracks like “Hyper-Thrust” and “Zero G” add atmospheric synthesizers from guest Patrick Feehan, while “Monolith” deploys purposefully odd chord changes to create a musical tension that’s never quite resolved. As has often been the case on Montrose’s solo albums, the slower songs are at least as interesting as the more aggro workouts—numbers like “Black Box,” “Outer Marker Inbound” and the aforementioned “Zero G” might be slower-tempoed, but they’re no less passionate and inventive.

Tipping his hat to his solo debut Open Fire and its transformation of the 1961 nugget “Town Without Pity” into a guitar showcase, Montrose also delivers a spectacular cover of the Tornados’ 1962 No. 1 hit “Telstar,” turning the original’s eerie experimental keyboard melody into a tidal wave of triple-tracked guitars (acoustic rhythm, electric rhythm, electric lead) punctuated by an explosive, ascending solo.

The Speed Of Sound was the guitar-hero album Ronnie Montrose fans had been dreaming of for years, and what it occasionally lacks in subtlety, it makes up for with intensity, not to mention killer tone from start to finish.

Rating: A-

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