Tom Keifer’s blues-drenched voice was a signature sound of 1980s and early ’90s hard rock – a voice that, unfortunately, has been silent for nearly 20 years, with no new recorded output from his band Cinderella and no solo efforts. Keifer’s long-awaited solo debut, “The Way Life Goes,” then, is accompanied by quite a bit of intrigue, or, at the very least curiosity. Will Keifer simply rehash the pop-metal glory of his heyday? Or will he go in a completely different direction, latching onto some current trend?
The answer, thankfully, is neither. A mix of strong, bluesy hard rock but with much less gloss than the songs he has come to be known for, thoughtful ballads and pure, unadulterated barroom rock, “The Way Life Goes” is quite a strong record. It’s a fun listen, and one of the few hard rock albums to come down the pike recently that boasts as much substance as style.
Fittingly, Keifer blasts out of the gate with a piercing wail to kick off “Solid Ground,” a hard-charging number. With guitar-heavy choruses and gospel-tinged background vocals, it follows in the footsteps of The Faces and the Black Crowes. “A Different Light” is, well, quite different, a well-polished ballad that showcase Keifer’s softer vocal side. The song would not sound out of place on the modern country charts. The dirty, riff-driven “It’s Not Enough” brings back the no-frills rock.
One of the album’s highlights is “Cold Day In Hell,” a crunchy slab of Stones-y swagger. Harmonica and irresistible rhythm guitar give it the feel of latter-day Stones. “Ain’t no bottom feeder now/ Ain’t gonna pull you from the gutter again,” Keifer sings before a triumphant chorus. You can even hear some Mick Jagger in Keifer’s vocal delivery, but when he takes it to the stratosphere on the choruses, it’s something all his own.
Two ballads in a row, “Thick And Thin” and “Ask Me Yesterday,” are up next, the latter featuring a nice acoustic guitar riff. “The Flower Song” is a unique moment, a rustic, mid-tempo track that finds Keifer “watching all the pretty girls go by.” He acknowledges his “wandering eye has brought some rain,” but assures his girl “Of all the pretty flowers/ Baby, I picked you.” It’s a heartfelt sentiment, delivered with appropriately sunny music.
“Mood Elevator” is snarling hard rock in the vein of vintage Aerosmith, while “Welcome To My Mind” is metallic and harmonica-laden, including humorous lyrics about talking to your toaster and Hare Krishnas on the doorstep. “You Showed Me” is another ballad, and Keifer shines vocally, especially when he hits a high note at the end. Keifer, however, might have been better off if he limited the ballads to two or three instead of four.
Kiefer closes “The Way Life Goes” with three strong rock tunes: “Ain’t That A Bitch,” “The Way Life Goes” and “Babylon.” “Ain’t That A Bitch” includes some tasty guitar riffs and funky organ, while “The Way Life Goes” is down-and-dirty blues with a rocking chorus.
Of all the songs on the album, “Babylon” probably hews the closest to the Cinderella sound, with a giant chorus of “nah nah nah nah nahs,” but it sounds fresh and vital – like the rest of the record.
If any questions remained regarding Keifer’s abilities as a singer or songwriter, he’s obliterated those queries with “The Way Life Goes,” an album that, hopefully, is just the beginning of a new chapter in the musician’s career.