Before we get to the review, let’s talk a little bit about Mike Varney. Back in the eighties, Mike Varney was a lot of things — a musician, a record collector, a writer for Guitar Player magazine, and the head of his own record label. As a young man, Varney founded Shrapnel Records, the first U.S. label dedicated solely to heavy metal. Shrapnel was known as a very guitar-centric label. Lots of hot shot guitarists (mostly “shredders”) recorded for Shrapnel in the eighties. Names like Becker, Friedman, Gilbert, and even Malmsteen (as a member of Steeler) appeared on the label.
One of the interesting things about they way Varney did business was that he would often find up-and-coming guitarists (or they would find him), and would then build bands around them. That is to say, he used his networking skills to assemble “projects”. But some of the time, these projects looked better on paper than they actually sounded on record. After all, this method wasn’t the most organic way to form a band. One has to call to question whether the elusive “chemistry” element was ever considered. Time may also have been a factor. Just how long did these guys work together to hash out their songs before they recorded them? I think this is one of the reasons that some of these Shrapnel projects missed the mark. Case in point: Project: Driver by MacAlpine Aldridge Rock Sarzo (M.A.R.S.).
M.A.R.S. was comprised of Tony MacAlpine (guitar and keyboards), Tommy Aldridge (drums), Rob Rock (vocals), and Rudy Sarzo (bass). This project was built around guitarist Tony MacAlpine. You can bet that Mike Varney had a hand in getting these four guys in the same room. (And a mighty big room it must have been to house these gargantuan hair-helmets — have a look at these guys! Nice shirt Tony!)
All four guys that were in M.A.R.S. have very long resumes. They’ve each played in numerous bands and on numerous albums. They’re the quintessential journeymen. Rudy Sarzo for example (and I say this every time his name comes up) has the unique distinction of being the only man to play in every band that ever existed. He was even in my band Beaver Tits for six hours in the autumn of ’97. Kidding. But what I am getting at is this — statistically speaking, it’s no surprise these four guys crossed paths at some point. At the time of Project: Driver, Aldridge and Sarzo were already well established in the industry. Rock and MacAlpine, on the other hand, were at the beginning of their careers.
Project: Driver is not a great album. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of ideas here. Though MacAlpine is supposed to be the star attraction, his riffs are surprisingly bland. He obviously put more thought into his solos than his riffs. As for Rob Rock, he certainly seems like he had something to prove. He was emotionally invested, I’ll give him that much. Rock’s performance is a melodramatic mix of Graham Bonnet and Ronnie James Dio. But the lyrics are cliché and some of the choruses are just laughable. My score: C+