Some of us, at one point or another, have actually wondered, “Whatever happened to Aldo Nova?” Well, apparently he’s living a fine life in Ireland, having recently written songs for the likes of Faith Hill, Celine Dion, and American Idol‘s Clay Aiken. He also produced Dion’s A New Day Has Come. For those of us who remember Nova fondly, we’re glad to hear he’s doing well, even if he seems to have found strange, even surreal, creative bedfellows.
For the rest of you, who are going, “Who the hell is Aldo Nova?”, let’s jump in the wayback machine for a minute. It’s 1982, right before America’s finest hair spray companies began reporting record profits, before Madonna v1.0 unleashed midriff-baring scandal upon the land, and when MTV concentrated on a little thing called music. It was a time when you could have a video where you get out of a helicopter in a skin-tight leopard-skin outfit, blow doors open by shooting laser beams from your guitar, and it would be cool — not Darkness-style camp. Oh, those heady days before Poison held us in their lacy grip!
Nova figured into all of this with a little tune called “Fantasy”, a visionary song (and no, I’m not being sarcastic) that merged hard rock guitar, ’80s synthesizers, and pop hooks in a way that was still only a glimmer in Bon Jovi’s tousled skull (Nova would actually play guitar on Bon Jovi’s first hit, “Runaway”, as well as on the Young Guns II: Blaze of Glory album). Sure, it starts off with a whole minute of helicopter and sci-fi sounds, but the guitar riff that kicks off “Fantasy” still holds up. Two minutes into this song and you’re back in the Camaro, tooling around and singing along to your mix tape that features not only “Fantasy”, but ’80s hard rock stalwarts like the Scorpions’ “No One Like You”, Rush’s “New World Man”, and Dio’s “Holy Diver”. It’s not Will Ferrell’s character in Old School rocking out to Whitesnake while he works on his muscle car — but it’s close.
Aldo Nova can be praised or blamed for a lot that came after in the following years (it hit Number 8 on the Billboard 200, so it it was definitely on people’s radars), so in the intervening decades, some of it obviously comes across as a little dated. The guitar/keyboard combos on “Hot Love” and “See the Light” sound like they could just as easily be scoring an ’80s teen comedy’s triumphing-over-geeky-adversity canoe/ski/bike/foot/boat race. Even in the synthesizer-drenched “Heart to Heart”, though, a furious guitar solo clues you in to the fact that Nova was a little ahead of his time. “Ball and Chain” and “Can’t Stop Loving You” are picture-perfect power ballads of the sort that would soon make everyone from Dokken to Warrant very rich.
To be sure, Nova benefited from them, too, but his subsequent records lacked the fire that fueled the best parts of his debut. The softer, poppier aspects of his sound would become only more pronounced, and he faded from the scene except for very sporadic album releases that failed to gain much attention. All of Nova’s musical traits, though, from the hard rock riffs to the tender ballads are on Aldo Nova, and apart from his career retrospective A Portrait of Aldo Nova, this is really the only place to look for his best stuff.
So it’s a slightly uneasy ride listening to Aldo Nova again. The album’s best songs triumph because of Nova’s sense of pop hooks, his strong guitar playing, and the no-holds-barred approach he takes to the whole thing. On the other hand, it’s hard to listen to some of the synthesizers, and to some of the ideas that others would quickly turn into cliches. Still, Aldo Nova definitely makes you realize that not all your guilty ’80s pleasures have to be that guilty.