Death by Power Ballad: A Tribute to Marcel Jacob

Written by Music, Power Ballads

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Our DbPB salute to Jim Peterik will conclude in two weeks. We interrupt that series to mark the recent passing of one of the cornerstones of modern melodic rock, bassist Marcel Jacob.

My long addiction to music began in earnest when I was a young pup, living in New Jersey, gazing with awe at the record collections of my two cousins, who are, respectively, 10 and 6 years older than I. They had hands-down the coolest stereo system I’d ever seen (with separate friggin’ components—turntable, receiver, cassette deck and 8-track player—whereas I only had an all-in-one system), and probably 120 or 150 LPs apiece. They were both southern rock aficionados, so there were plenty of Skynyrd, Rossington Collins, Molly Hatchet, .38 Special, Charlie Daniels, Outlaws, and Marshall Tucker Band albums. They also enjoyed what’s become known as the Laurel Canyon sound (Eagles, Jackson Browne), as well as the home-grown classics from down the shore (Springsteen, Southside Johnny).

My favorites from their collections, though, were the arena rock of the day—among them Foreigner’s first record, Boston’s debut, Aerosmith’s first four or five records, Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger, Journey’s Departure, Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell, and that glorious run of Styx albums, from The Grand Illusion through Paradise Theater. I’d buy cheap 90-minute blank cassettes from K-Mart and my cousins would tape these records for me, two albums per tape. It was cool music by men with long hair and loud guitars—stuff my mother couldn’t stand and my dad would tell me to turn down.

One gets older, though, and one’s tastes go through phases. Over time, I’ve embraced folk music, had a lengthy affair with jazz, let punk help me voice my frustrations, chilled with trip-hop, mellowed out with country-rock, and invited countless other genres into my consciousness. I amassed an enormous collection of recordings that, much like my colleague Scott Malchus chronicles in his fine “Basement Songs” series, provided the soundtrack to a life, to my life, my own unique set of experiences, my loves, my triumphs, and my disappointments. I once read a quote from Robert Plant, in which he mused over bequeathing his record collection to his children when he dies, how those recordings would give them a well-rounded and accurate picture of who their father was. I couldn’t agree more.

One gets older, but one can return to what feels most comfortable, most comforting. Those arena rock staples that comprised much of my early listening experiences never left me, and I returned to them time and again over the years. One gets older and one’s favorite bands get older, too. Members come and go, or bands break up entirely. For a long time, my memory of that music seemed preserved in amber; it never got older, never got weaker. But it was never different.

That changed in the late 90s, when I discovered Talisman—an honest-to-God modern melodic rock band, still making the kind of anthems and powerful ballads I had fallen in love with as a kid. Built around two former members of Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force—vocalist Jeff Scott Soto and bassist Marcel Jacob—Talisman made arena-ready music as if it were 1985 again. Listening to their albums Humanimal, Life, and, later, Cats and Dogs and 7, it was as if glam and grunge had never happened—these records would have been quite at home in my adolescent record collection. No more amber preservation—rawk was alive! Aliiiiive!

Discovering them opened the door for me to find other bands of their ilk, still making music, albeit mostly in Europe and mostly on a small scale (and mostly for Frontiers Records, gawdblessum). It was a potent discovery, and my personal soundtrack has been richer for it.

Marcel Jacob, I came to find out, was the foundation of Talisman, not simply in his bass playing—which showcased amazing technique, always in the service of the song at hand—but in his songwriting and production work as well. Talisman songs leap out of whatever speakers the listener happens to be using, a testament to Jacob and Soto’s prowess with studio sonics. Theirs was a unique partnership, resulting in music that is both comfortingly retro and defiantly modern.

Jacob took his own life on July 21, shortly before Talisman were to begin work on their eighth album. Medical, emotional, and financial issues aggravated him for much of the last several years, though he kept making music right until the end (one of his projects, a band called Last Autumn’s Dream, released a very good record earlier this year). He gave little if any indication he was considering suicide. Soto, clearly devastated, noted in a blog post that he and Jacob had made plans for the Talisman project right up until the night before Jacob’s death.

I offer these examples of Marcel Jacobs’ art in the hope others discover this wonderful music and incorporate it into their own personal soundtracks. May he rest in peace.

Talisman—Seasons
Talisman—Sorry
Last Autumn’s Dream—Frozen Heart
Last Autumn’s Dream—Who Needs Love

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