Monday, March 16, 2009

1982--The Other Year of the Album, Part 1

I enjoyed reliving the great year in music that was 1981 so much, that I decided to do a similar review of the following year, 1982, which I remember well because it was the year I graduated high school and started college and it was another pretty good one for album releases.  This was also the year I made the jump from 8-track to cassette player in my car, which naturally offered me more versatility in my listening choices, plus options that 8-tracks didn’t have: namely fast-forward and rewind!  Some of those albums on cassette were instrumental in getting me through that first semester in college at UMKC as I drove to and from class.

Slightly different format this time, as I’ve grouped the albums in different categories according to their overall impact and status in the careers of the artists.  This chapter will cover the comebacks, disappointments and clunkers, while Part II will feature the debuts, breakouts and the better overall albums of ’82.  Enjoy the ride…


TED NUGENT—Nugent  It looked for a while like the Nuge might actually survive his near-fatal career mistake from the year before—the disastrous Intensities In 10 Cities fiasco—with Nugent, his first album on his new label, Atlantic Records.  He at least partially atoned for the substandard quality of Intensities with some decent songs and the return of longtime singer and rhythm guitarist Derek St. Holmes.  Journeyman drummer Carmine Appice also joined Nugent’s band and sounded pretty good on tracks like "Good And Ready", "Fightin’ Words" and the album’s centerpiece, "Bound And Gagged", Nugent’s response to the 1980-81 Iran hostage crisis.  That song sounded great back then, but Nugent’s pseudo-patriotic chest-thumping and right-wing ranting rings very hollow and shallow today.  Anyway, while Nugent was hardly Cat Scratch Fever or even Free-For-All, it was definitely a step in the right direction for Ted. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t make another decent album again until 1995, when Derek St. Holmes returned to the band once again.  You’d think Nugent would catch on sooner or later and keep this guy around longer…

ELTON JOHN—Jump Up  EJ's gradual comeback from his late ‘70s musical purgatory commenced with 1981’s semi-decent The Fox album and continued here.  Not-so-coincidentally, the quality of his music improved exponentially as he reunited here with longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin, as well as his backing band from his ‘70s heyday, Nigel Olsson, Davey Johnstone and the late Dee Murray.  While not really chuck-full of major hits, there was good stuff to be had on Jump Up, namely "Dear John", "Where Have All The Good Times Gone?" (not the Kinks song of the same name that Van Halen covered in ‘82), "Blue Eyes" and "Ball And Chain", which featured a guest appearance by The Who’s Pete Townshend.  The best track, by far, was "Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)", which is easily the best of the John Lennon tribute songs that flooded the market in the early ‘80s.  EJ and the boys also hit the road during the summer and played what turned out to be the greatest concert I’ve ever attended.  To paraphrase a tagline from a movie that was very popular at that time, "He’s baaaaaack!"

PAUL McCARTNEY—Tug Of War  Big Macca also came out with his best album in years in 1982 with Tug Of War, and it too featured a John Lennon tribute, the long-anticipated "Here Today".  While not nearly as poignant as Elton’s "Empty Garden", it was certainly a far superior response to JL’s death than "It’s a drag, innit?"  TOW also had some fun tracks like "Take It Away", "Ballroom Dancing" and "Get It", a duet with the late Carl Perkins.  I had to take points off, however, for the insipid duet with Stevie Wonder, "Ebony And Ivory". Another popular phrase from that time sums up my feelings on it:  "Gag me with a spoon!"

KISS—Creatures Of The Night  Ahhhh, finally the Kiss we all knew and loved was back!  Well, not quite the Kiss we all knew and loved, but a reasonable facsimile, anyway.  Ace Frehley and Peter Criss were gone (although Ace’s mug graced the original COTN album jacket anyway), and Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley decided to quit trying to please the critics and/or cater to Top 40 audiences and got back to the down-and-dirty heavy metal sound they were originally known for.  Although he sounded a bit too military-marchy in places, late drummer Eric Carr stood out on Creatures, and it’s anyone’s guess who played lead guitar on this record (Bob Kulick, Vinnie Vincent, the Man from Glad, who knows?), but this was easily the most consistent Kiss album since the Bicentennial.  "War Machine", "Killer" and the title track were my personal favorites, and Stanley’s almost-mournful "I Still Love You" surprisingly became a Kiss concert staple in the ‘80s.

STEVE MILLER BAND—Abracadabra  We were only four years or so removed from the Space Cowboy’s Fly Like An Eagle/Book of Dreams heyday, but the Gangster of Love slipped badly and put out a flop of an album in ’81, the one containing "Heart Like A Wheel" on which Steve was nearly yodeling.  Good ol’ Maurice rebounded nicely with this little hunk of magic, and the title track hit #1 in the summer of ’82.  The follow-up single, "Keeps Me Wondering Why", wasn’t too shabby either.  Haven’t heard much from the Pompatus of Love since, though…

CHICAGO—Chicago 16  Chicago is another act that was just a few years past their '70s halcyon days, but following the tragic 1978 death of guitarist Terry Kath, they lost their way a bit.  They found it again in the summer of ’82 with big hits "Hard To Say I’m Sorry/Get Away" and "Love Me Tomorrow".  Their next album in ’84 would be even better…

SUPERTRAMP—Famous Last Words…  Well, not really their last words, but FLW was indeed their final album with singer/keyboardist Roger Hodgson.  As was the case with AC/DC in the wake of the monster that was Back In Black, Supertramp had the no-win chore of topping their magnum opus, 1979’s Breakfast In America, so most anything they came out with would’ve been disappointing in comparison.  The opening track, "Crazy" (not the Patsy Cline number) wasn’t bad and the hit single "It’s Raining Again" was just okay, but it was the album’s closer that was easily the best song, Hodgson’s melodramatic plea, "Don’t Leave Me Now".  The rest of the band members should’ve serenaded him with it, because one can easily see what RH brought to the Supertramp table by listening to their post-Hodgson output in the ‘80s, which was pretty flaccid.

R.E.O. SPEEDWAGON—Good Trouble  Same scenario as Supertramp above, trying to follow up a killer album.  Trouble wasn’t a bad record, really, but it was no match for its predecessor HI inFIdelity, and accordingly, didn’t sell nearly as well.  "Keep The Fire Burnin’" was the only hit single from it, but "Stillness Of The Night" was a good song, and I really liked the album’s closing title track.  Like Famous Last Words…, AC/DC’s For Those About To Rock, and Elton John’s Caribou before it, Good Trouble was destined to disappoint, irregardless of its true merits.

APRIL WINE—Power Play  As I stated in my recap of AW’s Nature Of The Beast, it appears they shot their creative wad on that album, because this was a really bland follow-up to it.  The single "Enough Is Enough" wasn’t all that bad, but the rest was just plain plain.  The only other thing that came close to a standout track was the contrively-titled "If You See Kay", and they also included a remake of The Beatles’ "Tell Me Why", which they slowed to a crawl.  Please tell me why they did that, will ya?

VAN HALEN—Diver Down  Yes, this one sold pretty well and did have a couple really good tracks on it, but it should’ve been so much better!  With no less than four cover songs (five, if you count the silly one-minute a capella closer "Happy Trails"), three short instrumentals and a running time of 31-and-a-half minutes, Diver Down came across as a rather half-assed effort.  Of the original songs here, "Hang ‘Em High", "Little Guitars" and "The Full Bug" were quite tasty, and of all the cover songs, "Pretty Woman" was a killer, but the rest were so-so, at best.  Eddie, Michael and Alex didn’t even want "Dancing In The Street" on the album, but Diamond Dave got his way, and it wound up being a big radio hit.  Successful, yes, but Diver Down was a big letdown for me coming on the heels of the outstanding Fair Warning.  The next one, 1984, wasn’t much better, either…

PETE TOWNSHEND—All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes  Given the stellar quality of 1980’s Empty Glass, I expected big things from Chairman Townshend on Chinese Eyes, but was left a bit wanting.  To his credit, Pete got clean and sober during this time, but his music was almost as unfocused as the increasingly bad haircuts he was sporting then.  This is not to say that Chinese Eyes sucked altogether—it did have some standout songs like "Stop Hurting People" (the horns on which sounded like they were lifted from a Barry White record), the rapid-fire "Communication" and "The Sea Refuses No River".  The closing track, "Slit Skirts" is one of my favorite Pete songs ever, with lines like "No one respects the flame quite like the fool who’s badly burned", "Have to be so drunk to try a new dance", and "Can’t pretend that growing older never hurts".  In retrospect, even "Face Dances (Part 2)" was a lot better than the Who album it was named after, and Chinese Eyes does sound better to me now than it did in 1982, but it still feels like Townshend was underachieving here.

THE GO-GO’S—Vacation  By all accounts, this album was a rush-job, as the Go-Go’s pulled out of a tour opening for The Police to re-enter the studio to cash in on the unexpected success of their first album, Beauty And The Beat.  Not much good new material here, except for the title track, and much of the album was made up of songs that were already staples of their live act like "Beatnik Beach", "He’s So Strange" and their cover version of the Capitols’ "Cool Jerk".  Classic case of too much, too soon, unfortunately.

BILLY SQUIER—Emotions In Motion  Another victim of high expectations, although EIM out-sold its predecessor, the far-superior Don’t Say No.  "Everybody Wants You" is an Album Rock standard, the title track was pretty good, and I loved "Keep Me Satisfied", but the rest of this one left me really flat.  Sad to say that things would only get worse for young master Squier next time out—"out" being the operative word…

CHEAP TRICK—One On One  After breaking out in a major way in 1978-79 with Heaven Tonight, At Budokan and Dream Police, Cheap Trick stumbled into the early ‘80s and had trouble rediscovering their winning formula.  Bassist Tom Petersson got bored and left the band and was replaced by Jon Brant, but CT needed a more potent jump-start than he could provide.  One On One yielded the bland minor hit "If You Want My Love (You Got It)" and one killer track, the classic "She’s Tight", but the remainder was rather forgettable.

QUEEN—Hot Space
  Talk about your letdowns!  Queen had the world by the balls in 1980 with what I thought was their best album ever, The Game, and while it would’ve been difficult to top that one, they didn’t even bother to try!  Instead, they added horns to several tracks and put out a bunch of pseudo-R&B stuff that just left the fans scratching their heads.  True, Hot Space contained "Under Pressure" with David Bowie, but it had already been a hit single long before the album came out, and the only other acceptable track was "Life Is Real (Song For Lennon)", which I’d rank second behind Elton’s "Empty Garden" for best Lennon tribute song.  It would be a while before Queen regained their core audience.

HEART—Private Audition  Even Ann and Nancy Wilson themselves rate this one a clunker.  The lead-off track, "City’s Burning", wasn’t bad, and I remember a song called "The Situation" that was okay, but the rest of it pretty much sucked.  The band was in disarray by that time, and the rhythm section of Steve Fossen and Mike Derosier would soon be jettisoned in favor of ex-Spirit/Firefall bassist Mark Andes and ex-Montrose drummer Denny Carmassi, setting the stage for Heart’s successful mid-‘80s comeback.

BLACK SABBATH—Live Evil  Whatever good karma Ronnie James Dio and Black Sabbath had during the Heaven And Hell era had long evaporated in the wake of the disastrous Mob Rules album and accompanying 1981 concert tour, which resulted in this putrid "live" album.  I put live in quotation marks because this album sounded highly touched-up to me, and according to the good Dr. Sardonicus, Dio did indeed tinker with some of his vocals for it.  Plus, Dio doing Ozzy’s old songs like "Paranoid" and "Children of The Grave" bordered on sacrilege.  Live Vile might’ve been a more suitable title, here, and Ozzy had the last laugh with his own 1982 double-live Sabbath opus, Speak Of The Devil, which I will profile in Part 2.

1 comment:

Mr. Mike said...

Nice selection of records, I had some of those! Power Play was the start of April Wine's one good song per album rule, I liked the opener "Anything You Want You Got It".