Tag Archives: Foreigner

Rocks In The Attic #465: REO Speedwagon – ‘You Can Tune A Piano But You Can’t Tuna Fish’ (1978)

RITA#465Thanks Moo. Thanks so much. You really shouldn’t have.

I always appreciate it when people give me records as gifts. There’s nothing more I’d like in the world. There’s nothing worse than receiving a gift that you’re just going to put at the back of a shelf to attract dust until you find it years later and end up throwing away.

At least with records, you always have them there to listen to if the feeling takes you. And when I feel the need to listen to some spectacularly titled AOR, it’s this album I always reach for.

That title though? Is there anything worse? I’m not sure there is. All of the dusty American rock bands of the mid ‘70s must have been shitting themselves when punk came along, and for some bands – Aerosmith’s Night In The Ruts is a good example – the new genre gave them a good kick up the backside. REO Speedwagon did something different though. They still continued to churn out the made moderate-speed moderate rock, but they just gave it a “funny” title that might appeal to the record-buying youth. I don’t think it worked.

Around this time – just before Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry met up and cursed themselves by naming their band so that their records would sit next to REO Speedwagon for the rest of eternity – there were so many bands of this ilk. REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Journey, Toto; I can’t really tell when one ends and another one starts. They’re all just very much the same in my mind. Toto get a pass because of Africa, and for their contribution to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, but all of the others can go and write some heart-wrenching pop together on a big desert island.

I remember being really amused when I was flicking through the racks at Beatin’ Rhythm in Manchester, and they’d put a load of (Journey vocalist) Steve Perry solo 7” singles in the Aerosmith section. Man, I bet they felt really stupid when they realised…

Hit: Roll With The Changes

Hidden Gem: The Unidentified Flying Tuna Trot

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Rocks In The Attic #317: The Joe Perry Project – ‘I’ve Got The Rock ‘N Rolls Again’ (1981)

RITA#317Like an STD he’s picked up from some filthy groupie, Joe Perry has got the rock ‘n rolls again. It’s unclear whether there’s a cure for this particular disease, but this is the ‘80s after all.

Perry’s second solo album during his brief split from Aerosmith at the end of the ‘70s is probably the best of the three. It really feels like a band effort in comparison to Let The Music Do The Talking, probably as a second guitar has been added into the mix, with vocalist Charlie Farren also providing rhythm guitar. The album also features South Station Blues – the one song from the project that was considered strong enough to feature on Aerosmith’s 1991 career retrospective Pandora’s Box.

Bass duties, like the first album, are taken up by David Hull – Aerosmith’s go-to guy over the past couple of years for filling in when Tom Hamilton has been sick. In a lovely display of word punnery, Hull changed his surname in the mid-‘80s to David Heit, so that he and Charlie Farren could get away with naming their band Farrenheit. At one time their music videos were in heavy rotation on MTV, but alas they didn’t enter the public’s consciousness like the Totos and Foreigners of the world.

I always wonder what those missing Aerosmith would have sounded like in the early ‘80s. I love 1982’s Rock In A Hard Place – it doesn’t get the respect it deserves, just because Perry and Brad Whitford aren’t on it (except for one song that Whitford plays on) – but it says something that Perry can produce three albums of material in the time that it took Tyler to get one out with his band of replacement guitarists. The toxic twins are always spoke of as being as bad as each other in terms of their drug and alcohol dependency back in the day, but it seems that Perry was able to get his shit together much better that Tyler ever did.

Hit: East Coast, West Coast

Hidden Gem: Dirty Little Things

Rocks In The Attic #307: Lorde – ‘Pure Heroine’ (2013)

RITA#307Last Wednesday night I stood on Auckland’s waterfront and watched a homecoming gig by a 17-year old New Zealander who had just won two Grammys in Los Angeles a couple of days before. As far as expecting to see things like this happen again, I think seeing Halley’s Comet before we’re next due to would be more likely.

Without consciously meaning for it to be, Lorde’s Pure Heroine has been the soundtrack of my summer – just like Tame Impala’s Lonerism was the soundtrack of my winter last year. I’d like to think I’d rate her without all the hype, but then again I can’t imagine I would have heard any of her music without it.

I remember seeing the first photo of her – a publicity photo in The Listener sometime in late 2012 or early 2013. She was just a cute girl (steady…) with nice hair, sat next to a dog and a couple of words about her being someone to watch out for. But the press is always full of next big things – if you always listened to journalists about these things, you’d be constantly let down.

Then all of a sudden, Royals is #1 in the US charts for nine weeks, and then at the top of the UK charts. The scary thing though was the sheer amount of whacky covers of the song that popped up on YouTube; and then of course New Zealand’s tall poppy syndrome rears its ugly head and she starts to be shot down online and in the press. You’d think music critics (and musos in general) who usually champion New Zealand music would welcome her success, but no, they’re happier supporting the likes of Anika Moa and Dave Dobbyn. In New Zealand, it’s considered successful if you’re famous in New Zealand and New Zealand only.

On Wednesday night’s concert, she rolled out album-opener Tennis Court mid-set. It’s my favourite song on the album and every time I hear it, I always think the world’s got it wrong with Royals. Part of the success of that song must surely be the fact that it’s essentially a nursery rhyme – I mean, we can’t expect the American record-buying public to have sophisticated tastes, can we? Remember, this is the country that gave us Foreigner and Toto.

But for me, Tennis Court is where it’s at. In fact, I wouldn’t have bought the album had I not seen the awesome minimalist music video for that song. Royals may have alerted the world to Lorde, but Tennis Court shows that she can produce music that’s world-class. The rest of the album is pretty strong too. I wouldn’t say that Joel Little’s production sounds particularly cutting-edge; if anything, it sounds like early-2000s downbeat electronica out of the UK – think Zero 7; but the centrepiece is Lorde’s voice, and while she may not be as retro-sounding as Amy Winehouse, Duffy or Adele, there’s still something special about her.

One little thing I like about the production on the album is its cyclical beginning and end – with ‘Don’t you think that it’s boring how people talk’ the first line on the album, and ‘Let ‘em talk’ the final line. I love that sort of thing, very Roger Waters at the end of The Wall – ‘Isn’t this where we came in?’

I guess we now have to sit back and see what Ella Yelich-O’Connor does next. I do agree that she’s currently the antidote to the Miley Cyruses and Katy Perrys of the world, so hopefully she’ll continue down that path and avoid the pitfalls of glamour and celebrity.

Hit: Royals

Hidden Gem: A World Alone

Rocks In The Attic #275: Van Halen – ‘5150’ (1986)

RITA#275Van Hagar’s first album is a ripper. I have a soft spot for it because my first guitar amp was a Peavey EVH 5150 model, and that beast got me through a lot of gigs; but I actually prefer this album to 1984 – usually seen as the peak of the band’s involvement with David Lee Roth. In fact, Diamond Dave’s solo album Eat ‘Em And Smile, released the same year as 5150 and with Steve Vai on guitar, is an overlooked classic – and those three albums together are a great trifecta of mid-‘80s rock.

Unfortunately – whether it be Sammy Hagar’s influence or not – this is also where Van Halen start to drift into the middle of the road (it’s probably also the influence of Foreigner’s Mick Jones in the co-producer’ seat). Until this point, I’d say they were probably one of the most cutting-edge bands of the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s. Now, with soppy ballads like Dreams and Love Walks In, they showed that they were making records for middle-aged people, not teens at keg parties.

I used to play this record over and over when I was at University, and this was probably the time I was most in awe of Eddie’s guitar playing. The guitar intro to Summer Nights is one of my favourite Van Halen moments – a wonderful showcase of his warped ability. Listening now, I can’t quite handle some of the most dated aspects of the album, like the God-awful synth on Dreams and Love Walks In. Eddie used synths masterly on 1984’s Jump, but here he uses them to soundtrack how they might be played in the kind of heaven where Kenny G plays God.

Thankfully there’s only one song on the album – opener Good Enough – where Hagar seems to be doing his best David Lee Roth impression. He wails over the rest of the album more in his own style, which I like much more than the whelps and screams of his predecessor.

My least favourite part of the album is the closing song Inside. This dirge-like song really leaves a sour taste in the mouth after such a sunny and upbeat album.

Hit: Why Can’t This Be Love

Hidden Gem: Summer Nights

Rocks In The Attic #264: Foreigner – ‘Foreigner’ (1977)

RITA#264This is Foreigner’s debut album. It has a terrible album cover, showing the band members wearing a selection of ladies overcoats, looking like a group of half-hearted transvestites.

As bad as the cover picture is, the album has Cold As Ice and Feels Like The First Time on it, so you can understand how this catapulted the band into MOR stardom.

Album tracks like the terrible Starrider show how weak the band can be – like an American version of The Moody Blues – but other cuts firmly place the band in the soft-rock category they made their home.

This is definitely one to throw at zombies in the back garden when the apocalypse comes.

Hit: Cold As Ice

Hidden Gem: At War With The World

Rocks In The Attic #232: Sad Café – ‘Fanx Ta-Ra’ (1977)

RITA#232The lady on the cover of this record looks like she’d be a great swimmer. Well, she’d definitely be a hit at the local pool anyway.

I’m not completely familiar with Sad Café, and given the lack of information about their albums on Wikipedia, it seems like the rest of the world isn’t either. They seem like the band that time forgot.

Produced at Strawberry Studios in Stockport, alongside fellow Mancunians 10CC (who they don’t sound a million miles from), Sad Café are a soulful AOR band from England’s northwest. Think Foreigner, but from Salford – which makes them sound much worse than they actually are.

Hit: Babylon

Hidden Gem: Shellshock