Saturday, May 25, 2013

REO Speedwagon: Sadly, Not Really A Wagon, And Not Very Speedy Either

REO Speedwagon - the name sounds like a cross between R.E.M. and Jefferson Airplane. If only they were actually that. No, REO Speedwagon were run-of-the-mill arena rock. I don't remember much about REO Speedwagon from my childhood, and it's probably for the best. Occasionally I would hear snippets of their hits on those "Best of the '80s" TV infomercials, but that's about it. Still, I didn't think I could do a series on the Most Powerful '80s Power Ballads of Incredible Power without covering REO Speedwagon.

So, I looked them up on AMG, and I read Stephen Thomas Erlewine's review of their highest rated album, Hi Infidelity:
Many albums have scaled to the top of the American charts, many of them not so good, but few have been as widely forgotten and spurned as REO Speedwagon's Hi Infidelity ... This is the sound of the stadiums in that netherworld between giants like Zeppelin and MTV's slick, video-ready anthems. This is unabashedly mainstream rock, but there's a real urgency to the songs and the performances that gives it a real emotional core, even if the production keeps it tied to the early, previsual '80s. And so what if it does, because this is great arena rock, filled with hooks as expansive as Three Rivers Stadium and as catchy as the flu ... the album's title isn't just a clever pun, but a description of the tortured romantic relationships that populate this record's songs. This is really arena rock's Blood on the Tracks ... let's face it, their records were usually hit-and-miss affairs. But they did get it right once, and it's on this glorious record -- if you need proof why arena rock was giant, this is it.
"Arena rock's Blood on the Tracks"? All right. I was sold. I downloaded Hi Infidelity, and you know what? Erlewine may be on to something.

The album's big #1 hit, "Keep On Loving You," is one of those songs I never much cared for, but it's been growing on me. Or rather, let me just say that I am going to "keep on" listening to it. Lead singer Kevin Cronin, perhaps unintentionally, reveals the power ballad's potential roots in country music, drawing out the r's in "Fer-eh-verrr" so hard he would make Conway Twitty blush.

No, my favorite power ballad from Hi Infidelity would have to be the album's second biggest hit, "Take It on the Run," which only peaked at #5 on the charts, but peaked at #1 in my heart. The song's protagonist appears to be a victim of the game Telephone: "Heard it from a friend who/Heard it from a friend who/Heard it from another you'd been messing around." You know, you might want to verify that information with a primary source before you get all torn up about it.

While the opening is certainly arresting, it's those three big, heavy descending notes directly before the chorus that gives the song its oomph. With a power ballad, often it's the build-up that's just as key as the actual chorus. Picture this song without those three notes. It would be crap. It would be total crap. You wouldn't want this girl to take anything on the run - whatever "taking it on the run" means, because I don't exactly know. Actually, I heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend who heard it from a friend that it's ... Texas slang for diarrhea?

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