Sunday, May 4, 2014

Fore! Scored And 28 Years Ago Our Yuppie Forefathers Brought Forth A New Nation

What happens when a band that already sounds slick and commercial tries to sound even slicker and more commercial-er? Fore! happens.

As if the album is all that much of a departure from Sports anyway. I mean, we're not talking the difference between Master of Puppets and Load here. Show me the man who likes Sports but doesn't like Fore!, and I will personally shake his hand. If anything, there might be at least a couple of sleeper album cuts on Fore!, whereas I felt like anything on Sports that didn't hit the Top 40 was sort of fore!-gettable. In his AMG review, however, Stephen Thomas Erlewine comes down on the album pretty hard:
Sports was one of the rare mainstream pop/rock albums where everything worked -- the songs were catchy, the sound was inviting, and it all sounded perfect on the radio. It would have been tough for Huey Lewis and the News to match its quality with the follow-up, Fore!, and it comes as little surprise that Fore! suffers from an overdose of the very things that made Sports nearly irresistible. Where the songs on Sports were so straightforward that they seemed inevitable, much of Fore! sounds labored, particularly when the News try to write a middle-class anthem ... That wouldn't be a big problem if the songs were as catchy as "If This Is It" or "Heart and Soul," but they aren't, and the sound of the record is so sterile that the News no longer sound like a working band. Fore! is a reasonably enjoyable facsimile of the pleasures of Sports, yet it lacks the gleeful sense of fun that made that record, as well as portions of Picture This, so enjoyable.
Buuuuuuuuurn. Too bad that probably about 98% of the human race isn't nearly this picky (besides, I'm even more of a renegade by preferring Picture This, so take that). For instance, Erlewine writes that the album's lead single (and the band's second US #1 hit) "Stuck With You," "where a married couple can't divorce because it would simply be too much hassle ... makes Lewis' complacent tendencies all too clear." Yeah, sure, the lyrics are pretty much the epitome of Baby Boomer apathy, but if you listen to Huey Lewis and the News for the lyrics, well, then you've got bigger problems than I do:
We've had some fun, and yes we've had our ups and downs
Been down that rocky road, but here we are, still around
Thought about someone else, but neither one took the bait
Thought about breaking up, but now we know it's much too late

We are bound by all the rest
Like the same phone number
All the same friends
And the same address

Yes, it's true, I'm happy to be stuck with you
Yes, it's true, I'm happy to be stuck with you
'Cause I can see that you're happy to be stuck with me

We've had our doubts, but we never took them seriously
And we've had our ins and outs, but that's the way it's supposed to be
Thought about giving up, but we could never stay away
Thought about breaking up, but now we know it's much too late

And it's no great mystery
If we change our minds
Eventually, it's back to you and me
As far as the tune itself is concerned, "Stuck With You" strikes me as a punchy retro British Invasion pop nugget that skips along with its chiming guitars and inventively-arranged backing vocals. The videos for Fore!, like the songs themselves, betray the expenditure of more money and effort without necessarily exuding more charm. The elaborate clip for "Stuck With You" takes the notion of being "stuck" with somebody literally, as Huey finds himself "stuck" on a deserted island with a beautiful young woman. With puns like that, who needs probing lyrics?

If you're not careful, you might get "Doing It All For My Baby" mixed up with "Do You Believe In Love," as I did for several years, but the earlier single actually had some angst in it. This one just has a blow-dried brass section. If Otis Redding had survived that fateful plane crash, become a drug addict, got jailed for tax evasion, played Vegas for ten years, and tried to make a mid-'80s comeback single, he might have sounded something like this. There's a music video somewhere inside this elaborate horror homage (around 3:40), culminating in the blood-curdling unveiling of FrankenHuey, and in a duel role, Huey attempts to play a mad scientist, but mostly comes off as a Doc Brown impersonator.

The rest of Fore! is pretty rough going. I'm not sure, aside from sheer commercial momentum, just how "Jacob's Ladder" became a #1 hit, given that it sounds like the band borrowed Journey's synthesizer for one afternoon despite not having an actual song to use it on. "Whole Lotta Lovin'" is like a budget-label re-make of "Rockin' Robin" that wasn't advertised as such on the CD so that the record company could circumvent the rights to the original recording (and, disappointingly, is not a Led Zeppelin cover), "I Know What I Like," which peaked at #9 despite my hardly remembering it, manages to drop a reference to the band's late '70s pub-rock buddy Nick Lowe's "I Love The Sound Of Breaking Glass" while also sounding like it was found in Bon Jovi's toilet bowl, and although Patrick Bateman calls "Forest For The Trees" "an upbeat antisuicide tract," I would recommend a 24-hour hotline or a quick spin of "Everybody Hurts" instead.

But don't toss away your copy of Fore! just yet, because, hot damn, there are some goodies at the end. Well, I don't know about "goodies," but at the very least, the last two tracks offer some diversity and unpredictability to the proceedings. As Bateman writes, "The nifty a cappella 'Naturally' evokes an innocent time while showcasing the band's vocal harmonies (if you didn't know any better you'd think it was the Beach Boys coming out of your CD player)." I doubt that anyone would mistake the News for the Wilson brothers, but while the retro arrangement could have come off as a gimmick, I think because "Naturally" is actually a well-written composition, it's more than just a doo wop experiment, and the distinct lack of generic '80s production also gives it some energy that the album's other cuts probably could have used. Sing away boys:

Likewise, the closing track, "Simple As That," is almost a Philly soul pastiche, with some unintentionally comical falsetto backing vocals that sound like they're politely asking Huey a question ("while the rich-man-gets ... fat?"), but hey, at least it doesn't feel quite so cookie-cutter. There's also a nice hint of the band's earlier working class resentment, although they sound too tired to even get up and grab the remote at this point:
You go to work, work hard all day
At the end of the week, you collect your pay
That's just where it's at
It's as simple as that

You pay your bills the best that you can
But the rising cost sure hurts a family man
While the rich man gets fat
It's as simple as that

And the money goes so fast it ain't funny

Your mind's made up to get that house on the hill
But you just don't know if you ever will
'Cause you can't get the cash
It's as simple as that

Cause the man from the bank, he won't give you a loan
Without putting a mortgage on all that you own
A tit for a tat
It's a simple as that

Before you know it the kids are all grown
And married off with kids of their own
And it's all in the past
It's as simple as that

You've reached the autumn of your life
And all that's left is you and your wife
And a dog and a cat
It's as simple as that

Ah, but amid this stew of harmlessness, there is, of course, one other single off Fore! that, at the time, may have seemed as cute and corny as the rest, but these days conjures up more terror than the most brutal Slayer track. Because, for our friend Patrick Bateman, nothing is as simple as that.

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