Friday, May 30, 2014

I Can't Stand Still: Maybe Cut Down On The Caffeine A Little?

While it's terrible that Don Henley couldn't stand still, at least unlike Lionel Richie, he could slow down. Even though it only peaked at #24, even though only one song from the album ever appears on Henley Greatest Hits CDs, and even though BMG probably sold about a third as many copies of it in the mail as they did Building the Perfect Beast and End of the Innocence, I really can't stand the short shrift that's been given to I Can't Stand Still. I like it more than The Long Run, at least; it's funnier, looser, and more cohesive, although sadly it doesn't credit nearly as many attorneys in the liner notes.

Henley cuts right to the chase on the opening title track, putting the big drums and crawling synthesizers right out front where no one could miss 'em. It's 1982, and the man's going all in. He rides that state-of-the-art production over a slow, urgent R&B groove until the sunscreen bottle's all emptied out. Side note: if Jimi Hendrix had lived long enough to play a solo on the Atari 2600, would it have sounded like the noise that appears at the 1:49 mark? It's also interesting how I still feel like, on a subconscious level, Glenn Frey is singing backing vocals. But ... but ... that's impossible!

The second track, "You Better Hang Up," is the best riff rocker Tom Petty or Aerosmith never made, and whoever played the cowbell didn't get enough credit.

But brace yourself, because then comes the Lecture Rock. No, seriously: in the music video for "Johnny Can't Read," Henley is literally giving a lecture in a high school classroom. Apparently he took it upon himself to write a zippy New Wave track about everyone's favorite subject: the slow decline of the American educational system. Over an arrangement that sounds like Springsteen giving a concert at the local Toys R Us, Henley eagerly celebrates the disgraceful illiteracy of the American high schooler. To paraphrase: We're all stupid! Who cares, we can blow shit up!
Football, baseball, basketball games
Drinkin' beer, kickin' ass and takin' down names
Well-a top down, get-a-round, shootin' the line
Summer is here and Johnny's feelin' fine

But Johnny can't read
Summer is over and he's gone to seed
You know that Johnny can't read
He never learned nothin' that he'll ever need

Well, Johnny can dance and Johnny can love
Johnny can push and Johnny can shove
Johnny can hang out, Johnny can talk tough
Johnny can get down and Johnny can throw up

Well is is Teacher's fault? Oh no
Is it Mommie's fault? Oh no
Is it society's fault? Oh no
Well is it Johnny's fault? Oh noooooo!

Couple year's later, Johnny's on the run
Johnny got confused and he bought himself a gun
Well, he went and did something that he shouldn't oughta done
F.B.I. on his tail, use a gun, go to jail

Well, recess is over
Recess is over!
Damn. And I was just about to plunk the fat kid in dodgeball too. Honestly, what jagged object could have possibly lodged its way up Henley's rear on that particular day? Did he go to the store and ask the teen behind the counter to name his favorite Faulkner novel, only to receive a blank stare in return? I mean, how the hell does Don Henley know whether America's youth is ill-educated or not? He just cruises around in his freakin' limo all day. Ease off the prune juice there, old geezer.

Still, there's something to be said for the senile rant, and the song concludes with some rare Henley free association, or possibly an attempt at rapping (?), which eventually culminates in the most unexpected impersonation of Fozzie Bear in pop music history.

And just as the Pretenders would do in a couple of years with "My City Was Gone," Henley decided to turn the Talking Heads' cover of "Take Me To The River" into a song about politics, in this case Cold War paranoia:
One finger on the button
One finger up his nose
Johnny's in some cornfield
The early warning blows

Bigger is better
More is more
Look up, America!
Gonna even up the score

Get ready boys
Third time's a charm
Don't need no sweater
It's gonna keep you warm
If we can't have the ball, there won't be any winner this time

Them and us
Them and us
Ashes to ashes
Dust to dust

In forty-five minutes
It'll all be done
We'll all be good and crispy
But we'll still be number one

And if things go from bad to worse
We can still kill them if they kill us first
"Don't need no sweater/It's gonna keep you warm"? "We'll all be good and crispy/But we'll still be number one"? OK, so Henley might be an arrogant liberal dickhead. But at least he's a funny arrogant liberal dickhead.

Of course, the album wasn't a complete and total re-invention for the erstwhile country rocker. "Long Way Home," "Talking To The Moon," and "Lilah" are rustic, folk-based ballads that could have been recorded in 1982 or 2012, which is not to say that they sound "timeless," but rather that they sound like standard-issue Baby Boomer comfort food - let's call it Garrison Keillor rock. However, I'm still trying to wrap my head around "La Eile," a 50-second Irish instrumental with lilting flute. Don Henley's ... a leprechaun? "Ah, laddie, this takes me back to those soft, spring days out on the pasture, picking potatoes, drinkin' whiskey, and eatin' Lucky Charms."

Equally strange is the album closer, a version of the gospel standard "The Unclouded Day." Henley's found the spirit! The man's been born again!

See, you give the man a solo album, and look what happens. I'll tell you one thing: there's no way Glenn Frey would have stood for any of this shit.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Actually, Fun Is Only One Of Many Things Girls Want To Have, But ... You Know What She Means

Thanks to Cyndi Lauper, for my entire adult life, I have lived under the mistaken impression that all members of the female gender only wanted to have what you might call "fun." This has turned out to be a gross exaggeration. To think - the many, many embarrassing evenings I might have been spared.

Let's try this again. There are great '80s singles, and then there's "Girls Just Want To Have Fun."

Fortunately, we live in a world where there's no need to name the greatest '80s song of all time, but if you said "Girls Just Want To Have Fun," I don't know if you would be wrong.

Let's lay out the case: 1) It is slightly feminist and political, but not too feminist and political, 2) It is really, really catchy, 3) It is so absolutely, unmistakably '80s.

Interestingly, it is also not a song that was written by Cyndi Lauper. Although it's hard to imagine, "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" was actually written by a man, in 1979 no less, but Lauper revised the lyrics and turned what might have been a complaint song into a celebration song. To arguably state the obvious, I don't think she means "fun" so much as "independence" or "freedom." It's sort of an odd feminist declaration of victory in a way. Perhaps by 1983, women had earned a different kind of right: the right to not have to be so serious all the freaking time. Or the right to get dirty like the guys:
Some boys take a beautiful girl
And hide her away from the rest of the world
I want to be the one to walk in the sun
Oh girls they want to have fun
If, as Cat Stevens once said, "Ooh baby baby it's a wild world," Cyndi is not afraid.

And with a song this catchy, why should she be? I don't think I could ever get sick of hearing "Girls Just Want To Have Fun." They could tie me to a chair, lock me in a cell in Guantanamo Bay, and attempt to torture me by playing the song over and over again for weeks on end, but after every spin, as the spit and blood dribbled down my chapped lips, I think I'd still be ready for more. Things that make this song great:
  1. Her voice. She sounds like a gangster's moll from a '40s movie. She sounds like Judy Holliday or Eartha Kitt. When she holds a note, near the end she slips into a little yelp. Every now and then she sounds like she's coming down with the hiccups. Her voice is kind of screechy and whiny, but somehow not irritating.
  2. The opening. It's just a synthesizer glissando that travels across the stereo channels, but really, what could beat it?
  3. The quasi-reggae production. No one ever thinks of it as such, but "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" is basically a reggae song. Jah mon. It has this kitschy keyboard on the right channel that bounces on the off-beat, and a funky guitar which plinks and plucks over on the left channel. I think this is what gives the song its groove. And don't forget the reverb-heavy electric guitar and piercing synthesizer, lumped together in the center channel, which grab a little more attention as they punctuate the end of the chorus.
  4. The solo. This is perhaps the greatest moment of all, played by what sounds like a keyboard made out of dripping linoleum faucets?
Notice, too, that the song pretty much ends by the 2:35 mark, and yet there's a whole extra two minutes of coda, because hey, when you're having fun, you're having fun.

I'm probably incriminating myself again, but until about three years ago, I don't think I'd ever seen the video for this song. Before I typed the title into YouTube's search field, I thought to myself, "This video better be fun. If the video for 'Girls Just Want To Have Fun' isn't actually fun, then what is the point of it all?" Thankfully I don't have to renounce my faith in whatever deity I'm supposed to believe in, because this video is so much fun, even the film negative had a good time. Hell, just take the first five shots:
  1. A frazzled, put-upon, prototypically New York woman (who is apparently Cyndi Lauper's real-life mother), sitting at a kitchen table, monotonously cracking eggs and looking at her watch in exasperation, while scratchy vaudevillian piano plays in the background.
  2. A cheap stop-motion special effect of Cyndi Lauper flying across a New York street, timed to the opening keyboard glissando.
  3. A wide shot of Yer Generic New York street, slick with recent rain, and Cyndi Lauper bopping along without a single care in the world.
  4. A cut back to the exasperated mother.
  5. A medium dolly shot of Cyndi in Official Cyndi Wardrobe (pink dress, fur scarf, enough bracelets to open her own pawn shop), still bopping along vigorously, saying hello to a man with a dog by forcefully tapping her hat (I should try this sometime). You have to wonder: when the camera wasn't rolling, did she just walk down the street like this all the time?
More ways in which this video is fun:
  • (0:49) A shot of Cyndi's hand clutching a rotary phone, halted by a larger, hairier hand: her father! (played by wrestler Captain Lou Albano).
  • (0:54) Her father shakes his finger and mouths the words "what'choo gonna do with your life" while Cyndi very obviously continues to the sing the words on the actual soundtrack.
  • (1:01) She (impressively) manages to pin her father against the wall, he stumbles away in defeat, she picks up the phone, realizes it's upside down, but hey, no matter, she's too busy having fun, she just flips it around and keeps on singing.
  • (1:12) The campy montage of Cyndi calling all her friends on the phone, straight out of a Doris Day/Rock Hudson movie.
  • (1:33) I guess the director didn't know what to do during the dripping faucet solo, so he just shows Cyndi and her friends bouncing around inside a ... glass sphere? Which then breaks into a thousand pieces and joins back together again, while other little multi-colored balls flow upwards in the background, because, you know, multi-colored balls. Despite major advancements in special effects technology since then, I don't think this could actually be improved upon.
  • (1:53) A clip of some silent movie where a caveman appears to be bringing a woman to his dungeon?
  • (1:57) The close-up of Cyndi when she sings "I want to be the one to walk in the sun" ... there's something almost chilling about it. It feels so ... iconic. The way she tilts her head, and puts those sunglasses on, with the lip stick, and those earrings ... it's like the very primal essence of youth and joy.
  • (2:52) Of course, no '80s video is complete without a scene of people dancing in the middle of the street for no reason, and "Girls" does not disappoint. But how many of those videos have a Groucho Marx lookalike (according to Wikipedia, Cyndi Lauper's attorney) being dragged along into the mayhem?
So yes, I know that girls want to have more than just fun. But from the looks of it, Lauper and her cohorts pretty much had fun, and nothing else.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Go-Go's' B-Sides (Get An "A" In My Book)

You wouldn't expect that a band with only a three-album discography would have tossed off too many rarities or B-sides in their day. And you would be correct. But there are three such items in the Go-Go's catalog - one for each album, in fact. Surprise of the century: I like all three. And why do I like them, you ask? What I like about the Go-Go's' B-sides is that they're all wildly different from each other and they each reveal an overlooked aspect of the band's sound - only fitting for an act whose influences, according to AMG, included X, Lesley Gore, Darby Crash, The Monkees, Patti Smith, and The Ohio Express. You know, the usual. So before I finally delve into the band's untimely demise, I thought I would take one last look at their musical brilliance, which, honestly, shines through even in their scraps.

Here's a genre that was not at its peak in 1981: instrumental surf rock. Charlotte sought to single-handedly rectify that situation with the B-side to "Our Lips Are Sealed," "Surfing And Spying." Well, it's not entirely an instrumental, since it does contain two lyrics. Those lyrics? "Surf" and "Spy." To quote Oscar Wilde, "Brevity is the soul of wit." The band shouts the crucial words at the 0:39 mark with a sneaky, tongue-in-cheek, echo-heavy menace. Eat your heart out, Dick Dale.

The serious gem of the B-side litter (argue with me if you dare) is probably "Speeding." Like much of the material on Vacation, this B-side to "Get Up And Go" was a leftover from the Beauty and the Beat days, but with its rockabilly guitars and kitschy keyboard, it eats the A-side for breakfast. You mean to tell me there was room for "Cool Jerk" on the album, but they couldn't find space for "Speeding"? Get that coke out of your ears, girls.

The lyrics use driving as a metaphor for ... drugs? Sex? Sex and drugs? How about all of the above? Belinda's not picky. She lays into the opening lines as if she'd just tooted up five seconds before the tape started rolling:
I can't explain the way I feel
Each time I get behind the wheel
The rush of blood comes
As the power surges
And my right foot urges
The car to push on through the night

Driving faster
Driving past the scenery
On pretty view and
Feel the speed and
I don't dream of
Driving slow some other time

One thing I'm certain that I know
All I want to do is go go go
Everything is rushing by
My heart is pounding deep inside
Got to match the engine's pace
Win imaginary race - yeah!

Driving faster
Driving past the scenery
On pretty view and
I feel as though I've
Got to control my
Reckless need to speed and speed
And speed
And speed
And speed
And speed...

Initially I was crestfallen to think that such a first-rate Go-Go's track would have languished in obscurity as the B-side to a single that hardly anybody actually bought anyway, but I breathed easier when I learned that the song received an extra dose of exposure by being included on the Fast Times at Ridgemont High soundtrack. Although both "We Got the Beat" and "Speeding" appeared in the actual movie (which, by the way, I have only seen in pieces), only "Speeding" made it to the official soundtrack album, which, also by the way, is a serious repository of Yuppie Rock sleaze. I guess when Rolling Stone journalist Cameron Crowe is your movie's screenwriter, you can round up a fairly A-list line-up for your soundtrack album: Jackson Browne ("Somebody's Baby" anyone?), Jimmy Buffett, Graham Nash, Donna Summer, Stevie Nicks, Sammy Hagar, Quarterflash - they weren't farting around. Hilariously, the album almost functioned as an Eagles re-union as it featured solo tracks from not one, not two, but four former Eagles: Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Timothy B. Schmit, and Don Felder (I didn't even know Don Felder could sing). But one name was conspicuously absent. Still bitter, Glenn? At any rate, surrounded by all that Dad Rock, "Speeding" comes off like a wild blast of unbridled punk fury, the Go-Go's' only partners in youthful vigor on the soundtrack being I.R.S. label mates Oingo Boingo.

Finally, "Good For Gone," the B-side of "Head Over Heels," might be the weirdest B-side of them all. Imagine if the Go-Go's tried to do some sort of jaunty, big band, lounge-pop shuffle. Well, imagine no longer, because here it is. I can see why the band might have felt that this one wouldn't have fit in with the rest of Talk Show, but I'm glad it found its way out somehow. Still, if you can't exactly see Belinda Carlisle as the reincarnation of Ella Fitzgerald, you may not be alone.

In sum: among the many observations that one could make about the Go-Go's, in praise or in scorn, let it not be said that they lacked diversity.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Michael's Back! In Shameless Posthumous Album Form!

You may have heard that a new Michael Jackson album was in the works.  This is the new single from the recently released album 'Xscape' and it actually sounds pretty good.  It sounds like it belongs somewhere between Off the Wall and Thriller.  In fact, it sounds so spot-on vintage Michael that it sounds strangely out of place in today's modern soundscape.  But I admit, I kind of like it.  Take a listen:

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Joe Jackson Knows, And Gets, What He Wants: A Horn Section

One interminable sleepless night, sweating and fidgeting in his luxurious king-size bed, in his elegant Upper West Side apartment, a vision came to Joe Jackson: "Horns!"

My God. So simple and yet ... no one had thought of it before. What I'm talking about, of course, is Jackson's follow-up to Night And Day, 1984's Body And Soul. He could have just called the album Night and Day: Extra Horns Edition, as it boasts the same mixture of Tin Pan Alley jazz, salsa, and pop ... except there's a big horn section. Actually, there's a lot less synthesizer on Body And Soul, and yet strangely I wouldn't say this makes the album sound less dated than its predecessor. Some of the horns, as the live clips from the tour demonstrate, were even played by none other than his royal Joeness. It's like he was trying to be the Steely Dan of the '80s, but ended up being more like a one-man Squeeze. There are also two long, quasi-classical instrumentals called "Loisaida" and "Heart of Ice" that sound dangerously close to Yanni.

It's not all new age indulgence however. I dare you to resist "Happy Ending," a charming white soul duet with a female (A female! On a Joe Jackson album!) that would have turned Paul Weller green with sophisti-pop envy. Along the same lines, "Be My Number Two" is a relatively pleasant piano ballad that bears a bit of resemblance to Joe's earlier "It's Different For Girls."

But I'm not here to talk about the past. I'm here to talk about Body And Soul's main hit single "You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)" (which, peaking at #15, was Joe's Top 40 swan song), perhaps a sequel of sorts to the Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want," in spirit and title, if not in sound. I think by 1984, Joe had finally come to terms with the fact that, in the immortal words of Ringo Starr, "It don't come easy":
Sometimes you start feelin' so lost and lonely
Then you'll find it's all been in your mind
Sometimes you think someone is the one and only
Can't you see, it could be you and me?
But if there's any doubt
Then I think I'll leave it out

'Cause I'll tell you one thing
You can't get what you want
Till you know what you want
Said you can't get what you want
Till you know what you want

Sometimes you keep busy reaching out for something
You don't care, there's always something there
Sometimes you can't see that all you need is one thing
If it's right, you could sleep at night
But it can take some time
But at least I'm here in line
Me too, Joe, me too. I feel like "You Can't Get What You Want" is one of those rare '80s singles that is punchy and snappy and ingratiating and yet is simultaneously a bit philosophical and meditative. Or, as a somewhat funkier musician once put it, "Free your mind, and your ass will follow." I mean, this band is tight. Check out the nimble, almost minute-long guitar solo that starts around the 2:34 mark. And the bass. Whoever is playing the bass is really slapping the hell out of that bass. The "official" video is actually a live clip, but less discerning listeners might not even notice, as the performance sounds so similar to the studio version it's almost scary. And you thought James Brown was the hardest working man in show business.

But that's the thing. Although it's sort of an uptempo jazz-funk workout, whenever I hear "You Can't Get What You Want (Till You Know What You Want)," I hardly feel like shaking it out on the dance floor. Instead, the song always transports me to a smoky, wistful, yearning late-night sort of place - as a lot of Joe's music does.

Of course, the song's true claim to fame is that it appeared on my '80s Tape, sandwiched between "Kiss On My List" and "Head Over Heels," a killer sequence that led me to dub that section of the tape its "sweet spot." The version on the tape must have been a radio edit, however, as it chopped off the entire guitar solo and a big chunk of the closing vamp as well. I have never found that version anywhere. I'm not even sure if it was a "single edit." Joe must have been so pissed off at having his Yuppie Rock masterpiece chopped up like mincemeat that he made certain it would never appear on CD. Ever. That said, I still haven't become completely used to the flow of the unedited version, but thankfully, even the radio edit still included the tasty burst of saxophone that kicks in behind Joe in the middle of the third verse (at 3:27), as well as his distinctively garbled variation of "It can take some time," which comes off as more like "But it cay-un tu-hayyk suu-ahm trrii-ee-aymm." Also, extra points for the falsetto "Wah-hah-wah-hah" around 4:33. If what you wanted was to hear Joe Jackson attempt to sing like Ray Charles, then you definitely got what you wanted, and you may have even known it.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Dance ... And Pop ... Combined? AKA The Revenge Of Aerobic Rock

I believe it was Gandhi who once said, "First, they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win." I'm pretty sure he was referring to Aerobic Rock. Oh, how they laughed at Aerobic Rock. No music could have been more disposable, more frivolous, more transitory, they said. But Aerobic Rock, if only under a different name, was here to stay. A tweak here, a wardrobe change there, and Dance Pop, as it came to be known, took over the world.

Let me say this: the average rock and roll fan in 1985 probably would have laughed in your face if you'd told him that dance pop was going to be the future of pop music. But it may not be a stretch to say that more pop music after 1985 sounds like dance pop than it sounds like rock and roll. I request a rigorous scientific study on this topic please.

Basically, what we're talking about is the secret triumph of disco. They performed six autopsies, they wrapped the coffin in chains, they poured concrete on the grave. But like the T-1000, disco couldn't really be destroyed. You could freeze it in liquid nitrogen and shatter it into a thousand pieces, but it just melted back together and re-formed. First, it re-formed as Aerobic Rock. But Aerobic Rock was only a transient host for the ghost of disco, featuring too many one-hit wonders and aging MOR stars from the '70s to truly make a lasting impact. No, it needed to take a more effective, more permanent form.

I think the problem with disco was that, with a few notable exceptions, it was relatively faceless and lacked any sort of recognizable personalities. The key to dance pop is that the music is all about the star. Even when the star has nothing to do with the actual making of the music. Dance pop is all about image. The public needs a brand. They need a storyline. They need to see the young teenage girl gradually, album by album, dip just a little bit further into skankiness.

In another sense, you might say that dance pop was simply a continuation of New Wave, but I don't know if I can get on board with that. While dance pop may have shared with New Wave a fondness for 1) synthesizers, 2) drum machines, 3) catchy choruses, 4) music videos, and 5) concise singles, unlike New Wave, it shared almost no connection to punk. The artists and producers crafting dance pop records couldn't have cared less about equal rights, social justice, Reagan, Thatcher, overthrowing the "system," etc. They wanted to make hit fucking records. And make hit fucking records they did.

Well, somebody made them. At least we know who sang on them. Or at least, we think we do.

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.