*So, REO Speedwagon. I’ve heard of them. And as with Journey, I’m sure I’ve heard countless songs by them on the radio; it’s just that I’ve never noticed them or known who they were as I was hearing them.
*So, as with Journey’s Escape, we have a pretty popular album to deal with now. This was the top selling rock LP of 1981 and out of the ten songs on the album, six of them made the Billboard Singles list.
*So, in my pre-listening research I made the mistake of reading a completely lame-brained review on this album. I generally don’t read reviews until after I’ve written about the album and I never read them before I’ve heard the album, but for some reason, I read this brief AllRovi blurb before I heard the album.
*So, in the words of this review, Hi Infidelity was REO’s first real hit and the one that made them something like superstars. The reviewer maintains that they deserved the success of this album because, prior to this, they had been ‘slogging it out in the arenas’ of the world and thus had put in their time.
*Really? So, in this era of superstars that we have now, you don’t have to put your time in like playing seedy bars anymore huh? You can ‘earn’ your shot at fame by suffering through playing in arenas? Yeah, they’d obviously been really longsuffering to put up with all those sold-out arena shows. Jeez, what an idiotic thing to say.
*Of course, the review then closes by saying that this is arena rock’s great masterpiece and that, in fact, it is to arena rock what Blood on the Tracks was to classic rock.
*Oh, man, I literally laughed out loud. Nothing has ever been to anything what Blood on the Tracks was to, not just classic rock, but music in general, okay? Blood on the Tracks just changed the game completely, something like the third or fourth time Dylan changed music forever.
*Well, anyway, enough about that review. Let’s get to the actual album.
*So, the first song is Don’t Let Him Go. It’s advertised as having a Bo Diddley beat and I suppose it does. Not nearly as good a Diddley pastiche as U2’s Desire, though.
*Serviceable arena rock, by which I mean, it’s got an anthemic chorus and plenty of theatrics, but ten minutes after it’s over, you remember nothing about it.
*So, Keep On Loving You, the second track, was REO’s first number one hit. It is, of course, a MOR piano based ballad.
*With Follow My Heart, the album picks up somewhat. It’s got some nice guitar leads.
*In Your Letter, the fourth track just plunges into real pop brilliance. It’s a sort of 60s pop song and the band does it well. There’s a fantastic piano solo in the middle and it’s immediately followed by a purely great sixties organ riff.
*The chorus is a call and response in the classic sixties fashion: “In your letter” “(In your letter)” “In your letter” “(ooooh in your letter)” Etc. I mean, this is a really great pop song. It’s far and away the best song on the album.
*So, I have to say, I really actually kind of like Kevin Cronin, the lead singer here. He has an endearing delivery. Non-pretentious, but just a little idiosyncratic.
*So, the next song is very nearly as good. It’s Take It On the Run and it was also a big hit; I think it peaked at #5 on singles charts.
*It starts simply with an acoustic based strumming figure and then builds to a great anthemic chorus. And this one, like In Your Letter, is just incredibly catchy. I was humming this song for days.
*Heard it from a friend who/heard it from a friend who/heard it from another you been messing around/They say you got a boyfriend/Out late every weekend/They’re talking about you and it’s bringing me down/But I know the neighborhood/talk is cheap if the story is good/And the tale grows taller on down the line.
*Okay, so that’s not Dylan, but I think it’s pretty good. I actually really liked this song.
*So, essentially, here in the middle of this album, there’s a terrific run of four great songs in a row. Starting with In Your Letter, moving on to Take It On the Run and then here’s the third one, Tough Guys, which is a wonderful dismissive riff on the titular characters. This one just rocks pretty hard and I really liked it.
*They’ve got tricks but my baby got wise/so in case you haven’t heard, she doesn’t like the tough guys.
*And then, the fourth is the great minor key riff Out of Season. I mean, this chorus has a great hook. I was just sort of singing along with this one every time I listened to the CD. Like the previous three, this one just burrowed into my head and I just kind of rocked out to it for quite a while.
*So, then the album sort of blands out again. Shakin’ It Loose is a pretty typical song about getting all your demons out on the dance floor, you know. It’s okay, but not nearly so great as the previous four songs.
*Someone Tonight, the ninth song, is entirely forgettable.
*And it ends with another ballad, Wish You Were There, which, like Keep On Lovin’ You, is a little too MOR for its own good.
*So, essentially, this has no business being here. This is a perfectly serviceable arena rock album at its worst. Nothing here is really awful or annoying.
*And at its best, it’s actually pretty great. That four song run in the middle of the album is a real blast and I’d pull all four of those songs off for an iPod, so it’s hard for me to say this is a bad album at all.
*Have we established, as I posited during my review of Escape, that I do in fact have terrible taste?
*Or have we instead established that some of these bad album lists are sort of revisionist histories where people are working out their issues with the eighties by tarring the big stars of the decade with a broad brush?
*I think the latter. I don’t know for sure, but I’d be willing to bet that both this album and Journey’s Escape were on the same list and that said list was created by someone who is trying to prove his ‘authenticity’ and bona fides by bashing eighties rock.
*Yeah, I’m not crazy about a lot of eighties rock either. And I like raw authenticity more than I like slick, polished pop. But slick, polished pop can often be great. And here’s an example of four songs from the slick, polished 80s that were unapologetically pop and mainstream arena rock and yet still managed to be great, catchy, fun songs.
*I try not to lump things together. I found little of real interest in Escape. This is a better album, by a better group, it strikes me. For some people, it’s still okay to make generic assumptions based on superficialities: Journey and REO Speedwagon were both giants of Arena Rock in the 80s, ergo they both suck equally. But I’ve progressed in my artistic experience to the level where I can’t make those kinds of broad assumptions anymore. You have to be able to think on levels; judging purely on superficialities of style and genre is the hobgoblin of little critics. I can recognize greatness wherever I find it and I found a little on Hi Infidelity.
*It still ain’t no Blood on the Tracks, guys . . .
*Still, enjoyable record with a great run of songs there in the middle.
** ½ out of **** stars.
*Next time, it’s an absolutely legendary album. We’ll be going track by track through Elvis in Concert, which documents two of Elvis’ last live performances in June of 1977, just a brief period before his death! Oh, man, you’re gonna want to be here for this one.