Monday, July 21, 2014

LOVERBOY "Unfinished Business"

(c) 2014 Loverboy Music

  1. Fire Me Up
  2. Counting The Nights
  3. Ain't Such A Bad Thing
  4. Come Undone
  5. Slave
  6. What Makes You So Special
  7. War Bride
  8. Doin' It The Hard Way
  9. You Play The Star
  10.  Crack Of The Whip
Mike Reno--Vocals
Paul Dean--Guitar, Vocals
Doug Johnson--Keyboards
Ken "Spider" Sinneave--Bass
Matt Frenette--Drums

Everywhere you look today, classic 80's bands are reuniting to record new albums, join festivals, or go on tour.  There seems to be no limit to which bands are going to attempt some form of comeback or another, whether taking a serious run at rejuvenating a career or simply going back to doing what they love, these bands have met with varying degrees of success.

Loverboy is no stranger to the reunion thing, having released a new studio album, Just Getting Started, as recently as 2007, in addition to their combination re-recordings/new recordings album, Rock N Roll Revival, from 2012.  With Unfinished Business, Loverboy gives its fans an album of new "old" material, with some of these songs having been written almost 40 years ago, with others scattered throughout writing sessions from the past couple of decades.  Many of these songs were partially recorded from sessions for the band's first few albums, some to a larger extent than others, so in some instances you get songs that are half 1980's/half 2014 as far as performance goes.  

4/5 of the original line-up remains intact (long-time bass player, Scott Smith, died in a freak boating accident in 2000), and it is obvious the band was intent on giving the fans and album that is still 100% Loverboy, for the good or the bad.  Not attempting to sound modern, making no excuses for their past (or for Reno's infamous headbands!), and pouring themselves completely into the music that they love and are known for, Loverboy actually pulls off one of the more surprisingly enjoyable reunion discs I have listened to in some time, even if it isn't made up of new material.  I say "surprisingly enjoyable" because I really lost touch with Loverboy after the first four classic records, Loverboy, Get Lucky, Keep It Up, and Lovin' Every Minute Of It.  After that, starting with Wildside, I just felt the band lost a lot of it's edge, became too poppy and too concerned with Top 40 hits, and I just never really bothered going back.

Unfinished Business intrigues me because of its different approach.  From the opening notes of "Fire Me Up", I just sensed that the band felt like they had bullets left in the classic era's guns, and set out to deliver on unfinished promise with a couple of these tunes.  A few sound like they were possibly even radio-worthy back in the day, while a couple probably should have been left in the Loverboy vault or mixed into a Loverboy boxed set if such a thing ever surfaced.  

On the good end, we have songs like the previously mentioned "Fire Me Up', which is a great example of a song that has pretty much everything going for it, as far as Loverboy fans would be concerned, and I really don't know how this song didn't make an album.  Reno sounds great, Dean works some nice guitar magic, and the keys are nicely placed between the guitars and the solid rhythm section, giving it a truly classic 80's feel.  I'm even more surprised that the following track, "Countin' The Nights" didn't make it to the radio, or at least to a movie soundtrack, because it really is that good to these ears, with crisp production and some great guitar tones.  "What Makes You So Special" is another solid 80's rocker with the classic guitar tone of that era, and is easily one of my favorites here, and again I have to wonder why this track missed the cut for Get Lucky or possibly Keep It Up, which are the albums I'm guessing this was likely recorded for.  "Doin' It The Hard Way" is a song that is pure Loverboy all the way, and again, is one of the stronger songs here, and album closer "Crack Of The Whip" sounds like something from the Lovin' Every Minute Of It sessions, with a solid mid-80's sound that works pretty well here, especially when juxtaposed with "You Play The Star" which sounds like it came straight off the first record.

A couple of songs don't work as well as the best material here.  For instance, I really am not a fan of the ballad, "Come Undone".  First of all, it sounds like it is still in demo form, which is an instant annoyance for me.  Secondly, there are just some weird keyboard effects here that remind me of so many bad 80's songs (and laser sound effects!) that I somewhat cringe when I hear them.  "War Bride" has a lot of potential, but this is an example of one of the tracks that I think the band just didn't really ever finish, and finds the band trying to get too deep lyrically and totally missing the mark of what Loverboy is best known for.  Reno sounds very strong, and the keyboards have an electric piano, rather than cheesy 80's synth sound to them, and even the bass line has a cool throb to it, but it just kind of goes nowhere and is really about two minutes too long (it clocks in over 6 minutes total).   Some judicious editing would have helped "War Bride" a lot, in my opinion.  "Slave", which features some great guitar work from Dean, sounds like an odd "Hot For Teacher"-meets-spaghetti-western-guitar combination that I just don't get.  For his part, Franette pulls off some slick double-time drummin here, but it can't save this odd track.

The main problem I have with this album is in the production.  At times you can hear static in the tracks, and the mix is just a tad muddy in places.  For example, "Ain't Such A Bad Thing" is a pretty good rocker with a catchy chorus and nice guitar work, but you can hear hiss and crackle throughout the song.  Now, I don't know if this was an intentional attempt to give the album an 80's feel, as this is definitely not crystal clear, crisp 2014 production at all, but if it was intentional, it was not a good idea.  It definitely doesn't make the record unlistenable by any means, but to deny that there are some production issues would be dishonest.

The band, and especially Reno and Dean, are in mostly excellent form here.  Mike Reno's vocals are spot on, sounding like not a year has passed since he was singing about "Lovin' Every Minute Of It", or "The Kid Is Hot Tonight", and the guitar work on the best tracks here is excellent.  I have long thought that Dean didn't get the amount of respect as a guitar player that he deserved, largely because he was overshadowed by Reno and because videos of the band's songs just never really showcased Dean (check out his solo album if you can find will hear his talent in full force).  Due to the old-plus-new format of the tracks it is a bit difficult to know what is recently recorded and what is original instrumentation, but it doesn't matter much because nothing is glaringly bad, although the keys do really date the sound of some of these tracks.

I think with a bit bigger budget (this record was apparently all self-compiled and released on Loverboy Music) and perhaps a bit more care in cleaning up the production on the older portions of the songs that the band chose to leave intact, this album could have been even better.  As it stands, it is a solid listen, especially for long-time fans of the band.  It won't likely convert a lot of people to join the church of Loverboy, but it's not likely there are a lot of 18-25 year olds out there seeking what a band like Loverboy has to offer, either.

Rating:  Rock this solid effort to a very respectable 6.5, but I hope the band is done combing through the leftovers for material, because I'm betting this is the cream of the crop.

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