The holiday season has dropped the musical equivalent of coal in my stocking already once with Radiohead’s “Kid A.” This next album confirms I remain on the Dice Gods naughty list for some reason.
Disc 817 is….Young & Restless
Year of Release: 1980
What’s up with the Cover? A bunch of youths gather around their car. These guys look young but I’m not sure they qualify as ‘restless.’ Maybe ‘relaxed’; possibly ‘pensive’ if I’m being charitable. Maybe the guy behind the wheel is restless and all his buddies are telling him, “whoa dude, chill out. I know you want to leave town an’ all, but that car the four of you climbed into hasn’t run since 1936.”
How I Came To Know It: My brother bought this on vinyl when it came out so I’ve known it for a long time. I didn’t personally own it until very recently when I obtained it – both monetarily and literally – for a song.
How It Stacks Up: I have three Prism albums and this is by far the worst of the three. It is so far back in third place that instead of awarding it a third place medal, it should be hit across the face with one.
Ratings: 2 stars, and I’m being charitable
Every time I think I’m too smart to be suckered into buying a record for a single song an album like “Young & Restless” comes along that is too cheap and available for me to turn down. One day I’ll learn to kick these gift horses in the mouth before they crap all over my headphones.
Prism is often the object of ridicule among my music loving buddies, and generally I defend the band. I have two albums by Prism that I think are excellent examples of late seventies/early eighties rock, and I generally think they are unfairly maligned. “Young & Restless” did not help my argument, however.
I had unpleasant memories of my last experience with this album, but the first track “American Music” made me cautiously optimistic. “American Music” isn’t a great song, but it is solidly average and typical of Prism with its soaring melodies and heavy organ treatment (the organ is part of what bugs a lot of people about this band).
Following that I settled in for the title track and the reason I bought this album as soon as it fell south of seven dollars. From the opening jangle of chords to the introduction of the ever-present organ, everything is perfectly set up. Then vocalist Ron Tabak unleashes that quintessential high vibrato common to rock stars of this vintage, singing:
“Standing at attention, waiting for the bell to ring
After all the crap I’ve been through, gonna make my break
Whatever it takes to let them know that I ain’t foolin’
Young and restless, running out of control
Young and restless, heading for an overload.”
“Young & Restless” (the song) is an anthem for youth and rebellion that always makes me feel like a teenager again – ready to stand up, raise my fist, and take on the world – or at least yell at it a bit.
Sadly, this is followed by the rest of the album, which is downright awful. It is like Prism sat around the studio and said “Hey guys, let’s try on whatever styles are floating around 1980 and then Prismize them!” And then another guy agreed, adding “But let’s make sure that we make sure we not only Prismize them – let’s also make sure they suck!” Somehow this second idea was considered a friendly amendment.
In short, this album is filled with songs that George Orwell would call ‘ungood’ – maybe even ‘double plus ungood.’ Prism gamely tries to find their vibe of soaring vocals and lots of high fivin’ melodies, but it is like they’ve replaced the band with people who can’t write a song.
The album also feels horribly dated throughout, worst of all when the band tries to sing about technology. “Party Line” is about the shared phone lines I grew up with in the seventies. Done right, these are a nice detail in a song about something else (see Hank Williams’ “Mind Your Own Business”) but they aren’t a plot device for an entire track about nothing. Musically, “Party Line” tries to salvage its dignity with some sort of country/blues guitar picking. Unfortunately, it sounds like something your grandpa would do if you were foolish enough to hand him your guitar after he’d had one too many apple ciders.
It is even worse when the band tries to go ultra-modern. “Satellite” is a song about how satellites are spying on us. This must have seemed very novel in 1980, but in 2015 the song needs a story that’s a little more insightful than “satellites can see you from space, man!” Lyrics include:
“Watch out for bad reception
Because the night has a thousand eyes
Connected to your television
Looking at you.
“Sky high flying in circles
Keeping an eye on the world
Watching out for civilization
Looking at you.”
Holy crap that is bad – and they don’t even have the common decency to hide how bad in some strained rhymes (although they certainly use that device liberally on other songs).
I could talk about those other songs, but I think you get the idea, and besides, I’ve got good music in my collection I want to listen to – the sooner the better. This includes at least one more Prism album that I know will wash the bad taste of “Young & Restless” out of my head. Remember, this is a good band that done wrong this once.
On that basis do I cut them some slack and keep this record for the one song worthy of their usual standards? Or do I let it go? For now, I’m going to keep it, but it is on a very short leash.
Best tracks: Young & Restless