Tuesday, November 7, 2023

CD Odyssey Disc 1688: The Outfield

Eighties music is a tricky business. This weekend I brought home a copy of REO Speedwagon’s “Hi Infidelity” which was a childhood favourite of mine. Knowing Sheila has a soft spot for eighties pop, I played it later that night as a surprise expecting all manner of kudos.

Turns out Sheila is not a fan of REO Speedwagon. Who knew? She does like this next record though, which proves you can’t win ‘em all, but you can win some of ‘em if you just keep swingin’ the bat. And on that metaphorical note…

Disc 1688 is…Play Deep

Artist: The Outfield

Year of Release: 1985

What’s up with the Cover?  This is the kind of eighties art that usually lands flat for me, but not this time. Not only is this bit of art also a Giant Head Cover (and therefore immediately beloved) it has some lovely colours. Frankly, just show me the palette the guy composed this off of and I’ll stare at that.

Also, note the excitement of new disc technology. Analog recording! Digitally mastered! It’s not a bug, it’s a feature!

How I Came To Know It: I grew up hearing the hits off this record on the radio, but since it was eighties pop in an era that I was an avowed metal head, it never stuck.

Then I was at my friend Chris’ place having a summer drink on his deck and he put on a copy on vinyl. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it. Sheila was even more impressed, so I bought her a copy as a birthday present shortly thereafter.

How It Stacks Up: Surprisingly, the Outfield has released nine albums. I’ve only got this one, so it can’t stack up.

Rating: 2 stars but almost 3

Early and mid-eighties pop is not my thing. I have tried in recent years to make it my thing, principally by curating (with the help of friendly recommendations) a collection of the good stuff out of an era and genre that produced a lot of very bad stuff (I am thinking of you, Duran Duran).

The Outfield definitely qualify as a mid-eighties gem. Probably a semi-precious gem more than a ruby or an emerald or anything, but still nice. Maybe a turquoise. These tunes have an anthemic, celebratory sound and singer Tony Lewis has a high and airy head voice that was very much the style of the time. It reminded me a bit of Prism’s Ron Tabak. Lewis has more power, but I prefer Tabak’s tone. You can’t have it all.

The band is British but their sound is kind of transatlantic, with a big Americana expansiveness mixed with a guitar sound with a lot of pedal effects that had me thinking of U2. The guitar on “I Don’t Need Her” sounds a lot like the Edge, although more in a contemporary “I’m also messing with the new tech” kind of way, as opposed to a rip off.

The best tune on the record is “Your Love” which has an iconic eighties guitar riff and a vocal performance from Lewis that is an instant classic. You can play this song a hundred times and it will sound fresh and fun every single one of them.

The guitar solos leave something to be desired. When they happen (which is far too often) they feel perfunctory and inclined to blindly follow along the tune’s melody. At that point, just sing another verse already.

My biggest issue is as much a feature as a bug. When I first put the record on it sounded distant and detached and I kept turning it up expecting at some point for my car’s (excellent) stereo to pick up some low end. I had turned it up pretty loud before I realized there wasn’t any low end. The production is  like wanting to tread water at the shallow end of the pool, but your feet keep hitting the bottom. It doesn’t hurt, but it sure don’t feel like floating either.

On the other hand, that high treble production gives the whole thing a sunny and carefree quality. This record traipses around like an elf jumping from branch to branch. It is a objectively a bit silly, but it’s graceful too.

While the record outside of the hits is merely OK, it delivers one amazing deep cut right at the end. “Nervous Alibi” is a vocal masterpiece, and I love the way it meanders its way slowly to that heartbreaking chorus. This is ‘lighter over a thousand heads’ level shit, and a welcome treat right at the end of a record that left me laid back and content.

Best tracks: Your Love, Every Time You Cry, Nervous Alibi

1 comment:

Gord Webster said...

I had no idea they put out any other albums!