Monday, February 7, 2011

Hall and Oates - Voices

Voices (1980) ***1/2

If you can stomach past the sight of John Oates in tight purple pants, a wifebeater, and a porn star 'stache, what you get is an excellent mainstream pop album circa 1980 with mild new wave, R&B, adult contemporary, and power pop tendencies; each only in equal measure a mild tendency, because aiming for the charts means aiming for the widest possible audience means MOR.  Kids today may have forgotten (because they weren't even born until at least a decade later), but anyone over 30 remembers H&O as the most successful musical duo ever, dominating the airwaves with a string of hit albums and singles during the first half of the '80s.  Forget Wacko Jacko, he had one album that ruled radio for one year in the '80s, these guys had at least four albums in a row that rocked MTV and FM for five freakin' years (don't mention AM, no one but truckers used that format since 1975).  So they're also one of the most widely reviled musical acts in history, as is always the case with the overplayed.  The '80s have a lot to answer for, and only widespread snorting of Bolivian marching powder can possibly explain that cover, easily the most cringeably embarrassing in my CD collection. 

But even if you have to hide this CD far out of sight from any potential guests, the CD itself will likely gain timespace in your player.  Containing not one but two but three massive hits, plus a fourth massive megahit under someone else's cover, this longplayer set off the deluge of Oatesmania and Hallophilia.  "Kiss On My List," was the biggest one, co-written by Daryl with his long-time girlfriend, and its bouncy piano tinkle-tankle is an infectious as anything contempo by Joe Jackson or Squeeze.  "You Make My Dreams Come True," was a fine followup in similar-but-a-shade-less-catchy-vein; "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," a choice cover aimed bullseye at the charts; and the ballad "Everytime You Go Away," works well in its understated original form here.  From there on we get a mixed bag of worthy-to-eh album tracks.  Oates' opener, "How Does It Feel To Be Back," and "Hard To Be In Love With You," could have been potential fourth and fifth singles if it had been regular practice to issue that many off an album in 1980 (it wasn't; three at the most was standard industry practice back then - it was Thriller that upped the stakes by releasing five or six hit singles off the same album, changing everything).  The mild rocker "Big Kids," (it's impossible to imagine these dudes rocking out more than mildly, isn't it?) even offers a bit of mild political commentary, pointing out that the world's leaders are all just big kids like all adults.  An answer song to Gang of Four's "Not Great Men," hmm?  OK, most definitively likely definitely not, but you never know.  After all, we're dealing with a guy who cut an album with Robert Fripp.  The final two tracks are throwaway goofs, with Oates' goofball "Africa," the nadir, and "Diddy Doo Wop (I Hear Voices)" an uncharming doo-wop pastiche.  "United State," overdoes the Costello-esque metaphorical wordplay in a misguided attempted to be clever, but musically is just fine, and "Gotta a Lotta Nerve (Perfect Perfect)" is a mildly irrating rocker as you might have guessed from scanning the title.  Mildly irritating, mildly rocking, mildly clever, but SUPREMO catchy, dig?  That is this album.  Now that the 1980s are long, long over and we have some safe distance between us and that horrid decade, such an album can be appreciated for the high quality, glossily cotton candy divertismo it never sold itself as anything but.

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