Tornado (1987) **1/2
No, no, and hell no. Whereas their debut could have sprung up in almost any random post-Creedence rock era, the followup's production dates it squarely to its inception in the dreaded Big '80s: kids, this is what the word 'sellout' means and why it's considered a bad thing. Never judge a book by its cover? Hogwash. You can tell how massive a step down in quality this issue is by comparing its airbrushed, big-haired cover to the inspired Thomas Hart Benton collage of the debut. Synths are all over the place and music is sand-polished to remove any traces of Stonesy grit, leaving the Rainmakers just another big, fat heartland rock act like the Hooters or the Alarm. Walkenhorst's songwriting still shines, perversely enough, and you can sort of tell how this could have, possibly, been a good album with more sympathetic presentation. That doesn't make the rewrite of "Let My People Go-Go," the aimed-for-MTV (and it actually got played a few times, as I recall) dance floor, horns'n'all "Snakedance," any easier to take. Like I said before, who the hell wants to be preached at about hellfire and damnation while they're committing the venal sin of club dancing? But actually, with that and one other exception, Walkenhorst lays off the political pulpit thumping of the debut, for a less pointed set of songs. "Rainmaker," makes for an effectively thundering anthem in a sub-Midnight Oil mode, as Walkenhorst lambasts an American people gone soft from too much ease and luxury. It would make a dandy Ron Paul campaign jingle. Not that I necessarily disagree, but me give up my video games, junk food, and episodes of The Walking Dead? Uh-uh. I'm just going to sit here and wallow in sloth, thank you. The one other good song on this album is the band's very best ever tune, "Small Circles," an arrestingly affecting mid-tempo ballad that in a just world would have justified their attempted sell-out by becoming a smash (ironically, this LP sold worse than the debut - see what happens when you sell out and suck, fellas?). Boy meets girl, boy drifts away from girl, boy regrets what could have been. Two more points: this preacher man appears to at least condone if not advocate pre-marital sex, and in the video, Walkenhorst (not exactly a matinee idol) wisely lets the more conventional pretty boy bassist Rich Ruth play the Romeo.
The rest of this album can go to hell, more or less. Clip those two songs and you've got a dandy A/B-side (should be obvious which of the two is more commercially viable). The combination of glossy mid-'80s over-synthed production and Walkenhorst's redneck yelping makes for a highly unpleasant admixture. Do I have any interest, remotely whatsoever, of anything this little Missouri bar band that couldn't, ever released again? Probably not.