I approached this album with trepidation, mostly because my knowledge of REO Speedwagon consists of two things: their ’80s singles and their supposed career arc from boogie rock band (or something) to pop rock sellouts. (I have no idea how true the latter is, but I read it ant an impressionable age.) I think I also thought “Can’t Fight this Feeling” was on this record. (I was off by a few years, eh?) Anyway…
So the first thing I’m struck by is how “rock” this AOR record is. Yes, it’s commercial as can be, and the hooks are clearly the most important thing, but the guitars are distorted and they are much more prominent in the mix than I expected. Moreover, it’s clear Richrath knows how to play rock guitar. This is something that is often missing from AOR records, particularly in the ’80s. So that’s good.
The songs are not as catchy as you might think. In fact, the two big hits are kind of shitty as hooks, aren’t they? What was going on in 1981 that they were both such big hits? They really aren’t great. But that’s actually not the worst thing, because it makes the rest of the material seem better.
But, like so much American music from this era, there is just such a worship of the past. Something like “In Your Letter” is so typical of the time – these musicians writing songs worshipful of the music of their childhood. If it was the odd band that did it, it might not be so annoying. But the sheer number of artists that did this in the late ’70s and early ’80s makes it a cliche. And that’s how it comes across to me. (“In Your Letter” is only the most explicit example.)
So I’m torn here: the songs are less catchy than I was expecting but the record is (mostly) more “rock” than I was expecting. It’s over produced (of course, it’s AOR) and it’s pretty lame as rock music goes. But it’s better than I thought, which makes me think I should up the rating slightly. But I won’t, because this is AOR we’re talking about here and I don’t owe it anything.