Foreigner were big too early for me – I wasn’t born when this album was released and was just born when its second single came out – but were too late and too poppy to fit into classic rock radio once I discovered it in the ’90s. (Well, I speak for this version of the band. “Feels Like the First Time” got airplay on that station. And “Hot Blooded” maybe.) So I only really know their hits from the ether, principally “I Want to Know What Love Is.” I’ve heard “Waiting for a Girl Like You” and honestly thought it was a Second British Invasion song. I’m somehow barely aware of “Jukebox Hero” and used to be confused by references to it. And I had never even heard “Urgent” until it was used for some stupid team building exercise at my office when I was in my twenties. This is not a band I know well and it’s not a band I had any interest in knowing well. (Though I did have some faint interest at one point when I learned that it was co-founded by a member of King Crimson.) But did this album ever sell.
Mick Jones can clearly write catchy songs. This album is so successful because he has written a bunch of really catchy melodies and some reasonably melody riffs some of the time. The lyrics are inane, as you would expect for AOR. But nobody cares about the lyrics.
Jones and company do this thing, like so many of their contemporaries, where they pretend they’re this rock band. Jones plays with distortion and in some of his solos and fills he there is the kind of grit we associate with rock guitar playing (whammy, unconventional notes, etc). Gramm sings with energy and passion as if he was in Free or something. The rhythm section is usually dull but I don’t detect much about their paying that doesn’t feel “rock” (with one or two exceptions, such as the “bass” line on “Juke Box Hero”). Wills is actually pretty good on “Break It Up” for example.
But the accoutrements feel decidedly poppy – the keyboards, the synthesizers (Thomas Dolby!), the saxophone, especially the Boston-esque backing vocals. (Shockingly Mutt Lange is involved. What’s more shocking is that he was fresh off producing AC/DC.)
Like REO Speedwagon and Journey, this is “rock” music for people that don’t like rock music. It’s more rock than REO Speedwagon were at the time and I don’t know enough about Journey to comment about them. But it’s still very much a post-Boston version of arena rock, with enough slickness to appeal to people who were utterly terrified of (or offended by) punk music and who may not have even been into arena rock in the early and mid ’70s.
I would say that if you think this is “good” rock music, there’s a whole wonderful world for you to discover of the actual rock music of the ’70s, that these guys have popped up. It’s louder, it’s less polished but it’s also more interesting and, crucially, more fun. This just does nothing for me. It’s too wussy to appeal to me as rock music and every time it veers into actual rock music territory, it only disappoints when it goes back the other way. And Mutt Lange is like my least favourite producer of all time.