1986, Music

The Way It Is (1986) by Bruce Hornsby and the Range

I know basically nothing about Bruce Hornsby. I remember seeing his name on a Mix 99.9 ad on the subway in high school. And I know he toured with the Dead. That’s all I got.

I was surprised to recognize “Every Little Kiss” and I can’t tell you why. I only know “The Way It is” because of Tupac. So I was surprised I knew just a little bit of this. The songs on the whole are decent, I guess. Certainly Hornsby aspires to be a songwriter and the songs are mostly catchy enough. He wants us to think at least some of the time and the rest of the time I don’t know if I’m any more entranced by his words.

For me it’s both the aesthetic and the production that really derail this. I’d probably have a lot more sympathy for the songs without it. Mandolin, dulcimer and violin are all credited here but are barely audible as those instruments. Imagine recording a song called “Mandolin Rain” and not featuring prominent mandolin parts and mixing them so that they are identifiable to listeners as mandolins. And I have no idea what song the dulcimer is on. I do know that Hornsby’s choice of a piano is a cliche and it sounds awful now. Would it have killed him to play a grand?

This is a bit where heartland rock goes to die, where it’s so subservient to ideas of how records should sound that it loses much of what made it “heartland” when that genre first emerged. None of this is on Hornsby the singer, or on Hornsby the songwriter but it’s on Hornsby the producer, it’s on Huey Lewis, and it’s on Elliot Scheiner. (I don’t know Scheiner but I just read he was Phil Ramone’s assistant so, um, there’s your problem.) This is a roots rock record that doesn’t sound “roots” in any way shape or form. Heartland was already diluted roots, but this takes it to its logical conclusion, where the goal is to fit into the contemporary music scene, not represent the songs and the singer.

5/10 because I suspect the songs are better than they sound

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