Tuesday, April 14, 2015

GOLDEN ROCK BOMBS (Pt. III) - REO Speedwagon "Building the Bridge"

(Pt. III)
REO Speedwagon
Building the Bridge
(Castle Records)

Even the biggest, most
iconic names in rock
can detonate a "bomb."
However, some of these
sleepers and sinkers are
actually the gemstones
of the artist's otherwise
platinum-selling catalog.

The '90s was a dark and desperate decade for many of the 70s' and 80s' mightiest chart-busters. Powerhouse acts such as Fleetwood Mac, Styx and Peter Frampton all delivered promising new records during the "Pearl Garden Pilots" era — only to be crushed by "the machine." REO Speedwagon's Building the Bridge was one that got crushed.

Produced by the late Greg Ladanyi and REO frontman / singer / songwriter, Kevin Cronin, Building the Bridge arrived in stores during the summer of '96. Although it's regarded by (too) many as one of the weakest links in the band's impressive musical chain  it is not. In fact Building the Bridge succeeds gloriously in combining the organic, classic rock flavor of REO (1976) with the commercial charm of Wheels are Turnin' (1984).

Packing all the punch of a Red Bull 20-ouncer, the guitar-driven "Can't Stop Rockin'" kicks off the record with a bang. This high-octane lyrical tribute to The Beatles also offers a cool tip of the hat to Willie Dixon's "Spoonful" as well as to the Fab Four's "Day Tripper." Another engaging, upbeat rocker is Cronin's "When I Get Home." Lacquered to perfection by Neal Doughty's signature Hammond B-3 stylings, it's beautifully reminiscent of the Wheels are Turnin' era. Additionally, guitarist Dave Amato splits the uprights on the stadium-worthy "Look the Other Way" and "She's Gonna Love Me."

A powerful and heartfelt songwriting collaboration between Cronin and Stephen Stills, "I Still Love You" possesses a Poco / Eagles-like splendor — making for one of the record's brightest highlights. In a similar vein, the Cronin-penned title track succeeds in recapturing the band's classic, "cow" vibe.

More than a master pop songsmith, Kevin Cronin also is a gifted storyteller  conveying his personal life experiences vividly over the years in the lyrics of such much-loved staples as "Music Man" and "Time for Me to Fly." In that regard, "Ballad of the Illinois Opry" comes incredibly close to his personal best. The poignant story of musical and self-discovery would have complemented the band's Ridin' the Storm Out era and could easily have been featured prominently in the soundtrack to a Cameron CroweElizabethtown-type film. Doughty's Floyd Cramer-flavored piano work makes this one sing, while Amato's blistering country-meets-rock riffs make it zing. Undoubtedly the record's "Cracker Jack prize," it remains one of REO's all-time best-kept secrets.

"Ballad of the Illinois Opry"
(Hear it for yourself.)

So how did a record this good, tank so badly? Well, for starters, the face of REO had changed in recent years and its previous (ill-titled) studio record in 1990 was, to say the least, a disappointment. Once known for producing such party hardy, arena rock anthems as "Roll with the Changes" and "Don't Let Him Go," REO now was best known as adult contemporary poster boys, peddling such pablum as "In My Dreams" and "Here with Me." And by 1996, true blue, good-time rock and roll had been put on temporary life support, as radio and MTV airwaves now were saturated by such media-anointed darlings as Hole, Candlebox and Alanis Morissette. Plus, Castle Records was an indie label — a relatively small fish, treading the waters of a shark-infested ocean. To add insult to injury, Building the Bridge boasted a downright dopey-looking album cover and exuded just enough provolone factor (e.g., "After Tonight" and "Then I Met You") as to compromise its well-deserved street cred.

In sum, I encourage enthusiasts to earnestly seek out Building the Bridge — it's well worth the effort. And if you happen to locate a copy at that last remaining used record shop, don't forget to tell the new clerk, Alanis, that the "Show Biz Guru" says, "hello."

-Christopher Long
(April 2015)


Check out the entire
Golden Rock Bombs series:

Peter Criss
Out of Control

Cheap Trick 
The Doctor

REO Speedwagon
Building the Bridge

Fleetwood Mac


The latest from author Christopher Long
is available NOW on Amazon.

Also from Christopher Long...
Get it on Amazon.

Currently in development...

No comments:

Post a Comment