Detroit’s Romantics had gone from local club faves to national up-and-comers with the release of their debut self-titled album and follow-up effort, “National Breakout”; both albums featuring the edgy power pop sound that had originally caught the attention of Bomp! Records in 1979.
While their debut featured the semi-hit “What I Like About You”, “National Breakout” had been a commercial letdown. Even buoyed by such seminal Romantics favorites as “21 And Over”, “A Night Like This” and “Take Me out Of The Rain”, the album failed to live up to expectations.
For their third effort, the pressure was on to record a hit album. They enlisted producer Mike Stone, best known for producing hit albums by the likes of Journey and Queen. His production added a bombastic style ill-suited to the band and the end result was an album that could have been cool – there are actually some nice songs to be found here – if not for the completely over-the-top approach that intrudes upon the band’s natural energy.
As a fan of the first two albums, I distinctly remember dropping the needle and then my jaw as the album’s first song, “In The Nighttime“, exploded out of my speakers. Whereas the sound on the first two albums was one of shit-hot band rocking for all their worth in a sweaty club packed to the rafters, the shotgun snare and reverb-drenched vocals on this and most of the other tracks on “Strictly Personal” made the band sound as if they’re performing in an empty arena.
On tracks like “No One Like You” (sung by bassist Richie Cole, who would leave the band after the release of this album), one is hard-pressed to believe this is the same band that had given us “What I Like About You”.
“Spend A Little Love On Me” may not have sounded out of place on “The Romantics”, but, here, the Kinks-style vibe of the track gets lost in a production better suited for Rainbow or the Scorpions.
The album’s highpoint, where the production doesn’t intrude too heavily upon the band’s live energy, is “Why’d You Leave Me“, which has singer Wally Palmar pleading to an ex-lover. You can hear the desperation in his voice, which plays nicely against newest member Coz Canler’s razor-sharp guitars.
If you’ve got the impression that I wasn’t crazy about this album, don’t get me wrong. In truth, I played the crap out of “Strictly Personal” as a kid even though it was drastically different from the Romantics I’d come to know and love for their raw, updated British Invasion sound.
“Don’t You Put Me On Hold“, which closes out the album, seems the complete by-product of the sound Stone was going for. Take away the cannon-fire drums, the layers of Marshall-driven guitars, and the echo-repeat chorus and there isn’t much of a song left.
The album, of course, failed to take the world by storm and the band would wisely return to working with original producer Pete Solley, who’d turned the knobs on their first two albums. The resulting album, “In Heat”, would bring them their biggest chart success in 1983 with the hits “Talking In Your Sleep” and “One In A Million”.