Eric Carmen – Tonight You’re Mine (1980)
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It’s a preposterous notion to members of the Dirty Dancing generation, but Eric Carmen once made great music. No, not just great music — important music. With the Raspberries, Carmen not only helped define power pop, he gleefully subverted the musical conventions (not to mention radio censors) of the day. Perhaps most importantly, in “Go All the Way,” he co-wrote 202 of the most perfect consecutive seconds in all of pop music.

Alas, just as quickly as Carmen scaled the mountain of musical greatness, he took a header off the other side, and has spent most of his post-Raspberries career as an oily crooner of mostly forgettable adult contemporary ballads. It didn’t happen overnight, as Tonight You’re Mine attests, but close enough — once he had a smash with “All By Myself,” from his first solo album, the die was forever cast. Like many artists before and after him, Carmen discovered that hitting the top of the charts with a ballad can be more trouble than it’s worth. The subsequent straitjacketing these artists have received from radio programmers has prompted many desperate, often comical career moves.

For instance, the cover of this album.

Part of the brilliance of “Go All the Way” was how it masked its deeply suggestive lyrics with a brilliant blend of British Invasion crunch and airy Beach Boys harmonies — you could listen to it a thousand times, title notwithstanding, and never have any idea what was really going on. By 1980, Carmen had lost the plot so thoroughly — and was trying so hard to escape his pigeonhole — that he’d been reduced to rewriting “All the Way” as leering, unctuous come-ons like this album’s title track (download). I think a recent commenter here compared the cover shot to a real-life Smell the Glove, and that’s dead-on.

As bad as the title track is, at least it’s got a scrotum, which is more than can be said for ballads like “Foolin’ Myself” (download) and the gag-reflex-inducing “Sleep With Me” (download). They’re awful, and they foreshadow Carmen’s future direction the same way a shot of two kids having sex in the shower during a Friday the 13th movie telegraphs impending bloody doom.

It isn’t all bad. “Inside Story” (download) is an old-fashioned Carmen rocker, and “It Hurts Too Much” (download) doesn’t. But on the whole, the album is too uneven to act as a nostalgic reminder of the Eric Carmen we once thought we’d have forever — it’s just a sad example of lost potential.

But it’s still better than “Hungry Eyes.”