Aside from a brief period in fifth grade — during which I was convinced that “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” was written and recorded as the official soundtrack for my infatuation with Tiffany Hansen1 — I have always hated REO Speedwagon. It isn’t just that their music is often cheesy, or even defiantly dumb; as longtime readers know, I can forgive that. I think what’s always given me hives when it comes to REO (or “The Spudwagon,” as my old buddy Pete always calls them) is Kevin Cronin’s unbelievably irritating vocals. It isn’t bad enough that they’re crotch-tighteningly high, but he also has this way of over-pronouncing and drawing out the letter R that drives me totally fucking nuts. Listen to pretty much any REO song and you’ll hear what I mean. “I can’t fight this feeling anymorrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre”…oh, God, it’s awful.
Plus, my wife thinks he’s “cute.” She means this in an awww-isn’t-that-adorable way, but still. Kevin Cronin looks like something assembled from leftover Muppet parts. You can imagine what this does for my self-esteem.
Anyway, in 1990, The Spudwagon — a band which, let’s face it, has never been afraid to dare to be stupid — released an album entitled The Earth, A Small Man, His Dog and A Chicken. No, really. It happened. You’ve got to wonder what was being pumped out of the vents at Epic for this project to see the light of day. I mean, you’ve got to give your promo staff at least a fighting chance of being able to push your releases — most PDs in the country weren’t about to play anything by REO Speedwagon in 1990, especially when no one could say the album’s title without laughing.
I digress. Unbelievably, it wasn’t the album’s title that drew the most fire — it was the absence of REO guitarist and champion drinker Gary Richrath, who was fired after 1987’s Life As We Know It. Richrath was replaced by…well, I can’t remember his name, but I can’t see how it matters; this is an album of purely anonymous stadium rock. It’s even anonymous by Spudwagon standards. This is saying a whole lot.
Also joining the band for this album was keyboardist Jesse Harms, a guy whose work I’ve always had an unreasonably soft spot for. He’s a talented keyboard player, and has had some decent moments as a songwriter (none of them here, but more on that later), and yet he’s made a career out of hitching his wagon to lowest-common-denominator projects. The most recent outfit I’m aware of Harms’ involvement in is Sammy Hagar’s Waboritas, probably the only band on the planet whose name sounds more like an idea rejected by the Frito-Lay board of directors than a group of real live musicians.
Again, I digress. The point is, this is a bad album, one entirely deserving of its #129 chart peak; one so bad you can listen to it once and understand immediately why the band that made it didn’t release another note of new music for six years. Much as I hate REO Speedwagon, even I have to admit that they were periodically capable of something like blue-collar poetry — I mean, that line that compared a woman to a snake in the grass, “all coiled up and hissin’”? That, my friends, is rock & roll genius.
There are no snakes and no grass here. This is what you get instead:
My love is a rock, an immovable force.
Anywhere that you are, my love is right here.
With any tick of the clock, life can change its course.
But my love will not.
My love is a rock. — “Love Is A Rock” (download)
When she turned away, you know it was just in time.
‘Cus I’d used up all my strength, and you can’t let a woman see you cryin’. — “The Heart Survives”
If you don’t dig the situation,
Then get a guitar and rock the nation. — “Live It Up” (download)
I cannot bathe you in a river gone black.
I cannot hold you in a poison rain.
If I can’t see you through the air that we breathe, what will love in the future be? — “Love in the Future”
I thought about livin’ my life, without you, in this cold, cold world.
Well I’m no man of steel, but I’d walk on fire for you,
That’s just how I feel! — “Half Way”
Why are people so negative?
I think that everybody ought to just live and let live. — “Love to Hate”
I can’t tell the sky that it’s not blue
How can I tell you that I don’t love you? — “Can’t Lie to My Heart” (download)
When your girl walks out you just want her back.
You got to have her now and that’s a fact, Jack! — “L.I.A.R.”
Standing on the razor’s edge but I’m not going under
Every night I’m on the line, livin’ like my days are numbered. — “Go for Broke” (download)
Oh, and yes, denim-coated rockers, REO Speedwagon is still rolling. Word is, they’re gearing up for a new album in 2006. Will it be Hi Infidelity cheesy or The Earth, A Small Man, His Dog and A Chicken awful? Only time will tell…
1Something which I blame, in no small part, on Don Bleu and Jeff McNeal of 97.7 KYUU FM.