First up was the Todd Rundgren-produced Love Bomb, a recording that is wildly uneven, even for a band that prided itself on unevenness. (“Wild Women of Wongo”? “Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman”? Issues, anyone?) There wasn’t much to say about the album. I liked the tune “Piece by Piece,” but you could get that on the Tubes’ 1992 best-of compilation, so memory lane tends to be awfully unkind to ol’ Love Bomb.
I moved on to their sole entry from the ’90s, Genius of America (1996). Don’t recognize the title? Don’t worry — it was a bizarre time in popular music. Older bands were being signed to minor indie labels like Sanctuary and Castle Communications to try to capitalize on their remnants of fandom, but those labels tended to put little to no money or effort into promoting the bands’ releases. The assumption was that the bands themselves would do most of the heavy lifting through threadbare fan clubs, small-town touring, maybe even the occasional smoke signal or two. Groups like 10cc, Marillion, and the Tubes muddled through as best they could. Marillion, specifically, ended up jumping ship entirely by recording on their own imprint, Impact, going directly to the fans and away from the old folks’ home that was the minor indies. 10cc’s Mirror Mirror (1995) was a comeback of sorts (albeit without Godley and Creme), but not terribly good, and subsequently fast-tracked to cutout bins everywhere.
And what of the Tubes’ Genius of America besides the butt-ugly art design? Continuing down that road of strange continuity, a couple songs stand out and a lot of them don’t. It makes for a fine three-song EP, so it’s a shame that it’s nine songs longer than necessary, but I haven’t come to bury Genius of America. In fact, those three tunes could have been bona fide hits had they come out in a better market — say, any time other than the grunge-driven ’90s. “How Can You Live With Yourself” is exactly the kind of killer power ballad that Richard Marx used to write, which is fortunate since he cowrote the song. What’s unfortunate is that, by this time, Marx was less a career rescuer than someone looking to be rescued himself. Aside from being a bit of a psycho, lead singer Fee Waybill has a distinctive rock voice and gets his emoting out in front. I’ve no doubt this tune could’ve made a dent in the adult contemporary market, but the market needs to know you’re out there first.
The other two keepers are guitar-driven rock tunes: the title track, which is a treatise on American consumerism, and “Say What You Want,” which, to be slightly glib, is an entry into the “What the hell are you up to this time, woman?” catalog. If I were a Freudian, I could have a field day with Waybill’s and guitarist Roger Steen’s girl troubles. Where “Genius of America” is an aggressive jolt of power pop, “Say What You Want” works a funkier vibe. Both would’ve been huge in the late ’80s, but neither would’ve been at all enticing to the flannel camels of Sub Pop USA. And the rest of the album, while competent, remains uninvolving even today and marks the last full album of new material that the Tubes released. But I’d still rank it above Love Bomb and would recommend it to die-hard fans of the band; I still listen to those three tracks with enough warmth to devote a column to them, obviously. Perhaps that’s a good sign for a legacy — that even your “failure” produces an aftereffect instead of simply being dropped into the dustbin of history.
But, man, that is one crap cover.
P.S. Oh, what the heck. Here’s “Glass House” from Outside Inside.