Oh, don’t give me that disappointed look, you jerks. The whole idea behind this series is “listening to new music from artists who aren’t supposed to have any,” and who fits that description better than a dead man?
Dan Fogelberg died on December 16, 2007, after a three-year battle with prostate cancer — a date I’m painfully aware of, because his music has been featured twice in Mellowmas. The first year, we gleefully trashed “Same Old Lang Syne,” coining the word “Fogelfuck” and generally tinkling all over one of the greatest hits of an all-around nice guy who was fighting for his life, which, as you can imagine, didn’t go over well with the Fogelfans. This only encouraged us to go back for more the next year, and we hated on Fogelberg’s “At Christmas Time” in a column that posted just a few days before Fogelberg’s death. Whoops!
Naturally, when I found out Fogelberg’s widow was arranging for the release of this posthumous album, my thoughts immediately turned to You Again? — and because nobody else understands the wrath of the Fogelmasses as well as Jason, I quickly e-mailed him to ask him what he thought about me featuring the new album in this column. Jason, being a nice guy, totally freaked out and insisted that it was a terrible, terrible idea, at which point I called him a pussy, got the affirmation I needed from Michael Parr and David Lifton, and set about writing this column.
Moral of the story: Jason Hare is a sensitive man, and whatever you read here isn’t his fault. He really tried to stop me.
I myself am not a terribly sensitive man, which is why I’m often disappointed when I sit down to write a You Again? and discover that the album I’m looking forward to teeing off on really isn’t that bad. This time, however, I listened to the music with some trepidation; after all, it’s one thing to trash a Christmas song — most of them are pretty trashy to begin with — but quite another to bash someone’s last musical will and testament. I wasn’t about to sugarcoat things if Love in Time sucked — and I was all but certain it would — but I wouldn’t get as much joy out of it as I would have if, say, Al B. Sure!’s latest record had stunk. If only for the sake of avoiding hate mail, I wanted this album to succeed.
Well, call off the hounds, Fogelfaithful, because I’m here to tell you that even from the perspective of a person who’s never really cared about Dan Fogelberg’s music, Love in Time is a surprisingly solid album.
I’d written off Fogelberg after 1993′s River of Souls, which took all the ground he’d gained with 1990′s The Wild Places — his sporadically lovely, albeit rather half-cooked, swan song for Epic — and blew it on bland, shapeless hooey like “Faces of America” and “Holy Road.” After getting bored with his precisely calibrated brand of singer/songwriter pop/rock in the ’80s, Fogelberg shucked it all and went genre-hopping, fiddling with country and bluegrass (1985′s High Country Snows, which went gold) and straight-ahead rock (1987′s Exiles, which didn’t). It was a brave move for an artist who turned everything he touched into platinum throughout the ’70s and early ’80s, but I think it also indicated that Fogelberg’s muse was deserting him. At its best, The Wild Places fused together all the disparate elements of his artistic personality — folk balladeer, rocker, social activist — but instead of kicking off a new chapter in his career, it was essentially the end. After leaving Epic for Giant, Fogelberg released a pair of underwhelming records (the aforementioned River of Souls and 1996′s No Resemblance Whatsoever, which reunited him with flutist Tim Weisberg for a lukewarm puddle of smooth jazz) before vanishing into the wilderness.
Okay, so Fogelberg wasn’t totally AWOL. But he might as well have been: After leaving Giant, he signed with Chicago Records, the miserable excuse for a label that was briefly “run” by the band Chicago, managing to release a Christmas album and a live compilation before the band realized it had made a terrible mistake and had no business managing a record company. In fact, after River of Souls, he managed only one album of new material — 2003′s Full Circle, which I have never heard and will not comment on — before he passed away.
Or that’s what we thought, anyway. Turns out Fogelberg started working on Love in Time after he found out he had cancer, finished it before his death, put the masters in a safety deposit box, and told his wife to release it after he was gone. I’m sorry, did you just read that? Because it’s fucking heartbreaking. Dan Fogelberg is like the last chapter of a Nicholas Sparks novel and the 2Pac of the singer/songwriter world, all rolled into one.
He had some good songs up his sleeves, too. As tended to be his wont later in his career, Fogelberg played all the instruments on Love in Time, which is usually the kiss of death, especially for a guy with such a weakness for schmaltz. And true to form, there are some cheesy bits on the album — tinny-sounding keyboards, hokey rhythm programming — but for the most part, it’s a pretty stripped-down affair that plays squarely to Fogelberg’s strengths. The title track kicks things off in a mildly rocking fashion, tracks like “Diamonds to Dust” remind you that Fogelberg harmonized with himself like no one else, and the wiry, six-minute “Nature of the Game” finds him peeling off some spry acoustic licks in a prolonged intro that might be the best thing on the whole record.
Fogelberg could be a pretty sentimental fellow even when he was perfectly healthy, and with death staring him in the face, you might expect — and be willing to forgive — some rather mawkish balladry. Love in Time actually stays away from that stuff, for the most part, although I’m sure not a few Friends O’ Fogel will be reduced to tears by his album-closing cover of Neil Young’s “Birds,” which contains lines like:
When you see me
Fly away without you
Shadow on the things you know
Feathers fall around you
And show you the way to go
It’s over, it’s over
Yeah. Even if the record was a complete dud, I think I’d give it a pass simply because if I were Fogelberg’s widow, I’d have hung onto it like Gollum, not wanting to let it anywhere near creeps like me; the odds against it holding up out of the context of Fogelberg’s death were incredibly steep. But there’s really only one bad track here — “Come to the Harbor,” which the press kit claims was “written in Maine on his boat while waiting for his wife Jean to join him for a harbor dance,” but neglects to mention that he must have been listening to “Horse with No Name” while he was waiting. The rest of it, although it may not contain another “Part of the Plan” or “Leader of the Band,” is a charmingly low-key farewell. If you miss the glory days of the Laurel Canyon singer/songwriter genre, you won’t want to miss it.