When last we left our friend Henry Lee, he was following up the surprise success of 1988’s Henry Lee Summer with the more-satisfying-but-not-as-commercially-successful I’ve Got Everything, which of course led to the All-Important Third Album.
The All-Important Third Album is a long rock & roll tradition. We actually don’t get to see them as often as we used to, because labels tend to cut out more quickly than they did back in the glory days of hookers & blow, but for guys like Henry Lee, they were something of an inevitability. Show some potential on your first record, under-perform on your second, and wait for the chefs to crowd the kitchen for your third. More often than not, the result was an album like Way Past Midnight, which tries to bridge the gap between who the artist really is with who the label wishes he was, and winds up sounding like neither.
Way Past Midnight was a big fat flop, of course, and for good reason. It isn’t a very good album. The leadoff track and first single, “Till Somebody Loves You” (download), was a three-way cowrite between Henry Lee, Diane Warren, and Michael Bolton. Aside from being a mullet convergence of historic proportions, the song sounds like something Bolton and Warren had lying around from the sessions that produced “Time, Love & Tenderness,” and it probably was.
There are a couple catchy, if formulaic, MOR love songs early in the album, but “So Desperately” (download) and “Tonight” (download) belong on someone else’s record. Unfortunately, they’re the best songs here. The rest of the album mostly consists of tired, glossed-up variations on the meat & potatoes rock Summer had made more convincingly before, although there’s also room for a completely pointless cover of “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” (download) and an embarrassing eco-anthem called, yes, “Dear Earth” (download).
Without getting too dramatic about the plight of a forgotten heartland rocker, Henry Lee Summer was thoroughly screwed after Way Past Midnight â€” having shown himself willing to play ball with the suits, he wasn’t about to get back the kind of artistic freedom that produced his first two albums. Though his next release wouldn’t be as transparently sales-oriented, neither would be terribly inspired.
But that’s a story for next week: