There is a certain group of musicians whose names elicit knowing grins from music nerds, and quizzical shrugs from everybody else. They’re career players, and in some cases, they’re even fairly wealthy; most people have never heard of them, but they’ve definitely heard them.
Paul Carrack is one of those guys. He’s actually a bit higher-profile than most, owing to his supple (and yet curiously anonymous) vocals — he’s belted out big hits for three separate bands that I can think of, all songs you’d know if I named them — but it’s his keyboard prowess that has landed him gigs with everybody from Roxy Music to Eric Clapton. He’s a pub rocker, a workman, a guy who never stood a chance of solo success in the video age.
And yet, for a brief time in the ’80s, it seemed like Carrack was indeed poised to become a big-time solo star. If anything, it seemed like his sporadic attention to his solo career was what held it back. His first solo release was followed by a turn as a member of Squeeze (that’s Carrack singing “Tempted”); his second, Suburban Voodoo, was critically well-received and even spun off a couple of hits, but he wasn’t able to follow it up for four years due to his commitments as a member of Mike & the Mechanics (that’s Carrack singing “Silent Running” and “The Living Years”).
With 1987’s One Good Reason, Carrack finally hit major Top 40 paydirt. The album spun off four singles, one of which, “Don’t Shed A Tear,” is one of the great forgotten hits of the decade. After Reason, Carrack recorded and toured behind The Living Years with Mike & the Mechanics, then turned around and assembled his next solo album, Groove Approved, the very next year.
It looks good on paper. Carrack co-wrote with Daryl Hall (”Only My Heart Can Tell”), Nick Lowe (”Battlefield” [download]), Michael McDonald (”Love Can Break Your Heart”), John Wesley Harding (”Bad News [At the Best of Times]” [download]), and Chris Difford (”After the Love Is Gone”). The record was chock full of the sort of slick blue-eyed soul he’d become known for. At the very least, it should have squatted like a monster over AC radio throughout 1990.
But no. Carrack’s label, Chrysalis, was going through major upheaval in October of 1989, when Groove Approved was released. As Chrysalis was sold to EMI, the label’s bigger stars — Huey Lewis, Pat Benatar, and…no one else, I guess — made the jump; guys like Carrack slipped through the cracks.
Admittedly, the album’s stupid title didn’t help, and neither did the label’s choice of a first single in “I Live By the Groove” (download). And Carrack’s exclusive reliance on drum machines made an even sillier joke out of the title, not to mention ruining perfectly serviceable midtempo rockers like “I’m on Your Tail” (download). But a patient promotional campaign would have taken full advantage of the potential in glossy ballads like “Tip of My Tongue” (download) and “Dedicated” (download).
Alas and alack, Groove Approve stiffed, Carrack’s solo career went on a seven-year hiatus (during which he returned to Mike & the Mechanics and Squeeze, formed Spin 1ne 2wo with Tony Levin, Phil Palmer, and Steve Ferrone, and performed on probably a thousand sessions). He’s released a handful of albums since restarting his solo career (1996’s Blue Views, 1998’s Beautiful World, 2000’s Satisfy My Soul, and 2003’s ‘Til It’s Over), but you get the feeling he’s doing it for fun more than anything else.
Which is, of course, exactly as it should be. It’s just too bad Carrack never reached that brass ring — as a solo artist, anyway.