Question for the ages: What the hell happened to Robbie Nevil?
I don’t mean “happened” in a where-is-he-now sort of way â€” anyone able to spell “Google” and “Robbie Nevil” can find his site in a few seconds â€” I mean, what the hell happened? The guy went from Hitsville to the cutout bin in less than five years.
Happens all the time, of course. We all know that. It’s just a little more mystifying to me in Nevil’s case. He’s talented, he had enthusiastic label support, he had an interesting sound, he had two fat hits off his first album:but Day 1 came out and nobody cared. And then he just up and quit making records.
Now, look. I’m not suggesting that the world is somehow poorer because the guy who did “Wot’s It To Ya?” and “C’est La Vie” stopped releasing albums; in fact, I guarantee nobody got sicker of either song than I did. But he can sing and he can play, and it seems to me that he could have landed on his feet if he’d tried. But hey, not everyone is man enough for the synth-pop game.
Anyway, Day 1. As a piece of art, it isn’t very good. But as an example of what happens when you try to make a funk album without drums, it’s perhaps the greatest album ever released.
It’s an immutable law of music. I don’t care who you are. If you are going to attempt to create funk, actual drums must be involved in some capacity. I’m not saying drum machines can’t be used, although I’d rather they weren’t, not ever; but to try and navigate the funky seas without a living person behind a real drum kit is the height of hubris. Sail not into these waters, Robbie Nevil, for beyond this place lie monsters!
Yes, monsters:just not monster hits.
The album is sort of stunning in an early ’90s, they-just-didn’t-know-when-to-quit sort of way. A brief perusal of the liner notes reveals a veritable Who’s Who of the era’s studio rats: Tommy Faragher, Steve Dubin, Jon Van Tongeren, Jeff Pescetto, Kevin Savigar, Neil Stubenhaus, Tommy Funderburk:the list goes on. Dubin is responsible for the lion’s share of the “drums” on Day 1, and thus deserves heaping piles of scorn and mockery, but it’s Nevil’s name on the album, so blame for its horrible, tinny bottom end rests with him.
It actually starts off sort of okay: “Just Like You” (download) is a hummable pile of Day-Glo nonsense, absolutely perfect for its time. But it slides quickly downhill from there. Imagine what it would sound like if Jon Secada and Dave Koz had a kid together, and you’re in the neighborhood â€” there’s thirty-two flavors of crap wedged into thirteen songs, from the barfy pillow talk in “For Your Mind” (download) to the barfy spilt milk in “Do You Miss Me” (download) to the awful, completely unfunky funk numbers, like “Temptation” (download) (which inexplicably features Rose Stone and Larry Graham) and the offensively bad cover of “Tell Me Something Good” (download).
The only real high point is the only song with actual drums, and wouldn’t you know it, “Same Ole Song” (download) (featuring impassioned vocals from the exquisitely, unfortunately named Vanciele Faggett) is tucked away right at the end.
So I guess drum machines â€” and an overlong, badly produced mess of a third album â€” are what happened to Robbie Nevil. I heard a few years ago that he’d signed a deal with Viastar Records, one of those fly-by-night labels that almost always seem to be located in New Jersey (and be in court for trademark violations). It figures â€” if he was foolish enough to ignore one immutable law of music, he was certainly foolish enough to ignore another; namely, never sign a contract with any label that has the word “star” anywhere in its name.