This week, I’m taking a cue from Popdose’s own Uncle Donnie (and not from my cousin Donnie, thank you very much) to offer up a little pre-emptive career advice. It was made known recently that Kiss would be releasing a three-disc, brand new album soon, it would be an exclusive to WalMart, and it should have the Lazarus-like qualities found in Journey’s last album, Revelations. Oh, I had something to say about it, but only after its release, as one of the curious benefits of being a WalMart exclusive is that you don’t have to market your band to the critics – meaning you critics are probably not getting promotional copies with which to skewer the provider. You’ll buy your review copy like everybody else.
What does all this have to do with Mick Jones? Well, aside from the fact that the Clash’s Mick Jones gets all the love while Foreigner’s Mick Jones has to keep reminding folks he’s not the Clash’s Mick Jones, Kiss just pooped on his band’s parade ground, for only a week or so prior to Kiss’ announcement for the upcoming Sonic Boom, Jones was lightly basking in the pale, lukewarm glow of his band’s own impending WalMart release, Can’t Slow Down. He has a few handicaps already doing the exact opposite of his CD’s title. First of all, Lou Gramm is not the vocalist on the album. Since his conversion to Christianity, his bouts with cancer and the plain old truth that he doesn’t sound much like Lou Gramm anymore, Foreigner has necessarily had to employ the services of former Hurricane vocalist Kelly Hansen. I refuse to take shots at this situation because, for all I know, Hansen might be a great addition. I’ve never heard him sing, so he’s getting a pass. However, he’s not the only addition to the group. Mick Jones is the sole original member of Foreigner now. But these things happen to bands after 30 or so years. At any rate, this new album was getting a fair amount of write-up on the rock blogs and such until, whap, Gene Simmons went and barfed Karo syrup and red dye #5 all over Can’t Slow Down. Those same blogs are now inundated with Kiss blurbs on a daily basis.
This isn’t even why I’ve devoted this column to warn Mick Jones of impending disaster. Do you really want the reason, the real reason, why he needs to do an about-face and fast? Feast your eyes on this.
I realize we’re in the post-design world of digital music. Lavish art production is only interesting to music geeks like me, not some kid with an iPod who needs only a teeny-tiny picture to put across artist from artist. And let’s be brutally honest: kids with iPods probably aren’t going to be interested in Can’t Slow Down. But there is nothing about this cover that says, “Buy me, I’m a winner.” What I’m getting from this is, alternately, “Stage two of Asteroids! All right!” or “Matthew Broderick was awesome in WarGames!” I reiterate. Woof.
I’m also calling B.S. on the notion that packaging is entirely past-tense. We’ve moved from physical product to digital product, but that doesn’t solely mean digital music – video, pictures and on-line ephemera all interlock to make a music personality a celebrity. It has reached new heights with our latest batch, as their mugs are plastered in sidebar ads, pop-up pics and their lives are splattered all over the gossip portals like TMZ. Do not for a minute think that the thirty or so stories about Lady Gaga that show up this coming week are happenstance. Many times, these are as PR coordinated as an album cover’s photo shoot. And speaking of photo shoots, how a performer looks today is so much more important to the breadth of their career’s reach. To wit:
So that even though the necessity of a CD package is moot to all but a small sector of the buying public, it no less diminishes the importance of the packaging, and Mick, Michael, Mr. Jones… your future release’s unspoken statement doesn’t say, “Pretend it’s like the 1980s again when you loved Foreigner.” It says, “Eh. Whatever.”
So what are my suggestions to you, since I’m so smart and know what it takes to shift numbers in this modern age? Clearly, I don’t have the right answers, otherwise I’d be writing this piece on my solid gold, diamond encrusted keyboard and, at the last appraisal, they could only identify cubic zirconium. Fools! making a living at giving advice. We all have to call it as we see it and this release is trading on the well-wishes of the pre-existing fanbase. That’s the unspoken function of the WalMart release – to contain the product to one market. That all-in-one approach appeals to people with busy lives, families and no time to windowshop around Bumpkinville. You’re talking about the same demographic that probably grew up with the music of Journey, Kiss, The Eagles and Foreigner. Harmonic convergence is achieved. So, why not a simple photograph of Foreigner circa 2009 standing at the train station, the train is speeding away behind them and the blur of people racing in front of them all help make sense of the album’s title. It also recalls the cover of the band’s debut featuring a painting of Foreigner circa 1977 standing by tracks as a train pulls away.
But hey, what do I know? I just pulled that one out of my rear on the fly. You guys had fourteen years to arrive at the notion that the Atari 2600 is rad. Nonetheless, I wish Foreigner the band, in whatever configuration it may be, the best. It was probably sometime around 1979 when my mom drove me to K-Mart, the mega-store back then, and said I could get myself a cassette. I must not have been a total pain in the ass that week, and mom always encouraged my love of music. I could have had any title I wanted, but got that debut from 1977. Aside from a couple tunes that don’t hold up particularly well, Foreigner is still a fine example of the pop-rock sound, so my criticism is borne out of a degree of sentimentality that, while not entirely objective, still puts me in a time where I could like what I liked and that was my only concern.
Even so… WOOF.
Next week: “Dear Kiss – saw the cover for the upcoming Sonic Boom. Time for you all to step up to trifocals.”