[Jefito’s Note: I’ve been thinking about starting this series for awhile now; the way I see it, these Hooters and Peter Wolf CDs I’ve got lying around might as well be good for something, and while I don’t have the strength to do full-fledged Idiot’s Guides for these artists, they have been responsible for some enjoyable music, and that’s worth pointing out. To that end, here’s the first Jefitoblog Pocket Guide. Others will follow on a semi-regular basis. Requests, as always, are welcome! –J]
The Setup: Genesis guitarist/bassist Mike Rutherford, between outings with the mothership, cuts a record with a cast of veteran sidemen, including vocalist/keyboardist Paul Carrack (ex-Ace, ex-Squeeze, ex-Roxy Music); vocalist Paul Young (ex-Sad Cafe); keyboard player Adrian Lee; drummer Peter Van Hooke; and others.
The Delivery: Three hits, two big (”Silent Running,” “All I Need is a Miracle”) and one midsized (”Taken In”). Still, this is sort of an uneven affair — vocals on two songs are handled by singers who don’t even seem to have really been in the band (John Kirby, on “Par Avion,” and Gene Staschuk, on “You Are the One”), lending a possibly unintentionally literal slant to the band’s name. Hiccups aside, the basic template for the group’s early recordings is laid out here — Rutherford writes the songs with frequent collaborator B.A. Robertson, Carrack and Young split the lead vocals, and there are enough hits to go around.
What You Didn’t Hear: “I Get the Feeling” (download) seems to have been written specifically for Carrack to sing, and the reworked Genesis castoff “A Call to Arms” (download) is of interest to hardcore fans of Rutherford’s better-known gig.
The “Silent Running” video:
The “All I Need is a Miracle” video:
The “Taken In” video:
The Setup: No longer just a lark for Rutherford and crew, the second Mechanics album actually came with some financial expectations attached. Not coincidentally, the hatches on the ship had been battened down: Where the first album seemed pieced together by various personnel, The Living Years feels like the work of a band. A band in the business of making extremely antiseptic pop-rock, but a band nonetheless.
The Delivery: The mawkish title track went to #1 on the singles charts in early 1989, teaching a generation of men that it was okay to get misty-eyed about your dead asshole of a father…oh, and selling one or two million records in the process.
What You Didn’t Hear: Everything else, really — the album didn’t have any other hits to speak of — but Young almost gets the band to work up a sweat on “Seeing is Believing” (download) and “Beautiful Day” (download).
The “The Living Years” video:
The Setup: Essentially the same as the first two records, although the sound is the teensiest bit more organic. More Rutherford/Robertson songs, more vocals from Carrack and Young, and more hits. Well, that last one was part of the plan, anyway.
The Delivery: Word of Mouth hit stores in April of 1991, and by, oh, July, it was as dead as the father in “The Living Years.” It’s too bad, because despite the expected rough songwriting patches, the band seemed to actually be loosening up its sound, and on the whole, this is a better album than the first two.
What You Didn’t Hear: You didn’t hear a single song from this album, unless you lived in Europe or happened to be shopping for groceries at the right (wrong?) moment. “Everybody Gets a Second Chance” (download) was the nice, vaguely Motown-ish flop of a second single, and “My Crime of Passion” (download) would have been a hit a few years earlier.
The “Word of Mouth” video:
The Setup: Mike & the Mechanics still, inexplicably, had a record deal in 1995, meaning Atlantic actually released the group’s fourth album in the United States.
The Delivery: Not that anyone noticed. “Over My Shoulder” was a minor AC hit, but for the most part, the band — now effectively a trio consisting of Rutherford, Carrack, and Young — had been forgotten in America. Which, again, was a shame, because Beggar is probably the group’s most consistent album. There are two regrettable covers, which go from bad (”You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me”) to worse (”I Believe [When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever]”), and plenty of filler…but the production and performances, top to bottom, are the best they’d ever release.
What You Didn’t Hear: The title track (download) soars, in an unabashedly ’80s way, and “Someone Always Hates Someone” (download) is nicely moody.
The “Over My Shoulder” video:
The Setup: Everyone probably assumed Mike & the Mechanics no longer existed at this point, but Rutherford didn’t have anything else to do after Genesis petered out in 1998, so the band’s second self-titled release — also referred to as M6 — came out in 1999.
The Delivery: The songwriting, now being split more or less democratically between Rutherford, Robertson, and Carrack, is wildly, wildly uneven, but there are some definite bright spots, and the production is looser and more interesting than it had been to that point. Still, the whole thing feels a little half-assed; the cover artwork is lifted in part from a greatest-hits compilation released a couple of years before.
What You Didn’t Hear: “Whenever I Stop” (download) is pure late-period Carrack, and “When I Get Over You” (download) could have been a hit for Sting.
The “Now That You’ve Gone” video:
The Setup: After Paul Young’s sudden, fatal heart attack in the summer of 2000, everyone really assumed Mike & the Mechanics were a thing of the past — but lo, in 2004, this album, bearing the absurdly meaningless credit “Mike & the Mechanics featuring Paul Carrack,” was released. With a bonus DVD, no less!
The Delivery: Really sort of cool, actually. The band’s drift toward a more organic sound in the ’90s jibed with the times, but Mike & the Mechanics started out as a very technologically dependent outfit, and for Rewired, that aspect of the group’s sound returned to the forefront. It would have been a lot better if the songs had been more consistent, but it was the right idea nonetheless. That doesn’t change the fact that this was just a brand-name outing for Rutherford and Carrack, but it’s still better than most would have expected.
What You Didn’t Hear: “Perfect Child” (download) is sappy, but forgivably so, and the title track (download), though really only half a song, gets close to what this album might have been.
The “One Left Standing” video:
The Coda: The Genesis reunion tour put the Mechanics on ice, and recent comments made by Paul Carrack would seem to suggest something of a business rift between himself and Rutherford. Without compelling financial reasons for another album, it’s difficult to see these two continuing. Which is fine, really; not to take anything away from these other albums, but I mean…there is a season, and all that.