Sound — 8
Now we get to Loverboy's last record of the '80s - well, last full record....who is Loverboy? Well, for those just tuning into my reviews... Loverboy is/was a New Wave band formed in Vancouver Canada in 1979, that kind of morphed with the tide of '80s rock to become borderline Pop Metal towards the end of the decade, and here, they are riding on the same wave Winger and Firehouse are.
Now, time to address the personnel...
Mike Reno - Mike Reno (Rynoski) is the blues based lead singer of the band. On this album, Reno started applying the tobacco company's distortion pedal of sorts to get a growlier voice than he even had on the previous effort. However, as usual, Reno's vocal chops have not changed one bit, what we get here is Reno in a more blues-based-metal-like mode without going so far over the line the girls in their fanbase are scared to come to the show.
Paul Dean - Well, Founding member Dean the Machine is back on backing vocals and lead guitar of course, and here's something interesting I read on Tami's Loverboy Page about this record straight from the horses's mouth - Paul was ASSEMBLING GUITARS in the studio for this record. I mean, literally taking necks, bodies, pickups, tremolo units/bridges, and putting them together like a freaking jigsaw puzzle, so it's almost hard to pin down what he used on what track where here. By this point amplification was 100% Marshall power, though I think I hear some Hiwatt here and there on the overdubs, but most of it seems to scream Marshall to my ears. The Loft 450G flanger turns up here and there, and his overall tone has this interesting, scratchy high mids to it that gives it an interesting character. Looking at some videos from around that time, it looks like Paul was using Kramer Paul Dean bodies that were routed for Bolt-On Necks, and the necks appear to the Chandler necks, he also appears to be using DiMarzio super II's again in some guitars like his old Odyssey/Hondo models.
Scott Smith still uses a fair mix of Warwick and Steinberger on this album, however, Scott seems a bit, uh, not-present on some tracks due to the treble heavy production on this record.
Doug Johnson seems fairly present on this album, we hear a lot of Yamaha YM8312 chip (SoundBlaster synth) sounds on there, and other digital synth stuff ala Yamaha DX7 and probably some Ensoniq and other newer digital keyboard tech that was becoming popular at the time, which makes this album scream 1987-1988, it sounds like the time.
Matt Frenette - Matt's drum sound is surprisingly modern here, like 5 years before that dry, glossy drum sound became the popular sound. It sounds very in-your face on this record.
The production on this record feels a little more raw, a bit more different, some of the EQ is weird, Paul's guitars have this almost wispy, hissy quality to them, like the treble was turned up too much, which takes the edge off, but I think that's done so it cuts through the mix so we don't have the problem "Keep It Up" suffered from which was Paul's guitar getting buried in the mix behind the drums, synth, and bass. Not too surprising since one of the newsletters from the band around the time mentions Paul spending Christmas of the year they recorded this "living" in the studio and mixing it with the album's producer.
Overall, I give it an 8, some people might be put off by the production, but I kind of like it because it gives a rawness back to the band that was not present on "Lovin' Every Minute of It".
Lyrics — 7
I know I come off sounding like a broken record because I constantly mention this band as being a very blatant, in-your-face, no artsy fartsy lyrics band, and they are one of my prime examples of that type of lyric writing. It's a style, a method, and it works, especially if you are going to create a pop song someone can identify with (unless its circa 1989-1995).
What's interesting here is Loverboy had quite a few "outside" writers making the songs for them at this poitn because "the well dried up" for most of the guys post-success. I can understand how this could be because you write that first album from your pain, hunger, stress of being a regular person living a regular 9 to 5 life and playing your music on the weekends in the bars and clubs on lack of sleep in hopes to make it - then, at least in the 80's, you get it all, fame, fortune, all the perks - how is it one can write from that which they dont' have once they become detached from the reality most of us go through - that's my point of view on why Loverboy, like many 80's acts, had to resort to outside songwriters. Not defending so much as pointing out the reason why. I mean, what relatable scenario do you have in your twenties with an endless supply of whatever you want or need as you have the money and sway to pursue it?
Now, time for my Track-by-Track....
"Notorious" - aka. The "NaNa Song" (Cringes), well, at least it's a step up from Passion Pit from the "Keep It Up" record. This song was a collaborative efford of Paul Dean, Mike Reno, Jon Bon Jovi, Ritchie Sambora, and some guy named Todd Cerney, and it's obvious it was groomed to be a radio hit complete with catchy "nana" chorus and a obligatory Jon Bon Jovi harmonica solo. As a fan of both bands, I've heard better, but hey, sounds like they had fun.
"Walkin' On Fire" - Sort of a Metal/Pop crossover with a heavy guitar riff bolstered by lots of synth pads. Another work with Cerney. Some great Jazzy 7th chord work with whammy bars from Dean on the verses "I Get high (crosseyed sounding-bwangwawawawawa ensues)".
"Break It To Me Gently" - Now here's some classic 2/4 Loverboy with grinding guitars, soaring Dean solo, and classic vein party lyrics. No surprise, this one was written by the band (Dean/Reno). The music video is a hoot, looks like a college house party with the band and Dean running over the tops of chairs, Reno schmoosing the girls, and people almost knocking Matt's kit over. With the older gear and production it could have fit on any one of the first three albums.
"Love Will Rise Again" - The leading single from this album, not even written by the band (written by Cerney/Rhoades). Apparently they got a tape with this and some other songs on it before the record, tested them out in Canadian clubs, and kept the tracks that "worked". To me, sounds like a soundtrack candidate in a similar vein to "The Secret of My Success" by Night Ranger (one of Loverboy's contemporaries).
"Can't Get Much Better" - Six different writers, only two in the band, and we get this. The song deceptively kicks off with an odd mix of positive lyrics and a dark omnious keyboard sequence with some Dean augmentations toward the end before going into full singalong chorus territory without having an actual singalong chorus... more like a Singalong Bridge.
And I'll take a moment to stop and complain about ALL late 80's records - what the frick is it with these cheesy horn section keyboards everybody used. Loverboy, Night Ranger, Billy Squier - it's like they invited the Church Band to moonlight on keyboards. C'mon, if I want the Light of Yeshua/Jesus coming after me, I'll go to a church, but singing about a debaucherous night in L.A. is not the time for the Horns of Zion dammit! Either that or it sounds like a Car Commercial, and the last thing I want on my night out in V-town is a shifty eyed Oldsmobile Salesman knocking shit over from too many hours behind the 286 writing up invoices! Leave Rose Town in Super Mario RPG where it belongs.
Okay, my rant about cheesy horns is over...
"Hometown Hero" - more like Hometown ho-hum. Not a bad song, just not as interesting as other things the band has done....of course it's only member involved in this song's construction is Paul Dean and I'm not sure how much he was there on this one. Not the usual creatively dark with attitude thing I know Dean for writing.
"Wildside" - The title track, not really much of a fan since I don't like the rhythm much. It's trying to hard to be sexy but here comes the Horns of Zion to summon the pigeons... STOP SHITTING ON THE STAIRSTEPPER MACHINE!
"Don't Let Go" - Sounds like a good sports anthem, if you're into that sort of thing. Not a bad song either. Just not as good as stuff they have done before.
"That's Where my Money Goes" - I love funny songs, and this one is great, and it's true. You have Reno doing vocal interjections like "Gag me with a BMW", and Paul's guitar solo has me wondering if he spent a weekend an Quionea Beach Resort near Aberdeen because what he's doing here is like a cross between The Blues and Kurt Cobain going on a Stratocaster Mangle-fest 5 years before Kurt became known for it....I'm sure you're SICK of the cross references to nirvana...eh, tough! I would have loved to have been in the studio the day they recorded this, honestly, hearing this one made the whole album for me.
"Read My Lips" - One of the heaviest songs on the album, if it were not for the cheesy horns, it has a real Led Zepplinesque vibe to the guitar line. Probably my 3rd or 4th favorite.
"Don't Keep Me in the Dark" (BONUS on CD Version) - I wonder how much after the rest of the songs this was recorded because this sounds almost like Loverboy moving into the early '90s pre-grunge here. Dean is tuned down 1/2 a step. This is possibly one of the best tracks there, and the best serious track on the album. THIS is the dark side of Loverboy I like to hear, and that sound Paul Dean had on Always On My Mind on the first record is back for the solo. Toward the end things get heavy, giving a dark, ominous, this is the end feel to it...quite fitting, because a year later, the band would split, and Paul Dean would go solo (which I'm reviewing next).
"Wildside" is a wild ride from beginning to end ranging from banal and kind of standard to hilarious highs ("That's Where my Money Goes") to deep/dark lows ("Don't Keep Me in the Dark"). I'll give it a 7, I could do without the Horns of Zion and the more bog-standard moments, but when Loverboy is on, they are ON.
Overall Impression — 7
This is around the time most '80s rock started falling into the super-corporate level of banality... the very thing that lead what they called grunge to save rock 'n' roll just a few short years later. The edge was going away, but from the sound of this record, it sounds like Loverboy was not going to let themselves get overly caught up in it without a fight, creating quite an interesting work as a result with quite a dynamic shift in songwriting quality amongst the material ranging from funny and awesome. Compared to all their contemporaries that went down the same route (Night Ranger getting pigeonholed as a "Ballad Band" when they really were one of the heaviest New Wave bands of the early 80's at one time, Billy Squier's career ruined by a Choreography Attempt, The Cars going Orthodontist Office before giving us one last harrowing ride over a cliff with Door to Door... for 24 years at least)... Loverboy seems like they still sat up there with The Cars as the ones that either tried to fight or maintain a balance of creativity and pleasing the record company - a very thin tight rope to walk I'm sure.
The standout tracks include the funny and quite honest "That's Where My Money Goes", the dark and very sad "Don't Keep me in the Dark", "Love Will Rise Again" is a really good pop single, and "Break it to me Gently" is like early '80s Loverboy in 1987 - something a classic fan would like, with also one of the most amusing videos I've ever watched of theirs.
What I love about it is the fact they tried to take some new approaches and experimented here, even the story about Dean frankenteining guitars is pretty cool. But it's not my favorite output of theirs, but it's still worlds better than Passion Pit (EEK) at least.
Again, I own on digital, so stealing it or losing it is not really a thing. Honetly, I still want the vinyl for my collection because I do enjoy this record quite a bit even with it's flaws and knowing that a good chunk of it was hired gun songwriters. Good music is good music, wherever it comes from.
Anyway, after this record, the band broke up for a few until 1989 for the "Big Ones" compilation, and Paul Dean went on a solo excursion of his own called "Hardcore" in 1989.
If I could give it a 7.5, I would. Not the worst thing they ever put out (we already got past that), but it's not the best. But it's still good, TBH, I'm not 100% sure how I fully feel on it.