This edition: Should Bryan Adams be remembered or forgotten?
We look back at the follow-up to his mega-successful “Reckless” album
Here’s the question: is Bryan Adams an overrated rocker, tainted by three or 12 too many vapid soundtrack songs?
Or is he underrated and prematurely forgotten? How safe is his legacy of loud rock and roll, filled with generic lyrics, cranking guitars, slamming drums, and hooks made of bubblegum? How has time treated the music of a guy who best took the Mellencamp/Springsteen template and covered it with a bunch of sugar?
Here’s what I did. I slapped the 1987 album (yep, the vinyl LP) “Into the Fire” on the turntable Friday night, and gave the volume knob a pretty good twist.
It’s the album that followed “Reckless”, which ranks as one of the 10 best rock albums of the 80’s. (Argue if you want. “Summer of ’69?” “Run to You”? That shit sounded great coming out of the car radio. And the album tracks on it were just as good). The problem in 1987 was “Into the Fire” came at the point when Adams had worked hard for about 10 years, with probably too few breaks.
“Into the Fire” is a loud, excessive, indulgent record, with more 80’s reverb lacquered into grooves than necessary. But turned up, with a beer in hand (which is how Bryan Adams music should be consumed,right?), something about the music is righteous. Or so I hoped…
Track 1 “Heat of the Night” was the song first sent to radio; this was also the first chance to hear him since the previous album’s smashing success. Not enough soul, but the sound is trademark Bryan Adams.The song didn’t soar like the tunes on the previous record. A little leaden.
Track 2 “Into the Fire” – Everything said about track one applies here – overwrought.
Track 3 “Victim of Love” is a forgotten power ballad that could be his best; nicely straddling a line of schmaltz and balls.
Track 4 “Another Day” is the first tune on side one that gets a little loose, and harkens back to the “Cuts Like Knife” era. I dig it when the band goes nuts at the end before Bryan pulls them back together.
Track 5 “Native Son” really sounds Canadian. Reminds me of Tragically Hip and a lot of the other 80’s and 90’s rock bands out of Canada. (Remember Honeymoon Suite?) It’s one of two similary-themed songs on the album, along with “Rememberence Day” on side two. Bryan is shooting for an anthem. Didn’t quite make it. But dammit, the drums sound good.
This record echoes those snares on the U2/Alarm/Simple Minds albums that had a slammin’, gated reverb sound. So did Phil Collins, Springsteen, Prince and nearly every band that made rock records from 1983-1987. I’m just a fuckin’ sucker for that crack. It reminds me of being 20, working nights at a radio station, drinking beer and staying up late. It resonates with part of my soul that responds to sounds, especially that specific sound, in the midst of rootsy guitars and raspy vocals.
So, when Bryan lets “Native Son” die down, before kicking back in, it occurs to me that the record may have gotten beaten up a bit too much by critics. Hell, it still sold. It got radio play. But I remember disappointment after the hits on “Reckless”.
Track 1 “Only the Strong Survive” is all uptempo plodding, if that’s possible. Bryan again straining; it doesn’t connect.
Track 2 “Rebel” trying to replicate his a “Heaven” ballad gene, and it proves to be a rewrite that sounds OK yet isn’t a home run. But again, the drums sound good.
Track 3 The aforementioned “Rememberence Day” continues the anthem push. A bit of Canada seeps in, with namechecks of Kingston and Brighton. I’m from Indiana, so trying to make the regional connection is a bit tough. The guitars panned left and right are killer. And the strings at the end work. Adams’ voice is one of his gifts; the whole raspy Rod Stewart roar.
Track 4 “Hearts on Fire” was always my favorite, though buried on side two. It’s the “Summer of 69” rewrite for the album, and I don’t care if it sounds like a ripoff. The cut is the perfect blend of all that is good about Bryan Adams, before Mutt Lange got to him and “Def Lepperd-ed” the sound. You’ve got keyboards emulating a Hammond B3. It is start-stop chunking twin guitars from longtime band guitarist Keith Scott and Adams. The music pushes forward with the best energy on the record. And I hear cowbell too. The song was actually written for the “Reckless” album…
Track 5 “Home Again” tries to hard too, and ends the record with a bit of a thud.
RECAP: I saw Bryan Adams on this album’s tour, with The Hooters (!) opening up, at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena. My buddy Tom and I would go see live music every weekend, either at a club or a concert. I spent every bit of my money on music. And Adams was part of a rush of 25 or so national artists we would end up seeing over the course of a year. Bryan’s energy didn’t disappoint. We were standing on chairs in the 22nd row. I still recall “Hearts on Fire” as three minutes of meaningless rock and roll that meant everything.
Adams came back after this release with another couple records, teaming with producer Lange, and had hits with the post-Def Lepperd, pre-Shania Twain recipe of sound. By the mid 90’s, Bryan was essentially musically spent. His later records echo the classic sound but have never quite recaptured the mystery of what made him memorable, as the embodiment of 80’s pop-rock.
So is where is Bryan Adams’ place in rock and roll? In the end, his music holds up because it is tightly constructed rock and roll. It is ear candy, done well. And it certainly sounds like American rock music. I listened to the whole record, and never wanted to turn it off. Even the mediocre songs contain moments of rock band thrills and noise that make my dumb rock fan heart expand. Whatever you think that is worth, I would argue there is great value in hearing music that penetrates to your musical soul, whether it stays forever or for just a few moments.
RECORDED LIVE / VIDEO
Here’s Bryan at Abbey Road in 2008. He still has the voice, man. and the last line he sings on here, “Cuts like a …nah nah nah, na na na na nah”, is brilliant. No shit. Underrated.
Summer of ’69 recent – in Lisbon.