Out Of The Blue
Atlantic Records, 1987
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 07/03/1997
I knew my wife was up to something when I returned home this evening. When I walked in the door, she had a cold beer waiting for me. She took me to my favorite restaurant. And when we got back, she sprang it on me: "Can I make a request for a review?"
Now, Mrs. Thelen's tastes in music are much more different than mine - but she has put up with a lot of the music I've listened to for review purposes. (She did, however, describe Iron Butterfly as "grounds for divorce".) But when she asked me to review Debbie Gibson, I thought this couldn't be all bad. After all, I had purchased - willingly - a few of her albums, and they weren't horrid.
Her 1987 debut Out Of The Blue shows a young songwriter who has some moments of brilliance, but whose relative immaturity as a performer and her overdependence on synthesizers are her tragic flaws.
When this came out, Gibson and fellow teen star Tiffany were competing for the dance-pop market. In the end, Gibson won the war - Tiffany was dropped after three albums. But Gibson didn't seem to capture the sheer popularity of her "rival."
The album starts off strong with the title track, where Gibson sounds a tad like Madonna in her early days, though the styles differ. Gibson shows her vocal talents as well as on keyboards - and in a sense, this is the beginning of the danger signs. I know that I should expect to hear a great deal of synthesizers in dance music - doesn't mean I have to like it. I will always prefer the sound of acoustic drums to those produced by a keyboard, and it wouldn't have hurt to include some on this album.
Gibson holds her own on songs like "Only In My Dreams" and her other hit single "Shake Your Love," which - despite the jokes made by some comedians - has nothing to do with physically shaking anything. (My daddy always told me that if I was shaking it more than twice, I was playing with it... oops.) But Gibson's true strength could have been in the adult-contemporary vein,as heard on "Foolish Beat" - though even here, less electronics would have been wise.
The electronic overkill is one of the downfalls of the remainder of Out Of The Blue - but on songs like "Red Hot," "Wake Up To Love" and "Play The Field," the weaknesses of a young songwriter come out. Not that this is a damning feature of Gibson - everyone has to go through a learning curve as a songwriter. But I find it hard to swallow that a teenager is singing about true love and staying together. Hell, I'm in my mid-twenties and I couldn't claim to be an expert in these fields. Here's someone - what, was she 16 when she recorded this? - lecturing me! I don't think so.
In one sense, maybe it's not fair for a man to be reviewing an album that was, in all reality, geared towards the teenage girl market. While all the guys in my class were slamming our heads into the lockers in time with the latest Iron Maiden record, the girls were talking about this. But, hey, I like to think I've got an open enough mind to be able to listen to this.
Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad album - Gibson has rarely done anything which made me want to rip the tape out of the deck. And she was quite comfortable in her genre of choice. Add to this that she is a talented singer and you do have the makings of a possible success. But Out Of The Blue, while worth a listen or two, is not up to that potential she had - and still has.
As for the wife - well, she hasn't read the review just yet, but I don't think she'll be offering me dinners out anymore.