Epic / Legacy Records, 1999
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/06/1999
When one thinks of make-out music, I don't think the band whose name comes to mind first is REO Speedwagon. Then again, what do I know; the first time I hoped to score with a girl I was dating, I had Beethoven playing in the background - which she demanded I turn off. With that history, I'm amazed I ever got laid. But I digress.
But Kevin Cronin and crew have known for most of their almost 30-year career that the ballad has been a powerful secret weapon for them. While they've been known for their rock edge most of their career, it has been their ballads that have brought them success often. Recognizing this, the band has combined tracks old and new to create The Ballads, a disc that will probably be getting a lot of play at weddings this year.
If you have the best-of CD The Hits, you already have some of these tracks, such as "Keep On Loving You" and "Can't Fight This Feeling". But what Cronin and the band do with this disc is to keep things fresh, so even though I'm listening to "Keep On Loving You" for the thousandth time, it still sounds like a newer song.
For that matter, all the older music on The Ballads has kept its freshness well; these tracks could have been recorded yesterday, with the exception that Cronin's vocals have taken on a more mellow sound of late, as evidenced by the new track "Just For You".
The two new songs on The Ballads - "Just For You" and "Till The Rivers Run Dry" - are both excellent songs, and chances are they, along with some other songs, will start cropping up at weddings soon. (One of my college buddies - who happens to write for this site - is getting married in November. Damn shame he's hired a band for the reception; this disc has material that would keep people slow dancing for hours.)
Chances are some of these songs, like those released on the albums Building The Bridge and The Earth, A Small Man, His Dog, And A Chicken (I'm sorry, but that ranks up there as one of the dumbest titles ever), will be surprisingly pleasant discoveries. Songs like "Building The Bridge," "The Heart Survives" and "After Tonight" all are wonderful additions to the REO Speedwagon catalog - and something tells me these tracks might just revive some interest in these forgotten albums.
Of course, I have to admit that I miss the rock; sitting through 13 ballads tends to get a little too syrupy sweet for my tastes. Still, The Ballads is a pleasant enough disc that rightfully could be labeled a "greatest hits" package, for there's no mistakes on this one.