REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/12/2006
When you think of the bands that epitomize arena rock, Foreigner is simply inescapable. Big, simple guitar riffs; big, simple synthesizer melodies; big, simple lyrics; and one big, simple goal behind it all: sell some records, man. Get some chicks, buy some cars, party it up. Just... don't... think... too... hard. The end result is a band that's about as culturally significant as Ronald McDonald.
Foreigner formed around the musical partnership of British guitarist/producer Mick Jones (*not* the guy from The Clash!) and American lead singer Lou Gramm, joined by an eclectic collection of supporting players consisting of ex-King Crimson sax player Ian McDonald, ex-Ian Hunter drummer Dennis Elliott, and New Yorkers Al Greenwood (keyboards) and Ed Gagliardi (bass).
With Jones and Gramm writing the songs, the band assembled this debut full of chest-thumping rockers and woe-is-me ballads so musically uncomplicated and frankly commercial as to make their immediate success feel inevitable. Of course the ringing, buoyant "Feels Like The First Time" and the sharp, angry "Cold As Ice" were hits -- they're like cartoon cut-outs of rock songs. Opening riff goes here, repeat twice, verse, chorus, flashy bridge, verse, chorus, and close it out with a swelling chorus of collagen-injected background vocals.
To be fair, though, looking back from 2006 this album isn't completely without merit. The main riffs are workmanlike and "Long Long Way From Home" is a standout, with genuine drive and creative incorporation of horns. "The Damage Is Done," after a plodding start, actually blossoms nicely mid-song, showing some imagination in its changes. The otherwise pedestrian "Fool For You Anyway" features Gramm's best vocal here, adding a little Motown flavor to his typical cinch-it-up-and-shout delivery.
The sinkhole into which this album ultimately falls, though, is dug by the lyrics, which I'm thinking must have been Jack Black's model for Tenacious D. I mean, how do you keep a straight face singing a line like "I am the captain of this body of mine / I send fear into the enemy lines"? And has there ever been a more put-upon, passive-aggressive, self-pitying pair of wannabe macho men than Jones and Gramm? "Woman oh woman / Don't bury me alive / Just make me feel like I've the right to survive." I don't know, maybe that's what too many meetings with A&R guys does to a musician's self-esteem. All of this of course makes "I Need You" the perfect closer, a sort of co-dependents' national anthem: "Yes I need you / Say you need me too." (Not until you get on your knees and beg!)
Foreigner would go on to issue several more albums' worth of sad-sack, paint-by-numbers music with Big Rock Riffs Embedded For Your Listening Pleasure, but never managed to top this stupendously mediocre outing. At least when Loverboy issued this same album again a couple of years later, they had a little fun with it.