If We Only Knew Then What We Know Now
Metal Blade Records, 1998
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/03/1998
In the opening minute of If We Only Knew Then What We Know Now, the reunion album from Billy Sheehan and Talas, it is declared to the live audience in Buffalo, New York that this is the moment they had waited 14 years for. Which leads me to pose the question: was a reunion really necessary?
I mean, aside from the fact that Sheehan is one of the best-known bass guitarists in rock today (thanks to stints with David Lee Roth and Mr. Big), Talas was never a huge name in the hard rock field. As much as I was a metalhead back in those days, I honestly could not remember hearing Talas mentioned on the one heavy metal show on the radio or seen their name scribbled on my buddies' school bags.
Talas, no matter how you look at it, was a cult favorite - influential, perhaps, but not meant for the mainstream. Maybe that's why I had a problem building up any excitement over If We Only Knew Then What We Know Now - to misquote Dan Hicks, how can we miss you if we don't realize you went away?
To give credit where credit is due, the way the band handles vocal chores is admirable, and the harmony work I heard here was quite pretty. Likewise, there were some performances that stood out, such as the set opener "Sink Your Teeth Into That" and "Shy Boy". Sheehan, guitarist/vocalist Dave Constantino and drummer/vocalist Paul Varga do show at times glimmers of past glories, glimmers that may make you wonder why Talas was never mentioned in the same breath as bands like Bon Jovi or Def Leppard.
But just as the moments of glory come through, so do the signs of weakness. As a trio, Talas almost begs for the addition of a permanent rhythm guitarist, if only to give Sheehan a break from his fanciful bass noodlings. (Sometimes I wonder if all the riffing he did was absolutely necessary.) Sometimes, the songwriting isn't the strongest - possibly the key reason why Talas never made it to the upper strata of success. Songs like "Power To Break Away" and "Thick Head" are not always the greatest moments in hard rock, and they sound incredibly dated.
The most interesting moment on this album, ironically, comes on a tune that Talas didn't write. I don't know why covering King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man" has become the thing to do, but Talas kicks some serious life into this song. It is almost as if Constantino and crew were meant to jam on this one since it was written; it seems perfect for all three instrumentalists. This one song alone made it worth slugging through the disc.
I say "slugging through" because it took me somewhere around 10 listens before I got through one complete sitting. With this album, it's incredibly easy to lose your focus and to daydream off, leaving the album behind. That's not a good sign; a good album should keep my attention for almost the entire record.
Of course, those who followed Talas religiously (or have become devotees to Sheehan) will find If We Only Knew Then What We Know Now to be indispensible. For the rest of us, this is a learning experience that I'm not totally convinced is worth investing a lot of time into.