No End In Sight: The Very Best Of Foreigner

Foreigner

Rhino, 2008

http://www.foreigneronline.com/

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/07/2008

There are guilty pleasures, and then there are guilty pleasures.

I’m as surprised as anyone to find myself writing about Foreigner for the third time in two years; frankly, until it came time for our May 2006 arena rock retrospective, I probably hadn’t thought about the band three times in the last 20 years. They’re just so, well, predictable.

But since founding member / lead guitarist / songwriter Mick Jones reformed the group with an almost all-new lineup in 2005, they’ve been touring steadily and are now signed with Rhino and playing shows with fellow 80s AOR refugee Bryan Adams. The next logical move, naturally, is the group’s umpteenth hits collection, this time packaged with a chaser of new material.

Foreigner started out as in many ways the prototypical arena rock band, a group whose songs seemed to hold little purpose beyond embedding an unremarkable guitar riff on the back of your brain pan for three minutes and getting out while your money was still in their pockets. Their commercial bent became even more pronounced after the success of their 1981 smash “Waiting For A Girl Like You,” which became the template for a series of increasingly overwrought power ballads through the rest of the 80s and 90s.

The first disc of this two-CD set, covering Foreigner’s 1977-81 heyday, features virtually all of the band’s strongest moments. The hooks that anchor tunes like “Feels Like The First Time,” “Cold As Ice” and “Double Vision” are simply inescapable, and “Long Long Way From Home” might be the best cut the band ever recorded, with its urgent Lou Gramm vocals and complex arrangement. “Blue Morning, Blue Day” is another sleeper whose melody sticks in your head for days. And “Urgent” might have been a hit in any era with its brilliant mix-and-match arrangement, featuring Thomas Dolby’s pulsing synths split in two by a ripping sax solo from the immortal Junior Walker. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

For all the obvious appeal of hook-laden tunes like “Hot Blooded” and “Juke Box Hero,” though, I still have trouble getting past the fact that these guys are just comically bad lyricists. When they’re not busy busting laughable macho man poses like “Night Life” (“It could get kinda rough…Time to separate the men from the boys”), they’re playing the victim card with woe-is-me numbers like “Break It Up,” or the clueless skirt-chasers on the tongue-in-cheek yet still embarrassing “Women.” “Hot Blooded” itself features this hilarious nugget toward the end of the fade: “You’re makin’ me sing / For your sweet, sweet thing…” (Did you *really* just say that out loud?)

The second half of this two-disc set is even more uneven. Kicking off with the miles-over-the-top power-ballad-plus-gospel-choir “I Want To Know What Love Is,” the music immediately stumbles as tinny, flat, synth-heavy 80s production values take over and the Jones-Gramm partnership frays before our ears. There are punchy moments in tunes like “That Was Yesterday” and “Tooth And Nail,” but the lyrics no longer carry even comic relief value and the production is uniformly awful, making bland, cliché-ridden cuts like “Down On Love” and “Can’t Wait” difficult to sit through. When you reach the tunes from 1991’s Unusual Heat, featuring Johnny Edwards in the lead vocal slot, the band energy picks up and the riffs get bigger and rawer, but the music is ultimately no less generic.

The final four cuts feature the current band lineup, a sort of Mick Jones All-Star Band including lead vocalist Kelly Hansen (Hurricane), bassist Jeff Pilson (Dokken), drummer Jason Bonham (Bonham, Led Zeppelin), and 90s recruits Jeff Jacobs on keyboards and Thom Gimbel on everything else. The current lineup’s new studio cut “Too Late” sounds like a song out of time, a catchy tune that could easily have appeared on Double Vision or Head Games circa 1979-1980. The live acoustic version of “Say You Will” is a highlight, stripping away every awful 80s production touch from the studio original and putting the melody and vocals out front where they belong. The live “Starrider” packs appropriate punch and the “Juke Box Hero/Whole Lotta Love” medley works surprisingly well, showcasing a group playing with renewed spark and -- it seems -- plenty of mileage left in it.

It would be a stretch to call No End In Sight essential, especially given the number of collections Foreigner has on the market already. But the new material is decent enough, and let’s face it: guilty pleasures are better than none at all.

Rating: C+

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© 2008 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rhino, and is used for informational purposes only.