One Step Closer

The Doobie Brothers

Warner Brothers, 1980

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


…and just like that, the Doobie Brothers came to a close.

Minute By Minute positioned Phase Two of the band nicely for a future with Michael McDonald, one with almost no acknowledgement of their rock and boogie roots but with soul and pop underpinnings instead. It could have carried them through the ‘80s, one feels, and certainly “What A Fool Believes” and the Grammy nominations were as good a setup as a pop band could have received.

But it was not to be. One Step Closer to calling it quits, as it turned out, because this lackluster, unmemorable affair has no idea what kind of disc it wants to be, doesn’t have consistently great songs to offer (not even one killer hit single, a first) and sorely misses the spark of the ‘70s run of albums. It was probably the point where the band realized this was as far as they could go, causing McDonald to leave for a solo career and the other guys to watch TV for nine years until the inevitable reunion disc and tour (without McDonald and with the old sound intact) in 1989.

Cycles wasn’t great either, probably tied with this one for worst Doobies disc. Not that this is bad music, but more of a “what have we become?” sort of bad, where the songs just sound uninspired or cheesy. Corny dated saxophones abound on the title track and “Dedicate This Heart,” while “Thank You Love” is six minutes of the band sounding like a bad imitation of mid-‘70s Chicago. I imagined Walt Parazaider whomping McDonald with his saxophone over the head in the studio and then having Robert Lamm sing the song properly, although he probably would have given up after its six minutes too.

The nods to the band’s roots are perfunctory and forgettable, the lone exception being “South Bay Strut,” a smooth jazz instrumental that harkens yet again to the Steely Dan connection by way of the jittery electric piano playing, background synthesizer wheezes and skittering Skunk Baxter guitar work. The overall sheen is too ‘80s and too Kenny G to really work, but there are moments that make you remember why this band was good in the first place.

It must be noted that McDonald’s singing is uniformly strong throughout; if the music suffered from 1976 onward, his vocals were the linchpin that kept things going for a little while longer. And “Real Love” is a good track worth rediscovering, a melancholy pop tune with a creative bass line that makes the verses pop. But these are rare moments on an otherwise forgettable disc.

This incarnation of the band would call it quits after the tour for this album, which should tell you plenty about it. With little to recommend and “Real Love” on a hits collection somewhere, there’s really no reason to grab this one unless you’re a completist or McDonald fan.

Rating: D+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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