Warner Brothers Records, 1975
REVIEW BY: Mark Feldman
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 02/03/2000
Now a largely-forgotten relic of the '70s, Ambrosia has suffered a fate that no artistic band should have to suffer. Their self-titled debut was produced by the one and only Alan Parsons, but like Parsons' own band (sorry, project), Ambrosia was a progressive outfit that occasionally felt the need to streamline themselves just enough to support their experiments with a huge adult contemporary hit. It put food the table. Don't get me wrong though - these hits were all wonderful songs which were far better than most of their adult contemporary contemporaries, but it's too bad that Ambrosia will probably be forever lumped in with groups like Firefall and Air Supply, when they accomplished so much more.
It's this debut in particular that showcases what a talented band this was. Alan Parsons has, of course, never been in charge of an album that sounded bad. He worked on Abbey Road and Dark Side Of The Moon, and of course a series of excellent albums with his Project, chock full of music to play in planetariums. On Ambrosia, he was given the challenge to produce a group that was more rock-oriented, and it really sounds great - the vocals are up front, easy to hear, and full of energy. The guitars sound bright and cheery, and the piano sounds full and bold - not your typical '70s band-in-a-box production values.
But lest Parsons steal the spotlight from the band who actually wrote this album, we should mention that Ambrosia were not totally faceless. Vocalist and bass guitarist Joe Puerta was later part of the Range (as in Bruce Hornsby and), and lead guitarist David Pack went on to write lots of movie music, and even had one extremely minor hit in the mid-'80s (which if you can name, you are as sick an '80s nut as I).
Ambrosia does contain "Holdin' On To Yesterday," the first of their hits, and probably the best. You still hear this a lot in the "classic rock" format and it really is a classic; a fat Fender Rhodes graces most of the chorus, and some of the saddest "aaaahhhh"s ever to be used as harmonizing vocals grace most of the verse. This is one of those tunes that makes us all long for the days of real instruments and honest-to-goodness personality that you just don't hear in top 40 pop songs anymore. Ambrosia tried to duplicate this sound with "How Much I Feel" a couple years later, and it was a huge hit as well, but far more sentimental and far less edgy.
One can only imagine what many a housewife (or househusband, I suppose, let's be politically correct) must have thought when after hearing that sweet, sad song on the AM radio, decided to buy the album and hear what else Ambrosia could do. The rest of the disc aims far higher - "Nice, Nice, Very Nice" sets a passage from Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle to music and delivers a Utopian vision of the world as melting pot, a Chinese dentist, a teenage rocker, Ginger Rogers, all part of the "same machine." Puerta sings this with a slight Spanish accent but not a trace of humor. Pretentious? Very, but kind of cute.
"Time Waits For No One," not the Rolling Stones song, is more successful, hinting a bit at Kansas or ELP when they're not trying to out-solo each other. "Make Us All Aware" and "World Leave Me Alone" are both incredible too, the former a testimony to this band's tightness, and the latter a more traditional angry-young-man rocker. More literary references pop up in "Mama Frog," which starts off on a trippy journey into wah-wah land, and then metamorphosizes into a slow chant - incidentally, a similar structure to a certain Doors song also with a Frog in it. But there are no Lizard King musings here - instead, Ambrosia decides to recite Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" IN ITS ENTIRETY in the middle section. Pretentious? Extremely, but unique.
With only five albums, and a smattering of commercial compromises to come later, Ambrosia will never be mentioned in the same breath as the giants of '70s progressive rock, but this album and the follow-up Somewhere I've Never Traveled are both excellent additions to the collection of any fan of the genre.
Oh, what the hey, I may as well reveal that David Pack's 1986 hit was called "Prove Me Wrong," and it's still in my alphabetically sorted box of 45s between Jeffrey Osborne's "Stay With Me Tonight" and Ray Parker Jr's "I Still Can't Get Over Loving You." We are sick puppies here.