Liviní On The Fault Line

The Doobie Brothers

Warner Brothers, 1977

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Lost between the “classic” Doobie Brothers albums and the Michael McDonald hit-making era of “What A Fool Believes” is 1977’s Livin’ On The Fault Line, and it turns out there’s a reason for this.

Essentially Michael McDonald’s first solo album, Fault Line is an awkward transition from one era to the next, devoid of catchy songs, the simmering undercurrent of melancholy, and the rollicking bar-boogie fun that came together to mark the band’s best work. The songs pleasantly bleat along for a while, the soundtrack to a life full of #firstworldproblems, where the biggest issues are that your yacht wax was two days late and there is a smear on your Porsche hubcap and the country club ran out of raspberry vinaigrette and you had to use – ick – my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Italian, if you can imagine the lower-class gaucheness of that.

The first half of the album is a morass of mediocrity, with the most basic songwriting approaches and then some Doobies flourishes (layered background vocals and handclaps) to make these songs seem deeper than they really are. No need to waste 10 minutes of your life on songs you won’t remember that afternoon, and the lyrics can be summed up as follows: Women. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em, amirite?

Some hope springs toward the end of Side 1 in the melancholy “You Belong To Me,” which has an introverted Steely Dan feel, and then the fine Patrick Simmons title tune, which sounds like a natural extension of Takin’ It To The Streets while taking it in a new direction. Most interesting is the jazzy interplay of the instrumental center of the song, giving the players a chance to step out of their comfort zones and never staying in one musical place for too long. It’s too ambitious for a hit single, recalling past songs like “I Cheat The Hangman” as proof that the Doobies were more than just “China Grove” when you really dug in. 

Things then get back to the dull on “Nothin’ But A Heartache,” the plodding blue-eyed soul of “There’s A Light” and the first half of “Chinatown,” though partway through that song breaks into an instrumental section and suddenly gets very interesting very quickly. Tiran Porter turns in the solid “Need A Lady,” using the McDonald-led tunes as a basis but hastening along the tempo, adding a great solo over top and ending just in time. Simmons then closes the album with a brief acoustic-guitar instrumental probably left over from Toulouse Street, just to remind fans of what the band used to be.

For Doobies fans and upper-middle-class white people over 50 who liked Steely Dan and Boz Scaggs in the late ‘70s, a handful of minor gems await on Fault Line. But all others are advised to steer clear until they’ve heard the better albums first.

Rating: C-

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