The Cassette Chronicles – Lou Gramm’s ‘Long Hard Look’

By JAY ROBERTS

The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.

(WRITER’S NOTE: THIS IS THE LAST REGULAR ARTICLE IN THE SERIES FOR 2019. A BEST OF THE YEAR PIECE WILL APPEAR IN A WEEK OR TWO. THE REGULAR SERIES WILL RETURN IN 2020.)

LOU GRAMM – LONG HARD LOOK (1989)

Following the success of his first solo release Ready Or Not in 1987 (that generated the Top 5 single “Midnight Blue”), singer Lou Gramm’s second solo release hit store shelves in 1989 and continued his run as one of the more notable voices in rock history.

While still a member of Foreigner until 1990, the ongoing creative issues between Gramm and Mick Jones over the direction of the band’s music had to have played a role in why this particular album had such a rock and/or hard rock feel to the material.

While I do remember the song “Just Between You And Me” (which would go on to hit #6 on the singles chart) quite fondly, I’d never listened to this album before. This is a sad realization for me because as it turns out, it’s a pretty darn good album.

The first side of the album is astoundingly good. While I wasn’t totally into the rather uptempo love song “True Blue Love”, it’s not terrible per se. I just didn’t find myself particularly inspired by it.

But that song aside, the rest of side one is one rocker after another. The album opens with “Angel With A Dirty Face” and the song really grabs you right from the start. Fast paced with a sweet guitar line running through the song, the track has a very cool sounding chorus that blends it all together. Personally, I think this would’ve been another great choice to release as a single back then.

That’s followed up by “Just Between You And Me” and I’d say it is one of his best songs whether solo or from his days with Foreigner. Hard driving tempo combined with just the right pop touch to make it the hit that it became, the track still stands up perfectly.

There’s a slightly edgier undertone to the song “Broken Dreams”, particularly as it relates to the guitar work. I don’t know why, but this song really worked for me. It also had another big sounding chorus, so that helps as well. As for the side closing “I’ll Come Running”, well it is just a great sounding track with a kick you in the butt song construction that got my blood pumping.

Anyone who’s listened to the classic rocker tracks from Foreigner knows that Lou Gramm can really deliver the goods when it comes to high energy and fast paced vocals. “Hot Blooded”, “Juke Box Hero”, “Cold As Ice” anyone?

But you could’ve floored me with “Hangin’ On My Hip”, lead song on Side 2 of Long Hard Look. It’s a pure hard rock track. There’s no “classic” rock or “pop” rock description for this song , it is HARD ROCK. And Lou Gramm really seemed to cut loose vocally on the song. It’s just freaking awesome to hear him do this kind of track, even if I’m 30 years late in discovering it.

Given the era this album was released, it comes as no surprise that there is a power ballad to deal with. It is just a tad bit ironic that ballads were an issue between Lou Gramm and Mick Jones but Gramm still couldn’t get away from the song style on his solo release. I know that Gramm wrote this song all on his own, but good grief this was just cloying claptrap to me.

Thankfully, the turn for the softer side of things was short-lived as the album closes out with rockers like “Day One”, “I’ll Know When It’s Over” and a cover of the Small Faces song “Tin Soldier”.

Lou Gramm’s standing as one of the defining voices of rock music is secured. But finding out just how good Long Hard Look was, even three decades after I should’ve done so, I can’t help feeling that I need to do a far better job in getting to know the ins-and-outs of his work in order to have a far better sense of appreciation for just how special he is as a singer. Long Hard Look is an excellent way to begin doing that very thing.

NOTES OF INTEREST: Guitarist Nils Lofgren played guitar on the songs “Just Between You and Me” and “Day One”. The latter track also featured guitar playing from Dio and Def Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell. He played on the songs “Broken Dreams” and “Hangin’ On My Hip” as well.

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