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.
LOU GRAMM – READY OR NOT (1987)
Having previously written about Lou Gramm’s solo album Long Hard Look in this series, I was pretty thrilled to find myself a copy of his debut solo album on a recent shopping trip. While it is obvious that Gramm is singularly thought of from his time fronting Foreigner, it is hard to argue against the notion that he’s had some seriously good solo music as well.
Even though Gram has had so many hits with Foreigner, it is hard not to think that the song “Midnight Blue” can hold its own against any of them. The song is the commercial highlight of the album. It became a Top 5 single hit when it was released and I can remember singing along to it whenever it played on the radio. Time has not dulled the sharpness of the song for me either. It’s a pure slice of melodic rock and I think Gramm was at the top of his game with this particular performance.
The funny thing about the song for me while listening to it on the cassette is that I thought it sounded just a bit different than I remember it. I wonder if there was a radio edit version of the song or something. Of course, it is more likely that my ears were playing tricks on me. Either way, I loved hearing the track.
The album itself opens with the title cut. The song was the second and final track released as a single from the album but it didn’t fair nearly as well as “Midnight Blue”. I’d never heard the album before so as an objective first time listener, I can see why it didn’t have the same level of success. The song ranges from mid-to-uptempo in pace, but I just didn’t get that much of a heady buzz off the song as a whole.
Guitarist Nils Lofgren plays lead guitar on nine songs and his playing is pretty damn impressive. That shouldn’t be surprising or anything but it still bears mentioning here. Solos on songs like “Heartache” and “Arrow Thru Your Heart” are quite the energetic romps.
The song “If I Don’t Have You” features a varied tempo to the music but it still comes off more as a ballad. There’s sense of shading to the stylistic delivery of the track but it doesn’t quite work for me. On side two of the album the song “Until I Make You Mine” is decent but I found myself enjoying the chorus more than the main lyrical passages.
It’s been reasonably well documented that the reason for Lou Gramm’s first departure from Foreigner was due to friction with guitarist Mick Jones over the direction of the band’s music. Gramm wanted to stick with the more rock-oriented approach while Jones wanted to do more softer type material.
For me, while Lou Gramm’s voice is perfectly cast for the best ballads from Foreigner, Ready Or Not makes a pretty strong statement that Gramm’s desire to rock out was the better approach. It is the aggressive rock and roll on the album that stands out the best to me. Besides “Midnight Blue”, there’s a trio of hard rocking tracks that had me kind of breathless over the overall quality of the album. “Chain Of Love” is a fascinatingly intense track while the strong guitar work woven throughout “Time” gives the song an instant vibe for the listener to click with.
But best of all is “She’s Got To Know”. There’s an immediacy to the way the song’s in-your-face delivery grabs you. There’s a killer groove to the music and I thought Gramm’s vocals were particularly well done. While “Midnight Blue” is always going to be the showcase number of Gramm’s solo catalog, I’d argue that this song is amongst his best work.
While Lou Gramm’s solo work of the 1980’s consisted of just two releases, they are stunningly good examples of just how much Gramm brings to the table as a singer and songwriter. Much like with Long Hard Look, the Ready Or Not album showcases Lou Gramm at the peak of his powers and delivers the goods in a melodically fluid and hard rocking fashion.
NOTES OF INTEREST: The Ready Or Not album went to #27 on the Billboard album chart and received a lot of critical acclaim. The album came out in January of 1987 with Gramm still part of Foreigner when the band released the album Inside Information in December of the same year.
Eight of the ten songs on the album were co-written by Bruce Turgon. He played bass on eight of the songs and lead guitar on the song “Lover Come Back”. He previously worked with Lou Gramm when both were a part of the band Black Sheep.