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.
BLACK ‘N BLUE – WITHOUT LOVE (1985)
More than three years ago, I wrote about Black ‘N Blue’s third album Nasty Nasty. In the opening of the article, I mentioned that the album had more of a raw production sound to it after a more streamlined sound failed to break the band to a bigger audience.
That attempt at a more streamlined sound was this second album from the band. While I’ve known of the band for decades, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time checking out their music and so as I listened to Without Love for this article, I was hearing it for the very first time. I guess thirty six years from the album’s original release qualifies as being late to the party.
While the band’s timing and material is usually cited as the reason for why they didn’t become more well-known, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by this album. I do like a real melodic hook to the rock I listen to, so as Without Love opened with the track “Rockin’ On Heaven’s Door”, I was quickly taken with the track. It’s a fast paced rocker (a description that fits most of the eleven songs on the album) that has a great instaneous hook that draws you in.
Black ‘N Blue didn’t quite follow that opening song up strongly with the next two songs on Side One of Without Love though. The album’s title track is good but doesn’t quite thrill me the way the first song did and “Stop The Lightning” was shoulder shrug inducing for me, just a “meh” kind of track.
But the first side does come back to form strongly with the song “Nature Of The Beach”, which is an ode to living life on said beach. It’s got a great feel to the music and I like the lyrical / vocal take from Jaime St. James. As for the side closing “Miss Mystery”, that’s a song that has such a catchy delivery I found that I wished it had become a hit for the band.
While I wasn’t totally sold on the entirety of Side One, when I flipped the tape over I found that I really loved Side Two.
The second side of Without Love kicks off with “Swing Time”, which much like “Rockin’ On Heaven’s Door” is a side opening rocker guaranteed to hook you fast. I loved the song.
While I thought the “Bombastic Plastic” song title (and ensuing use of it in the chorus) came off sounding a bit silly, the music for the track more than made up for it. The song “Strange Things” opens up with a slower delivery that deepens the music’s feel and as it goes on, a more rocking tempo takes over. The opening part of the song seemingly hinted at a kind of cinematic type of song which I think would’ve played out great. That said, I liked how the band took both styles in the song and melded them into one great song.
There’s a definitive stomp to the groove driven bluesy rock sound on “Two Wrongs (Don’t Make It Love”). For those who love that overt blues rock sound in their music, you will love this one.
Black ‘N Blue’s cover of the Aerosmith song “Same Old Song And Dance” came out rather well. It pretty much plays it straightforward with how they perform the track, but the weird thing is that I’m not sure how many members of the actual band were involved in the recording for this one. If you look at the liner notes, other than vocals and lead guitar, it seems everything was played by guest musicians (including noted music producer Bob Rock on rhythm guitar). Call me crazy but what’s the point of doing a cover if most of your band doesn’t appear on the track?
Of course, if you want the true spark track that drives my enjoyment of Without Love, look no further than “We Got The Fire”. This song is a killer rock track that shows off the band in spectacular fashion. While I have a ways to go in exploring all the songs Black ‘N Blue recorded, this one is definitely a song that would make my best of list for sure.
It’s strange that an album that was so relatively unpopular back in the day that the band overhauled their sound the next time out would be one I enjoyed so much. I believe it is available on CD and I just might find myself upgrading because Black ‘N Blue’s Without Love is one hell of an entertaining release!
NOTES OF INTEREST: The band co-wrote the title track and “Miss Mystery” with Jim Vallance, the longtime songwriting partner of Bryan Adams.
Vallance played “Simmons drums” on “We Got The Fire”. The song featured Loverboy singer Mike Reno on backing vocals and Toto’s Steve Porcaro as one of three musicians credited on keyboards for the track. Adam Bomb contributed “additional guitars” to the song as well.
The band’s cover of Aerosmith’s “Same Old Song And Dance” being included on the cassette edition of Without Love seems to have been forgotten in terms of online research. I looked at the Wikipedia entry for the album and the song is only listed as a bonus track for the CD version.