BY JAY ROBERTS (SPECIAL TO LIMELIGHT MAGAZINE)
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s that I have acquired through Purchase Street Records in New Bedford, MA.
The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from the 1980’s 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.
JOHN WAITE – Rover’s Return (1987)
Back in the murky swamps of the distant past, I was slightly less grumpy and cranky than I am now. This would probably account for why in 1984, I absolutely loved the John Waite #1 smash hit ballad “Missing You” from his No Brakes album. It was a ballad but one that didn’t come with so much cheese as to bind up your insides beyond salvaging. As for the album it was on, No Brakes was fantastic from beginning to end. I really loved that album.
So, as I sat down to listen to Rover’s Return, I found myself wondering why I never really got into John Waite’s other solo albums. At least not to the point I did with No Brakes.
The ex-Babys singer Waite has always had a great voice that has shined with his original group, solo and with Bad English. However, on Rover’s Return there is ample evidence that a big reason why he never quite reached the continuing success peak with his solo career is because he just didn’t have the best songs to work with.
The album kicks off with the track that served as the big single attempt, “These Times Are Hard For Lovers.” Co-written by Desmond Child (who is also credited with backing vocals on the album), the uptempo number is quite catchy. However, the blending of backing vocals during the song’s chorus overpowers Waite’s main vocal track and feels like a bit of overkill. While I generally like the song, each time I hear the chorus I cringe.
The other single released from the album was “Don’t Lose Any Sleep,” which was written by another prolific hit songwriter, Diane Warren, but it did worse on the charts than “These Times…” I can understand why because the quality of the song changes from one moment to the next. I found myself wavering on this one because there were moments I liked in the song but they’d get swallowed up by the next moment which made me want to scream in agony.
Songs like “Act of Love,” a depressingly one note serving of blandness that makes white bread look edgy made me wonder who had the final say on picking the tracks for the release. Normally, a major complaint of mine centers on the ballad tracks on any given album, but in a somewhat refreshing yet odd change of pace, the faster rock paced song “Wild One” which closes out Side One is stunningly weak for a song that aims to get the blood pumping.
I know, I know. You are reading this and wondering if there was anything about this album that I liked without reservations because you don’t want to read just a diatribe of how mediocre I found Rover’s Return to be.
The answer is yes. There are some rather good tracks that deserved to be on a better cast album than this one. The song “Encircled” has an edgier musical score to it with Waite’s vocal performance more forceful. “Woman’s Touch” has a gritty guitar line in the song that caught my ear.
For my money, the last three songs on the album are where Waite’s abilities are demonstrated to their full potential. “Sometimes” is a ballad with some rather excellent storytelling in the lyrics. “Big Time For Love” closes things out with a racing rock crescendo and my personal favorite song on the album, “She’s The One,” melds rock aggressiveness with pop sensibilities for a song that I would’ve loved hearing as a big hit radio track all those years ago.
I’ve been a fan of John Waite’s voice ever since “Missing You” was released as a single, and that hasn’t changed regardless of where I heard his voice over the years. I’ve heard stuff from his time with The Babys and loved the first Bad English album. He’s just got something that endears his singing to the listener. But despite this, even though he wrote or co-wrote 7 out of the 9 cuts on this album, there are times when the songwriting is lacking and fails to capture the best of what he can do.
I find that to be a rather embarrassing thing to admit because I do claim an allegiance of fandom for him. But Rover’s Return is simply not more than an adequate release that leaves you feeling disappointed because the album could’ve been so much more.
Notes of Interest: Anton Fig, best known as the drummer for David Letterman’s house band The CBS Orchestra, is one of three credited drummers on this album. His name is spelled “Figg” in the liner notes. Meanwhile, singer Joe Lynn Turner (Rainbow, Deep Purple, Yngwie Malmsteen) is credited as providing backing vocals.