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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Why Waste Pot on Listening to REO Speedwagon? An Intrepid Search for an Answer

Posted By on Thu, Feb 17, 2011 at 8:31 AM


Listen to this while high: Hi Infidelity by REO Speedwagon.

Huh?: If you were getting high thirty years ago, you did so to this record whether you remember it or not.


Behind the buzz: Formed in 1967 as a cover band by students at the University of Illinois in Champaign, REO S-Wagon was yet another one of those uncompromising Midwestern hard-rock acts domesticated by degrees to the pop market. When this chrome-plated wedge of 1981 arena rock hit Number One for the third time, dumbfounded critics were (again) stuck with the sorry job of accounting for public taste -- while punks and heshers alike bonded in headlong flight from "Take It on the Run." Hi Infidelity eventually sold ten million copies, which gives some idea of just how hard this whole thing was to live down.

Today's weed: OG Kush, the King of Indicas and renowned for its pain-dulling properties.

Peaking Early: Though most of what comes after is more or less horrifying, "Don't Let Him Go" is one of the great arena rock bad-boy anthems. The cunning punnery of "He's got a long wick with a flame at both ends" is the album's one stab at conscious humor, and lead singer Kevin Cronin really sells it. Indeed, his over-delicate, actorish phrasing is this album's greatest asset, wearing far better than the band's unbearably glossy production or Gary Richrath's cramped guitar solos. It's all downhill from here, but Cronin's vocals on the megahit power ballad "Keep On Lovin' You" keep it interesting, even on the dada-like "You played dead, but you never bled/Instead you lay still in the grass/All coiled up and hissin'." Kidz, next time the fam starts effing with you about Die Antwoord, lay this sample of meatwit poetics on them.

The Hits Just Keep on Coming and So Much the Worse for You: From this moderately imposing peak, it's a fast ride to the sub-basement. Back in the day, "Follow My Heart," "In Your Letter," and "Take It on the Run" were smeared all over the airwaves -- just as Rush and Glenny B. are now -- and wreaked similar ill effects upon the national character. To be fair to the band, adolescent bitching and howling about what you aren't ever going to get had far fewer political implications back then, Tipper Gore and Frank Zappa to the contrary notwithstanding.

All Filla, No Killa: The balance of Hi Infidelity is dross; the kind of forgettable stuff you find on Styx or Red Ryder LPs from the same period, only without their occasional bursts of quirky and melody. The finale, "I Wish You Were There" is a hammy lover's lament that signals the end of the album while jarring loose a sudden Proustian memory of how comfy the back seats of Chevy Vegas were. Certainly a cheery thought for the week after Valentine's Day.

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