NEAL SMITH – Pop 85-95

Kachina 2020

NEAL SMITH –
Pop 85-95

Billion Dollar God of Thunder beats his own drum without wielding a Battle Axe to grind.

He may have claimed his name was hallowed fifty years ago yet, between ALICE COOPER’s demise and the rise of the “KillSmith” project, this artist didn’t seem to worry about glory. Not that Neal Smith ever stopped playing or writing, and if 1999’s “Platinum God” – the veteran’s solo debut – harked back to 1975, there were newer numbers in his creative storage, more attuned to the next decade. With bright melodies the order of the day, he set to explore pop: hence the material gathered here, under a deliberately unfortunate cover, which could grace the charts had anyone cared to release them.

Solid as these tracks are, they sound outdated now, though, and synthetic percussion on heavier cuts like “Love Can Run, Love Can Hide” can’t help but hamper their sonic appeal. Given Smith’s pedigree, it’s tempting to read too much into such titles as “I Love You To Death” and “Dying To Love You” – the former an infectious rocker and the latter a soulful, tremulous ballad-cum-march – yet these songs bear much simpler innuendos than the playful necrophilia of Neal’s former ensemble’s oeuvre. The glitter is still there, of course – his translucent manifest “Distant Drum” evokes the spirit of Marc Bolan – and the usual controversy, too, as “I Wanna Be Good, But I Don’t Know How” taps into classic AC tropes, wrapping them in AOR allure, whereas Smith’s piano, sprinkling “In A Heartbeat” with boogie and driving “Love Sets The Night On Fire” to the bluesy bliss, will appeal to a power pop aficionado.

Still, “If I Only Had You” comes awash in sunlit pining, with Neal laying down an unsophisticated beat and offering sincere sentiments while adding sweet roar to his voice to spice up the demo feel that the first three tracks on display convey, which is sort of natural for a trio setting. Or would be if “Secret Eyes” didn’t ride a mighty groove and catchy keyboard line – no wonder this piece progressed to the only LP that saw Smith join old accomplice Dennis Dunaway and BÖC’s Joe Bouchard in DEADRINGER – and didn’t see Jay Jesse Johnson, the drummer’s six-string sidekick, paint tasty patterns all over it. Triple J’s guitar solos also help “Fly Home Sweet Angel” take off and soar before the hymnal “All My Eyes Can See” brings things to a close.

Whether the album can exist outside the completist circles remains to be seen, but as a pure pop confectionery it’s quite viable.

***3/4

August 13, 2020

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