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One of my favorite albums by my favorite group of all-time, and yet still marred with inconsistency.
on January 25, 2014
Hall & Oates is the number-one act of all-time in my book. The way they could dabble in everything from folk, to prog-rock, new wave, R&B, smooth jazz, urban contemporary, and adult contemporary, all with a catchy poppy production-sheen over a 40-year career still astonishes me. And their 1978 album Along The Red Ledge shows so much of their versatility. On this album Hall & Oates goes from a purer melanchololy 70s-pop tune "It's A Laugh" (That awesome saxophone!), to a rocker in Melody For a Memory, to the ELO-Sounding "The Last Time" with a string section and featuring George Harrison on guitar, to the Philly Soul-esque number "I Don't Wanna Lose You" laden with a great horn section and an awesome bassline, and then a Frippertronics-laden tune in "Have I Been Away For Too Long", another melancholy, empty tune very reflective of the solo work Daryl Hall was doing with Robert Fripp also around the release of this album. And this is only Side A of the album! And yet despite all of the genre changes, everything is so pop-accessible, it's really a joy to listen to.
And then the 2nd-half of the album falls flat, something that plagued Hall & Oates for most of their careers. Side A would always be the more consistent pop stuff, and Side B would be more experimental, and on this side would be more rock and punk-sounding than side A. Oates does a lame tribute to the Beach Boys in "Pleasure Beach" that was mixed terribly, with poor vocals that gets drowned out in what sounds like too many instruments, Charlie DeChants' saxophone going nuts, weird background vocals and random sound effects. Serious Music, another punk-inspired Oates-led number is again too messy and has no hook, just guitars. Alley Katz sounds like straight punk by Daryl, and frankly is the worst tune on the album. It doesn't fit his voicec Sounds like a bad high school band wrote it. Don't Blame It On Love has some more Frippertronics but they're not to put as good use as on Side 1, and while some of the guitar sounds are futuristic and kind of cool, Daryl's vocals again are marred to a punk-inspired track, which I feel just doesn't fit his voice. He's not a screamer kind of guy. Oates maybe could get away with it a little more, though he too was much better on doo-wop and soul-style stuff like "Back Together Again" on Bigger Than Both Of Us, Possession Obsession on H20, and "Why Do Lovers Break Each Others' Hearts" on Beauty On A Back Street. He too is a great vocalist and they both sing songs not tuned to their voices really on this side of the album. Also for some reason on Side 2 many of the tunes have very poorly mixed vocals, they just get drowned out by the amount of musical instruments in the background. Poor job by whoever mixed or mastered the album. You can tell though that Hall & Oates was still trying to find a definitive sound while working with other producers, and wouldn't hit the gold mine until they started producing their own albums with Voices in 1980. And to close out the album, oddly enough one of the best tunes on the album in my opinion, is a slow ballad called "August Day" that calls of heartbreak, and has an awesome harmonica solo reminiscent of Stevie Wonder.
All in all, amazing Side A, and almost unlistenable Side B leads to a very odd album overall. Production by David Foster was not consistent on this one, and it shows in the poor vocals and lack of hooks on side B compared to the pop-friendly tunes on Side A. But this is still not one album to glance over, as Side 1 has a bunch of underrated tunes, and honestly August Day on Side 2 is such a good song that isn't on many of their collections that I would buy it just for that. So overall, 3 stars out of 5.