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One Sweet Dream Falls Apart
on February 13, 2014
George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam spent the mid eighties as bit players in the world of pop music. A failed first album derailed their career as headliners, so they went to work creating album tracks for others as songwriters and backup singers for hire (especially for Deniece Williams), but the runaway success of Whitney Houston's "How Will I Know" and "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" - popular even with critics of the superstar's patented ballads - convinced RCA to give their band, Boy Meets Girl, another shot. With hitmaker Arif Mardin on hand, the writers for hire set to work on "Reel Life" despite a real life relationship crisis which sent them to a yearlong separation and ended up informing many of the album's lyrics.
Naturally, the lead single - written long before - displayed none of this. "Waiting For A Star To Fall" is a strangely cheerful tale of frustrated, unrequited love. It's a showcase for Merrill's vocals and a memorable instrumental break from jazz saxophonist Andy Snitzer. It's corny. It's infectious. It seems to have disappeared from the radio recently because nobody will forgive the hurricane of EDM remakes that came out all at once a few years back. It's the reason you're here; if you didn't like it, either in 1988 or now, I have no idea how you ended up on this page. (Please tell me.)
Like a lot of albums, pop and otherwise, "Reel Life" is front-loaded. The opener, "Bring Down The Moon", is none too shabby and boasts a pretentious-as-all-get-out music video from the guy who ended up directing "The Crow" which is worth a couple watches on Youtube. "Stormy Love" completely bombed in its single release but throws enough memorable hooks (especially a distorted wail from Merrill, otherwise not present) at the listener to warrant a few spins. Lyrically, one verse ("I gave away the precious things that I should call my own/My heart, my soul, my hopes/My dreams and I'm staring at an empty hole") is actually more interesting in hindsight with Taylor Swift's "Fifteen" to compare it to, effectively showing the difference between writing for a teen audience and an adult contemporary crowd. "Stormy Love" gets by more on studio gimmickry than anything else, but Mardin doesn't have enough tricks to save the rest of the album.
The next track has an interesting story behind it - apparently one fight sent Merrill into the desert to scream at coyotes - but in practice amounts to droning lyrics and an astonishingly generic power ballad guitar solo. "Stay Forever" features Rubicam in the lead again and works in a few well-placed riffs to keep it from falling entirely flat. "If You Run" doesn't, but it's a bit more uptempo than the rest of the album. "One Sweet Dream" is an odd duck, a guitar-driven rocker of a duet which seems to be about sex dreams of a departed lover - on paper, it looks as though they were trying to go head to head with the "Appetite For Destruction" behemoth, but in practice it's still quite on the light side of adult contemporary. "No Apologies" is a gentle breakup ballad which tries the sax break idea again, with agreeable if unremarkable results. "Restless Dreamer" is built around a synthesizer riff sounding like a train whistle, a trick which probably sounded state of the art at the time but now only sounds dated.
The two-minute ballad "Someone's Got To Send Out Love" which closes out the disk - just Merrill, Rubicam, and a piano here - features the pair pondering their own role as writers of love songs. It's simple yet effective, with the cliche-for-a-reason key change to play up the chorus as an anthem (and judging from some other reviews I've read, it's truer than it sounds - these songs really did help people get through their breakups in the late eighties). Boy Meets Girl would try to ask the big questions in earnest on "New Dream", a loose concept album dealing with gang violence, environmental destruction, and cold war fears of nuclear annihilation (featuring audio footage of then top-secret military aircraft as a recurring hook - I kid you not!), but studio politics and their failure to musically stand out from the adult contemporary pack kept that album on the shelf until the mid-2000s, stalling the duo's career and cementing them as a one-hit wonder.
Were there other good songs? Yes. Are they worth an album purchase? Probably not, but the three singles and the closer are worth a listen and possibly a purchase.