Head Games


Atlantic, 1979


REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


We were all 17 once, full of raging hormones and questionable opinions, searching for something, anything to help us orient ourselves to the adult world we were preparing to enter. Meanwhile, every day was a head-spinning, potentially soul-crushing adventure as we struggled to navigate the brutal social politics and incomprehensible romantic call-and-answer of high school. At times we grew genuinely desperate for any clue that might help us find our way.

Desperation being the only explanation I can come up with today for the number of spins this album received in my various domiciles circa 1979-80—desperate times, desperate measures.

Foreigner was already a well-established entity by this, the band’s third album: a frankly commercial heavy rock / AOR band with just one central concern: get another single in the charts. The songs on their self-titled debut and 1978’s Hot Blooded are deep as mud puddles and dumb as the wind, but hooks? You betcha. Big hooks, catchy hooks, hooks that simply demand you listen to another verse and chorus in hopes the songs might actually lead somewhere (spoiler alert: nope).

Lest there be any doubt about who’s in charge here, the album—which saw the first in a revolving door of personnel shifts leading to today’s one-original-member lineup—again features this patently obnoxious credit on what was nominally a group effort: "Musical Direction – Mick Jones". The group’s founding lead guitarist and principal songwriter is joined here by fellow founding members Lou Gramm (vocals), Dennis Elliott (drums), Ian McDonald (guitars/keys), and Al Greenwood (keys), with newcomer Rick Wills replacing the departed Ed Gagliardi on bass. (Note: the list of former members of Foreigner is impressive in more than just length, even if you wonder what a few of the names found there were thinking at the time.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Jones’ deep philosophical concerns are neatly summed up by song titles like “Women,” “Head Games,” “Seventeen,” and “Rev On The Red Line”; in sum: girls are confusing, cars go vroom, and my brain is stuck in high school. But okay, that’s enough sniping at the aquatic creatures schooling in yon cask, let’s talk about the music.

Kickoff cut and lead single “Dirty White Boy”—for all the eyebrows its lyrical content might raise today—is propelled by a relentless hook that rumbles like a freight train and bounces like a caffeinated toddler, and sandy-throated belter Gramm reliably sings the blizzard-of-clichés bad-boy lyric like it’s epic poetry (sample: “I been in trouble since I don’t know when / I’m in trouble now and I know somehow I’ll find trouble again”). “Women” lowers the bar even further, a series of vaguely misogynistic one-liners set to a greased-up boogie riff that eventually arrives at Jones’ default lyrical conceit: “Women who live in fantasies / Bringing man to his knees.”

“Seventeen” takes all this to its logical conclusion, setting a song about being dominated and manipulated by an underage lover to thundering double-tracked guitars. If you didn’t get the point the first time, when you flip the vinyl album over to side two, you get essentially the same song rearranged with synthesizers out front in “Head Games.” For its part, album-closer “Rev On The Red Line” delivers a street-racing cliché-fest that’s like a parody of a rock song. You’ve got to hand it to the boys, though: for all of their laughable woe-is-me / macho-man lyrical posturing and paint-by-numbers song construction, all three of the aforementioned tracks feature sticky hooks delivered with sincere gusto.

If things got better from there, this might have been a different album, but, well, you know. Other songs in the same riffy vein (the keys-dominated “Cold As Ice” clone “Love On The Telephone” and the airy revenge fantasy “I’ll Get Even With You”) don’t reach even those questionable heights, and it only gets worse from there. For all the poor judgment displayed in numbers like the insipid Jones-written-and-sung “The Modern Day” and its tepid cousin “Do What You Like,” nothing can match “Blinded By Science” for sheer dunderheadedness. Actual couplet from the lyric sheet: “Blinded by science, I’m on the run / I’m not an appliance, so don’t turn me on.” (Paging Spinal Tap: cleanup on aisle three.)

I’ll say this much: listening to this album again roughly 40 years after the last time I had done so forced me to update my earlier assessment of the band’s self-titled 1977 debut, of which I said: “Foreigner… never managed to top this stupendously mediocre outing.” To the contrary, Foreigner’s third album at least matches their first for guilty-pleasure hookiness of the “check your brain at the door” variety. Head Games is more than just “stupendously mediocre”; it’s stupendously mediocre and sticks in your head. So… yay?

Rating: C-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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