Loverboy Classics: Their Greatest Hits


Columbia / Legacy, 1994

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


I’ll tell you a secret; buried deep in my library of iTunes playlists is one called “Arena.” As a kid who grew up with—and out of—the arena rock explosion of 1976-82, it could just as easily have been labeled “Guilty Pleasures.”

Filled as it is with the likes of Journey, Foreigner, the Babys, Billy Squier, Styx and Boston, I realized recently that something was missing, a certain punchy, ebullient Canadian quintet who I name-checked in a long-ago Foreigner review but never actually reviewed, even though I once-upon-a-time owned both of their initial albums (1980’s Loverboy and 1981’s Get Lucky).

Loverboy, it must be said, is not rocket science. Paul Dean’s heavy but focused guitar attack, Mike Reno’s soaring vocals, Doug Johnson’s assertive synthesizers, and the versatile rhythm section of Matt Frenette (drums) and the late Scott Smith (bass) gave the band enough juice to jump on all of the trends of the day: New Wave backbeats, stadium-sized rockers, synth-heavy brooding, and syrupy power ballads. They did so with aplomb while delivering song after song that sounds ripped from the spiral-bound notebook of a high school sophomore, with exactly that level of emotional intelligence and real-world insight in the lyrics.

Here’s the thing, though: in their own way, these guys were (and are—they’re still active with all four surviving members in place) pretty brilliant at what they do. They are perpetually a hundred percent committed to these powerfully hooky songs and play them with genuine passion and panache.

Consider Loverboy’s first and possibly still best single “Turn Me Loose” from their self-titled 1980 debut. Does its lyric feel as predictable as a knock-knock joke? Well sure. Do the synth tones sound like they were dialed up in a middle school band room? You betcha. Are the melodic hooks repeated so many times that you may wake up your bedmate humming them in your sleep weeks later? Absolutely. But said hooks are so potent as to be simply undeniable, and the mashup of Dean’s aggressive licks, Johnson’s looming synths, Smith’s pulsing bassline, and a backbeat that approaches disco in its relentlessness, provides a fitting backdrop for Reno’s urgent, impassioned vocals. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Classics wastes no time following that opener with Get Lucky’s big single “Working For The Weekend,” a naturally anthemic tune that’s all about propulsion as the guitar and keys and rhythm section just keep pushing, pushing, pushing until the entire song feels like it’s galloping into the sky. Another high point soon arrives with the genuinely ridiculous “The Kid Is Hot Tonite,” a song whose adolescent embrace of every rock-show cliché in the known world is only amplified by Reno’s vocal melodramatics (bet you didn’t know “smiles” is a four-syllable word). But the song’s melodic hooks—one after another after another—could land an orca. Love it or hate it, this is the epitome of arena rock right here.

In between, “Take Me To The Top” is equally silly but showcases the impressive vocal range and power Reno possessed in his prime. Other highlights, such as they are, include the thrumming, punchy “Lucky Ones,” the giddy, insistent “Hot Girls In Love,” and “When It’s Over,” Get Lucky’s melancholy rewrite of “Turn Me Loose.”

Not everything here rises to the modest standard of the above notables. “This Could Be The Night”—co-written with fellow scenester Jonathan Cain (The Babys / Journey)—is a power ballad that puts the maple in syrup with its grating, sickly-sweet synth tones. (I realize there are people who love this shit, but wow.) Meanwhile “Jump,” co-written with frequent Bryan Adams collaborator Jim Vallance, was released three years before the same-named Van Halen tune but has nothing in common other than the title; it’s pure AOR cheese that has only gotten smellier over the decades. Much of the rest of this collection similarly disappears in a haze of dry ice fog and never-ending clichés.

In the end, “guilty pleasure” feels like a phrase that was made for Loverboy, right down to those occasionally nerve-jangling synth tones. Yes, they’re cheesy as hell, but they’re cheesy in a specific, identifiable way, instantly recognizable as early ’80s arena rock synths; in that sense they carry a certain inescapable retro charm. (I’m laughing as I type these words, having raged so many times at these very same dollar-store-motherboard synth tones. But they are what they are, and they work better in this context than just about anywhere else I’ve heard.)

Maybe the highest compliment I can pay Loverboy is this: they knew who they were, they knew what they wanted, and they worked hard to achieve what they achieved. It might not qualify as great art, but sometimes we all need a break from that, too, and when you do, Loverboy will be there, wearing pants of leather and ready to rawk.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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