DANFOGELBERG -- Phoenix (Full Moon/Epic FE 35634).
Half of Dan Fogelberg wants to be Shelley, and the other half is hoping to grow into Rossetti.
The romance in his writing is a constant. In fact, you could bet your Bysshe on it.But sometimes he mixes into it the brittle nonchalance of separation and longing, and it's as though he had discovered the Philosopher's Stone.
At his best -- "Morning Sky," "Crow," "Long Way Home (Live in the Country)" -- Fogelberg can write lassos around most of the songwriters of the California-Colorado axis, and can run a few lengths alongside Jackson Browne. He has put to good use his broader geographical and traditional base, which reaches from heartland Illinois to rural Tennessee, and he has, like Browne, the knack of animating a cliche by inverting it: Changing horses in the middle of a stream, Gets you wet and sometimes cold, Changing faces in the middle of a dream Gets you old.
Unfortunately, his medieval-melancholy voice and particular melody style, ranging repeatedly from low to high, makes its own formula, just as James Taylor's is wont to; and when his mood is too soft too long, he writes love songs as though rolling from one pillow to another.
The material on "Phoenix," Fogelberg's fifth and newest album, is pure Fogelberg -- too pure. It's almost another piece of Aspen ecological good-work, a recycling of Fogelberg phrases of the past. His heart is a hotel where no one lives anymore. His lover's memory plays around him like a "Gypsy Wind" -- or even more like a Wind Song perfume commercial. He's on the highway again: "Absence makes the heart grow fonder/Darkness obscures the trail."
His rare talent for rhyming, which usually produces lyrics of real interest and intent, is barely visible this time around. The trickiest, from the album's first single release, "Longer," is the pairing of "cathedral" and "primeval," but it comes off too stiffly.
In fact, catchy as "Longer" is, with its inviting high harmony and honeyed guitars, there's nothing original about it. It's by "The Twelfth of Never" out of "Let me count the ways."
The only anomaly on this lovesick album is "Face the Fire," a no-nukes plea for solar energy: I hear the thunder Three miles away The island's leaking Into the bay The poison is spreading The demon is free And people are running from What they can't even see . . . Kill the fire And turn to the sun.
It sounds as though Fogelberg is just too soft on himself. This is the same sappy "Wysteria" stuff he was writing seven or eight years ago, before Joe Walsh's jolting production put some lead in his pencil. This time Fogelberg is listed as the primary producer, but there was no hand at the tiller: "Phoenix" is just going with the flow.