The J. Geils Band and The Searchers tend to be taken for granted. Neither flashy nor obtrusive, they never seem to be the hot rock 'n' roll items on everybody's lips; but they can always be slipped onto the turntable without making anybody uncomfortable.
Both fine groups are capable of creating music of the highest order. It's just that they do so without the fanfare that we come to associate with the supergroups. So it is unavoidable that proletarians such as The J. Geils Band and The Searchers will occassionaly sink beneath the public consciousness. But when they come back with periodic hits, as groups of this caliber will, it seems as if they've never been away. And they haven't.
It must be frustrating for The J. Geils Band to watch the proverbial parade passimg them by. Since their heydey in 1973-1974, they have slipped both in terms of record sales and as a live attraction. But they have continued to deliver their street-wise brand of blues-based rock. Even when their profile was lowest, their energy remained high. Moreover, "Monkey Island," their ninth and last album for Atlantic Records, and "Sanctuary," last year's debut for EMI, augur a hard-earned resurgence for the group.
The J. Geils Band's new effort, "Love Stinks," picks up where "Sanctuary" left off, shifting only its production values. It's their first self-produced disc, with keyboardist Seth Justman ridding the band of a sonic one-dimensionality that they have been guilty of in the past. The album is highlighted by "Just Can't Wait" and "Night Time," the former a sprightly, organ-dominated rocker and the latter a rousing remake of The Strangeloves' 1966 punk hit. Although these cuts, as well as the sardonic title track, showcase Justman's light touch in terms of arrangement and sound, they remain R&B-based. When the band strays from these roots, as they do on the disco-ized "Come Back" (the current single, natch) and the not-quite-funky, six-minute "Tryin' Not to Think About It," they lose their raison d'etre .
Peter Wolfe (still one of the top front men in rock, especially on stage) and Justman do the homework, creating the material and the identity. But for the band (in their own words), "it ain't what you do, it's how you do it." In this regard, drummer Stephen Bladd and bassist Danny Klein are almost too proficient and clean to give the aura of spontaneity indigenous to this style of music. The same might be said of J. Geils' guitar and Magic Dick's harmonica, but it's easier to let loose on a solo, as both do on "Till the Walls Come Tumblin' Down." Built on an age-old riff, this track gives Magic Dick an excuse to put his harp to the task to which it is best suited: straight blues. Overall, The J. Geils Band is so tight and purposeful that it is hard to imagine them making a record that was not workmanlike, danceable and likeably jive. Just like "Love Stinks."
If the hit parade has passed the Geils boys on occasion, it left The Searchers in the dust years ago. But the group that once provided stiff competition for The Beatles in Liverpool has remained steadfastly, if quietly, active. The founding members, Mike Pender and John McNally, still anchor the outfit, while "newcomers" Frank Allan and Billy Adamson have been Searchers for more than a decade. And now, the group that is best known here for its 1965 hit version of "Love Potion Number Nine" has come up with a delightful album, making them early frontrunners in the 1980 Comeback of the Year sweepstakes.
Simply titled "The Searchers," the LP kicks off with Pender's fluid 12-string guitar intro to "Hearts in Her Eyes," immediately recalling the trademark of such irresistible Searchers' hits as "Needles and Pins" and "When You Walk in the Room." This is followed by a lovely arrangement of "Switchboard Susan," more subdued and harmony-filled than Nick Lowe's bawdy version of this Mickey Jupp gem. After these sparklers, the album has its peaks and valleys; but even relatively undistinguished rockers such as "No Dancing," "Don't Hang On," or "Feeling Fine" hold up better than most of the faceless power-pop currently flooding the airwaves. The remaining uptempo entry, "It's Too Late," is out as a single and possesses all the earmarks of a hit: a repetitious catch-phrase and a great hook.
Even though The Searchers remain, much like The Byrds, best at interpreting other people's material, their two most conspicuous covers here fall flat. "Lost in Your Eyes" is a pretty Tom Petty ballad, but it is wimpy and meandering, perhaps explaining its absence from Tom's own records. Then there's the gospel-tinged "Coming From the Heart," an obscure Dylan song that reveals a pretentiousness thankfully absent elsewhere on this L.P. Less ambitious but more appealing is the original composition "This Kind of Love Affair," reminiscent of the med-tempo Lindsay Buckingham songs on "Rumours." An immensely enjoyable album.