"They don't write 'em like they used to" has long been the lament of those befuddled by pop music's latest craze. These days, that expression has taken on a new significance. Where the merits of a melody were once deemed to determine the strength of a song, electronic instrumentation and advances in studio technology let recording artists and producers assemble sonic concoctions so alluring that melody almost doesn't matter. In short, the listener is seduced by sound, pure and simple.
Corey Hart's "Boy in the Box" (EMI America ST-17161-1) is a perfect example. Although the songs supplied by this 22-year-old Canadian are tuneful enough, they pale in comparison to their settings. The title song, for instance, opens with a brash blare of synthetic brass offset by chattering rhythm guitar and brisk drumming, then lets you know you've reached the chorus by swiftly shifting to percolating synthesizers and space-age percussion. In all, it's a glorious, giddy ride through aural-effects land, as Hart tweaks this sound and that, never letting the listener's attention lag.
Naturally enough, a certain amount of this sonic showmanship pays off, as on "Comrade Kiev," where careful contrasting between a furiously strummed guitar hook and the quiet menace of the chorus add considerable drama to the dynamics. But an awful lot of it is just empty dazzle, demonstrating an obsession with technique incapable of coming to grips with anything as mundane as content.
Then again, Hart's lyrics aren't exactly "Leaves of Grass," either. Plowing through the lyrics sheet, it's hard to shake the sense that English was never the singer's best subject. "Silent Talking" features such syntactic gems as "Do you want I say goodbye to me," while "Comrade Kiev" is packed with puzzlers along the lines of "Targets you have drawn/Won't bite the hand that cuts the arm." Can anyone, Hart included, be expected to make sense of such twaddle?
Yet it's Hart's youthful idealism that seems to be his strongest selling point. Certainly, the sappy self-determinism extolled in the single "Never Surrender" (" 'Cuz no one can take away your right") is tailor-made for high school yearbook valediction, while the makeshift mysticism of "Water From the Moon" seems well-suited for young Gibranians. Overall, this album seems wholly intended for the young and the feckless, as if unsentimental intelligence were something of an impediment to an appreciation of Corey Hart.
Loverboy, by contrast, makes no pretense to having anything to say beyond "Let's Rock." This is a group that likes hits big and dumb, and that's exactly the way they play them on their fourth album, "Lovin' Every Minute of It" (Columbia SC 39953).
Wasting nothing on subtlety, the lads in Loverboy attack their tunes with sledgehammer simplicity. Throughout, the album practically screams its hook lines, from the title track, where the guitars grind out the chorus' boogie riff in unison with the vocals, to "Too Much Too Soon," where the shouted backing vocals feed lead singer Mike Reno his lines. It's overkill, and while that occasionally shows up how slim some of these songs are, it nonetheless pounds them home with energy.
Where Loverboy falls short is in its attempt to keep up with current pop. Synthesist Doug Johnson's role in the band has been greatly expanded and not always to the benefit of the material, as he is frequently supplanting the sound of hook-conscious guitarist Paul Dean. Nor do the attempts at imitation always compliment the band, for as much as the Cars-styled "Double Life" shows the band's potential for growth, the faked Foreigner ballad "This Could Be the Night" shows just how much Reno could learn from Lou Gramm.
Of course, originality has never been a criterion for chart success, as the Romantics surely proved. With a sound built squarely on the Brit-beat of such '60s stars as the Kinks and the Dave Clark Five, the Romantics did for the English invasion sound what the Stray Cats did for rockabilly. Thus, it's no surprise to find that even the addition of synthesizers hasn't spoiled the retrovision of "Rhythm Romance" (Nemporer SZ 40106), their fifth album.
As usual, the material is derivative in the extreme. "Test of Time," for example, borrows so heavily from "It's the Same Old Song" for its verse, the Romantics ought to pay Holland-Dozier-Holland a royalty. But lack of novelty isn't the problem -- it's lack of energy that slowly sinks this outing. "Let's Get Started" chugs along engagingly, but never gathers any steam. "Better Make a Move" flails haplessly at its power-chorded hook, while "I Got It If You Want It" sounds like what they've got is Geritol. Perhaps producer Peter Solley was unable to spark the band in the studio, but for whatever reason, "Rhythm Romance" is a lukewarm affair at best.