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Old 09-02-2011, 11:18 AM   #200 (permalink)
Nobody likes my music
Trollheart's Avatar
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: In Cognito
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They're out there, you know. They always have been, and they always will be. The albums that we sneer at, laugh at and discount as “have to be crap”. And usually they are. I'm talking about albums by artists who should have no business at all making music. Artistes who cross over from the world of film, TV or other disciplines to try their hand at music. It's usually a side-project for them, some sort of outlet or something they feel they have to try. Sometimes it's nothing more than a cynical ploy tp squeeze some more cash out of their already rich revenue streams. Consider the likes of Kevin Bacon, Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Robert Downey Jr. and so on. People who should never, under any circumstances including a death threat or all-out nuclear war (or even worse, the threatened reformation of Hearsay!), be let within a million miles of a microphone or a recording studio.

Admittedly, there have been some, a few, who have taken the step across the great divide and managed to either marry an acting and music career --- like (dare I say it?) --- Miley Cyrus and Hilary Duff, or have left the acting behind and taken on music as a fulltime career, and done well with it. The shining example here of course would be Kylie Minogue, who bucked the trend and took her music seriously, and became something of a beacon for aspiring crossover acts to follow.

But generally speaking, actors should stick to acting and musicians to making music. Jon Bon Jovi's few forays into the film world are never going to earn him any Oscars, and though Tom Waits did a star turn in “Bram Stoker's Dracula” as the mad Renfield, we much prefer to hear him play and sing, and he makes a far better career out of being an amazing musician than he could ever do acting.

So when we see these sort of people making albums we generally roll our eyes and move on. It's a natural reaction. How good an album can, say, Eddie Murphy or Jack Palance produce? And let's not even go into the delights of “Transformed man” by Captain James T. Kirk, William Shatner! But occasionally, these crossovers work, and it's then that, if we decide to take a chance, we can end up pleasantly surprised, gobsmacked even, that such a result is possible.

That's, then, what this section is all about. Not just actors singing, but ANY album by ANY artiste which I thought, before shelling out my hard-earned on it, that it was going to be rubbish, and found the opposite to be true. They're few and far between, certainly, but as I said at the beginning, they are out there, just waiting for you to take a chance on them.

Heartbeat --- Don Johnson --- 1986 (Epic/CBS)

And we kick off with an album I fully expected to be pants, and turned out to be far from it. I had never watched “Miami Vice”, and only knew of Don Johnson, one of the crime-fighting duo in the show, peripherally. I always considered him a pretty-boy actor with perhaps delusions of talent. It now appears to me, three decades later and a lot wiser, in some respects, that the show itself was not the flash, vacuous programme I had expected it to be. From what I have seen of the little I have watched, it's quite dark and gritty, and realistic, to a point. I'm still no fan, yet, but it does seem my preconceptions of the show were way off.

So, too, it would appear were my idea of Johnson, at least his musical talent. Having for whatever reason decided to chance buying his album in 1986, I listened to it expecting nothing but pap and formulaic songs, and was totally blown away by what I heard. Now, it's not a classic rock album by any means, and it was never going to skyrocket his career in music and make him a star, any more than he already was, but as a side-project, from someone who had never entered the music arena up to this, it was damn good!

First off, it's not peopled by the usual plethora of stars and guests who tend to appear on records of this nature, ostensibly to raise the album or the singer's profile, but more often than not to help him on the album and often to almost record it for him, or her. That doesn't happen here. Yes, there are guests: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Dweezil Zappa and Ron Wood, and there are songs written by Bob Seger and Tom Petty, but this is unmistakably Don Johnson's project. He sings, writes (well, co-writes) one song on the album, and wisely leaves the production to the professionals, where so many other artistes would insist on having a hand in that. There's no big-name producer either: Chas Sandford and Keith Diamond are names known to me, but hardly Steve Lillywhite or Quincy Jones!

And, this album rocks! The title track opens the album, and it's a great slice of AOR, Johnson's vocals clear and steady, and powerful, with the band he has assembled doing a fine job, especially Omar Hakim on drums and Bill Champlin on keys. Rather than a limp-wristed, digital piano-driven barely-there rock song, it's a powerful anthem, bouncy and rocky, and a great start. “Voice on a hotline”, the next one up, has that digital piano, but it's not oversaturated with it, and there's some great sax from Lenny Pickett. It's a mid-paced semi-ballad with a certain element of slow jazz to it, and good backing vocals.

The next track would have been the standout, had it not been for the closer, which earns that title. But this is a close second. “The last sound love makes” is another powerful rocker, with great guitar and an excellent hook. Johnson's voice is actually suited to the material, strong and poweful; he doesn't have to stretch to hit the high notes nor croak on the low ones. He seems to have quite a decent range. The lyrical idea here is very impressive too: ”The last sound love makes/ Is the sound of a heartbreak.”

Another ballad follows then for the Tom Petty-penned “Lost in your eyes”, with some great organ and jangly guitar. The quality then takes something of a dive for the next track. “Coco don't” is Robbie Nevil's “C'est la vie” in another guise, worst track of the album so far and the first time I've felt let down, in a way I almost expected before I started the album but had grown to expect less as it went on. “Heartache away” redeems the album with an almost-ballad with country flavourings, and somewhat incongruous heavy drumming, but some nice guitar and a good melody.

“Love roulette” is another AOR tune, with a good backbeat and some really fun horns and a great guitar solo, while “Star tonight”, Bob Seger's contribution to the album, is a typical Seger track, slow, heavy ballad with harmonica by Mickey Raphael and acoustic guitar. I've heard better from Seger, but it's a decent addition to the album, and there's a really evocative acoustic guitar solo in it too. “Gotta get away” is Journey at their heaviest and rockiest, real eighties AOR with Johnson on great form vocally.

Standout track is the closer, as I mentioned earlier, and rather surprised to find it's actually written by Johnson (collaborating with drummer Curly Smith). It's a heartbreakingly beautiful bittersweet ballad, driven on a simple piano line with strings section coming in later. “Can't take your memory” is the song that once and for all blew my preconceptions of Don Johnson as a bandwagon-jumping talentless blow-in for ever. The way he sings this song makes you think he has been doing this all his life, and it's a truly beautiful closer to the album.

So you see, life is full of surprises. I didn't in any way expect to hear songs or indeed singing of this calibre from an actor trying his hand at music, and it impressed me hugely. Johnson did not make a career of music: he only released one more album after this, in 1989, before returning to the world he knows and excels at best, that of acting. I won't say I'm disappointed, but on the basis of this album I am left wondering what might have happened if Don Johsnon had forsaken the world of Hollywood and concentrated completely on his music career. I think we all might have been surprised by what would have developed.


1. Heartbeat
2. Voice on a hotline
3. The last sound love makes
4. Lost in your eyes
5. Coco don't
6. Heartache away
7. Love roulette
8. Star tonight
9. Gotta get away
10. Can't take your memory
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