CD Review of Influence by Shaw/Blades

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starstarno starno starno star Label: VH1 Classic Records
Released: 2007
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You may very well have never heard of Tommy Shaw and Jack Blades, but they are arguably two of the smartest (or luckiest) men in rock and roll. Both men made their bones in early ‘80s AOR – Shaw in Styx, Blades in Night Ranger – but where many of their contemporaries have long since succumbed to the vagaries of chart fashion, Shaw and Blades have done literally whatever it took to continue their careers.

Some background might be in order. In the fall of 1989, Shaw and Blades were at loose ends; Shaw’s post-Styx solo career had run its course – the commercial high point coming with his theme song to Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins – and Night Ranger had recently called it quits following the lowest-charting album of its career and a disastrous tour with the reformed Kansas. Rather than going gently into that good rock-star night, Shaw and Blades teamed up with Ted Nugent to form Damn Yankees, thus extending their major-label relevance into the early ‘90s.

Along the way, Shaw and Blades developed a songwriting partnership outside Damn Yankees, and in 1995, they released their debut as a duo. Hallucination stripped back the layers of bombast and studio varnish that their other bands had relied on, and it’s actually surprisingly good; if more people had bought it, it might have provided an effective way forward for Shaw and Blades’ peers.

It stiffed, of course, sending Shaw back to Styx and Blades back to Night Ranger, and though neither band has managed to escape the state-fairs-and-casinos tour circuit, they’ve both remained relatively active, something which can be attributed, at least in part, to their perpetual affability. Blades, in particular, has never seemed like anything other than a guy who can’t believe he gets paid to play bass and sing. (Shaw comes across as the more serious of the two, but in his defense, very few people on this planet have withstood the nightly psychological scarring that must have been touring behind Kilroy Was Here.)

All of which helps to explain – a little – why an American label with presumably major distribution and funding is releasing Influence, the follow-up to a record nobody bought, 11 years after nobody bought it: A lot of the right people seem to genuinely like Tommy Shaw and Jack Blades, and it’s continually paying off for them. (Another example: In the late ‘90s, when given the go-ahead to start his own Sony imprint, A&R legend John Kalodner immediately signed…Damn Yankees.)

So there’s the “how” part of the story behind Influence – and the reason why VH1 Classic viewers will probably be noticing a marked increase in airings of videos by Styx, Night Ranger, and Damn Yankees this month – but what remains a mystery, unfortunately, is why anyone connected to this project thought songs like “Summer Breeze” and “For What It’s Worth” needed to be covered again.

Yep, Influence is another in the long line of pointless collections of covers from guys who were popular in the ‘80s. And while it isn’t horrible – Rick Springfield’s The Day after Yesterday remains comfortably at the bottom of that particular pile – it has no discernible reason to exist. Shaw and Blades can play, and their harmonies remain spotlessly pretty, but it’s hard to believe anyone has been waiting for someone else to do another version of “Time of the Season.”

There are bright spots, naturally; with two pros this old, you’d be hard-pressed to string together 11 songs without coming up with at least a few, and here, they’re a crisp, sparkling take on the hoary old Yes chestnut “Your Move” and a beefed-up spin around “I Am a Rock.” They’re charming, in an extremely limited, tired way, but they don’t come close to making up for the rest of the album. Purists, naturally, will be horrified to hear the cover of Steely Dan’s “Dirty Work,” and placing a cover of Orleans’ Mellow Gold standby “Dance with Me” on an album titled Influence raises a lot of uncomfortable questions for the artists doing the placing.

~Jeff Giles