Fumbling with the Covers Label: Oglio
The Real Illusion Label: Oglio
Yes, that Naked Eyes.
While you’re undoubtedly familiar with the group’s handful of hits during the ‘80s, you may not be aware that they were less a band than a duo: Pete Byrne on vocals, and Rob Fisher on keyboards. Byrne and Fisher were victims of that all-too-common malady known as the sophomore slump: despite the commercial triumph of 1983’s Naked Eyes and the back-to-back successes of the singles “Always Something There to Remind Me” and “Promises, Promises,” the follow-up album, Fuel for the Fire, was met with both critical and commercial indifference, leading to Naked Eyes’ split. Fisher found himself a new collaborator in Simon Climie and formed a new duo (cleverly named Climie Fisher), releasing two albums and scoring a top 40 hit with their single “Love Changes (Everything)”; Byrne, meanwhile, sought solace in session work.
Alas, a proper Naked Eyes reunion was made an impossibility in 1999, when Fisher died from complications following stomach surgery. Byrne still retained the rights to the band name, though, and, to the surprise of more than a few fans (as well as the general indifference of most everyone else), he has finally decided to resurface with the first new Naked Eyes album in over 20 years. Mind you, it’s a 10-track album which pairs seven cover songs with re-recordings of Naked Eyes’ three biggest hits, one of which was also a cover song…but, still, it’s new material that required a return to the studio, so kudos for that, at least.
Fumbling with the Covers actually begins one of those re-recorded Naked Eyes songs, but of the three selections Byrne opts to revisit, it’s definitely the one that works best: “When the Lights Go Out.” What’s that? You say you don’t recognize the song title? Ah, how soon we forget -- or, rather, how quickly Clear Channel’s ever-shrinking radio playlists have weeded out the less successful singles of a band’s career. “When the Lights Go Out” crept into the top 40 by the skin of its teeth as the last single from Naked Eyes, and it made so little impression that it doesn’t even appear on EMI’s compilation, The Best of Naked Eyes – which is inexplicable, frankly, as it’s easily as catchy as the band’s other singles, and Byrne’s double-tracked harmonies on this acoustic version are absolutely gorgeous. His new takes on “Promises, Promises” and “Always Something There To Remind Me” also successfully reinvent those songs – a significant accomplishment to be sure, given how many times we’ve all heard them – but, still, it’s “When The Lights Go Out” that wins the race as best of the bunch.
As to the covers, Byrne performs them all well enough, but there’s no burning need to hear another version of Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” Beyond that, however, there are exemplary takes on Bob Dylan’s “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” Cat Stevens’ “Sad Lisa,” and Elvis Costello and the Attractions’ “Man Out of Time.” The most surprising success on the album, however, is probably Byrne’s rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing”; fans of the guitar master may sneer at the mere thought of it, but Byrne’s impassioned vocal sits atop lovely acoustic strumming, and the pairing works quite well.
Simultaneous to the release of this new Naked Eyes album, Oglio is also making Byrne’s hard-to-find 2001 solo album, The Real Illusion, available as a digital download through iTunes. It’s unfortunate, though, that the disc also includes two cover songs (The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black” and Unit 4+2’s “Concrete and Clay”), as that’s really going to cause people to wonder if Byrne simply can’t be bothered to write anything new. In fact, the eight original tracks on The Real Illusion are mostly a strong batch of tunes, most of which sound like they could’ve been hits in the ‘80s; “The Last to Know” in particular would’ve been a chart-topper. Granted, the suggestion that these songs could’ve been hits 20 years ago is possibly not the greatest compliment one could offer an album that was released in 2001, but, still, if you’re a fan of synth-driven ‘80s music, this is definitely enjoyable stuff.
In closing, only one question remains: when’s Byrne gonna sit down and write us a new Naked Eyes album?