CD Review of Find Your Own Way Home by REO Speedwagon

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Find Your Own Way Home
starstarstarhalf starno star Label: Mailboat
Released: 2007
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Friends, in the past, I’ve found out heretofore-unknown things about myself that proved pretty disconcerting – like, say, claiming to hate Brussels sprouts for almost thirty years before realizing that, actually, they just taste like little cabbages and aren’t half bad – but it’s been quite some time since I’ve found myself as taken aback as I was by yesterday’s revelation that…gasp!...I’m apparently part of REO Speedwagon’s target demographic.

I’m sure you just as shocked as I am, and the worst part is, I have absolutely no idea how or when it happened! At the very least, however, I can tell you the series of events that led to this review.

I was walking through Sam’s Club, buying one of those rotisserie chickens for a quick and inexpensive dinner, and my eyes landed on the band’s new album, Find Your Own Way Home. I picked it up, finding myself a bit amused by its mere existence (as one is prone to do when they happen upon a new disc by a band that hasn’t had a hit single or album in 17 years), but my amusement turned to mild interest when I noticed that it appeared to be no less than a 3-CD set. There was the new album, of course, but also included in the package was a disc entitled High Infidelity: Then Again…Live, along with a DVD of an unplugged performance by the band; plus, to top it all off, there was even a sticker on the front of the whole shebang, trumpeting a free trial subscription to XM Satellite Radio.

The next thing I knew, I was standing in the parking lot, holding a chicken in one hand and REO Speedwagon’s new album in the other.

You have to hand it to them: it’s an awesome marketing ploy. They start with the advantage of name recognition to catch your eye in the first place, but they know that the promise of a new REO Speedwagon studio album in 2007 is a hard sell, so they throw in a re-recording of an album that just about everybody between the ages of 35 and 50 has owned at some point in their lives. That piques the curiosity...but since they know that you’re still on the fence, they throw in the unplugged DVD and slap the promise of the XM trial subscription on the front as just one more bonus. End result: a skillfully-constructed ploy that, if I’m any indicator, will likely find the band selling more copies of Find Your Own Way Home than any studio album they’ve put out in two decades. And as a kicker, it’s beginning the first month of its sales life as a Wal-Mart / Sam’s Club exclusive -- which is brilliant, really, since a broad and not entirely unfair generalization would suggest that that’s where most of REO Speedwagon’s fans probably shop. (I only joined Sam’s Club to buy diapers and wipes in bulk, you understand. I’m more of a Target man, really.)

But the question you’re all wondering, of course, is obvious: is Find Your Own Way Home actually any good? And, oddly enough, the answer is a reasonably resounding “yes.”

Although the proceedings begin with the guitar-rock of “Smilin’ in the End,” which vaguely resembles Styx’s “Blue Collar Man” and contains a couplet so cheesy that it comes close to ruining the whole song for you (“Well, you can leave me cold, I’ll recover / Say nasty things about my mother”), the band recovers quickly with the title cut, as Kevin Cronin’s familiar voice arrives to save the day. (Actually, Cronin is credited as singing lead on “Smilin’ in the End” as well, but it doesn’t sound a thing like him.) From this point onward, the majority of the melodies and harmonies on Find Your Own Way Home manage to create the feel of the early-‘80s REO Speedwagon albums without sounding as though they’re just trying to rewrite old hits. “I Needed to Fall” begins with a gentle acoustic strum before building to a chorus that has just enough of a hint of “Keep on Loving You” to make you smile, while “Dangerous Combination” has a slight country-rock tinge to it. “Lost on the Road of Love” rambles on a bit too long, but it’s followed by the back-to-back pairing of “Another Lifetime” and “Run Away Baby,” which are the best two songs on the album. Beyond that, however, the most notable track is the closer, “Let My Love Find You,” which, again, borrows just enough of its sound from “One Lonely Night” to sound familiar – but not enough that you’d ordinarily be able to pin down the resemblance on first listen.

Basically, as much as one might want to write off REO Speedwagon as a bunch of oldsters who’re just trotting out the old hits every summer on their annual trek through the amphitheater circuit, the surprising reality is that Find Your Own Way Home is an album full of predominantly strong new material. Depressingly, the band has selected “Smilin’ in the End” as the first track they’re pitching to Rock and Classic Rock stations, but at least they’re going with “I Needed to Fall” for the Adult Contemporary crowd. Now, whether or not they’ll decide to feature a large number of these new tracks in their set this summer remains to be seen, given how fans of ‘70s music aren’t much for hearing songs that they can’t already drunkenly sing along to. No matter what they choose to do, however, REO Speedwagon should be applauded for sounding more invigorated than they have in…well, frankly, it’s been about seventeen years since they’ve sounded this good.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the other CD and the DVD? The new, live take on Hi Infidelity won’t have anyone throwing out their original copies of the album, but Cronin’s voice has aged reasonably well, and the band’s harmonies remain spot-on, so it’s certainly fun for a few spins. The DVD, however, is top-notch; host George Taylor Morris conducts an illuminating interview with the band, and their acoustic performances of both old and new songs sound fantastic, with a particular highlight occurring with the new arrangement of “Ridin’ the Storm Out.” Just try not to be too distracted by the fact that Cronin’s short-cropped blond ‘do finds him looking disconcertingly like Owen Wilson’s older brother.

~Will Harris