A few months back on the finale of American Idol, a craggy Bryan Adams came running out during the male singer medley section to sing a slew of his hits. Adams, guitar in hand, led a sing along of his early and mid 80's rock hits-even dishing out one of his medium sized hits "Somebody". What was notable about this and other recent Adams appearances is an attempt to return to his Arena Rock roots. The memory of Pop music is often brief and for what seems like eons now Bryan Adams name has been synonymous with mushy movie soundtrack ballads.
But there was a time when Adams was not mushy. A time when he was a meat and potatoes pop rocker. He sang guitar based rock with pop hooks big enough for Arenas and instrumentation plain enough for the Springsteen / Petty crowd. He was young, but his pockmarked visage made him seem older too. All the while, his Rod Stewart style rasp commanded attention. Teaming up with songwriter Jim Vallance, Adams released a steady stream of rousing, inoffensive rock that culminated in the monster success of Reckless (1984). By the mid 80's, Adams was one of the biggest rock stars on the planet. A multitude of chart hits, sold out tours, platinum records and a slot on Live Aid placed Adams in that upper echelon of Pop Rock. He had millions of fans and I was one of them.
Yet something was missing for Bryan Adams: Respect. Adams had none, no respect from critics who slammed his hamfisted anthems and Stewart-lite voice. Adams dressed in blue jeans, white shirt and black leather jacket wherever he went making him the equivalent of Fonzie. He was a rock and roll rebel, he was cool - if cool is someone who rebelled through food fights and chaste kisses with your daughter. Sure, Adams would puff up his chest and talk about the "Summer of '69" but I'm sure he returned every car he borrowed with a full tank of gas. Probably cleaned the windows too.
So Adams and Vallance teamed up for what would become the last album to have Vallance's full participation. Bryan Adams was going to be serious. He had...stuff...on his mind that he was going to tell you about. He was going to bring the party down and take you to school. Bryan Adams = deep thinker, he was going to solve the worlds problems and rewrite the theory of relativity. Or at least write a song about it. Bryan Adams was going Into The Fire and you were going with him!
1. Heat of the Night - The first cassingle I can ever remember, it had a simple red, black and white design and a sticker that said Bryan Adams Heat of the Night. "Night" had all that Reckless momentum going in and it pushed this lumbering, bluesy rock number into the Top 10. Featuring one of Adams' most memorable guitar licks, his band lays down a thick groove thanks to bassist Dave Taylor and drummer Mickey Curry. It had a claustrophobic fever dream atmosphere to get the record off to a tense start.
2. Into The Fire - A mission statement for the record, there was a sort of U2 quality to it with the smooth strumming guitars and worldly tone. "Fire" is about putting yourself and your beliefs on the line. About the same time, U2 was conquering the world with The Joshua Tree so Adam's commercial instincts weren't too far off. On an unrelated note, I usually associate this song with living at my Aunt's house that summer while working a summer job. She lived in a beautiful glass house on the California coast. This song sounded great on her stereo system.
3. Victim Of Love - Adams was going to be so serious, even his love songs were going to be sad. "Victim" was all about being broken hearted and had one of Adam's best vocals-there's a part of the bridge where his voice intentionally cracks to display emotion. When I saw Adams live on this tour, this song was my favorite part as he gave a committed vocal. I like the glassy keyboards on this as well. Lead guitarist Keith Scott tears it up at the end of the track. This was the third single from the album. The anti - "Heaven".
4. Another Day - In Paradise, Adams beat Phil Collins to the punch by singing about the plight of the homeless here. But Adams couched his concerns in a fast blues rock song making it entirely noncommercial. Pretty good song, but not terribly memorable.
5. Native Sons - Not only was Adams concerned about the homeless, but he apparently felt badly about the plight of Native Americans too. Predictably, lyrics about Great Spirits, Hearts beating like a drum, wagons, broken promises and Eagles flying abound. The problem when an artist of Adam's Arena Rock style tackles weighty subjects is a lack of subtlety. I'll say it again, A LACK OF SUBTLETY. "Native Sons" pretty much eulogizes the Native American race - it's well intentioned but doesn't really go anywhere.
6. Only The Strong Survive - The second fast paced blues rocker, this track moves quickly with a jumpy beat. There's a strong "live band" feel to this track. I gravitated toward "Strong" after it became the theme of San Francisco Giants commercials at the time, I started to associate the song with baseball highlights. When you've got the weight of the world on you, only the strong survive.
7. Rebel - It's probably unfair to make this comparison, but I'll do it anyway. A film critic, I think it was Richard Roeper, said if a character has to say in dialogue that he / she "lives on the edge and is dangerous" it immediately makes them not so. Show don't tell in other words. "Rebel" sort of tells a story about a, uh, rebel who leaves his town and family with some kind of military background behind him. Why? Because he's a rebel, no other reason is needed. In my bizarre mind, I picture this song backing the end of some C level 80's movie where an actor like Judd Nelson has beaten the odds after returning to his small home town that he wasn't initially wanted in to prove he is...The Rebel! And yes, Ally Sheedy is by his side. You mess with the bull, you get the horns!
8. Remembrance Day - We're almost out the woods, Adams salutes the Canadian soldiers of World War I on "Remembrance Day" (aka Veterans Day in the U.S.-I just learned this. Thank you Wikipedia!). So, to summarize so far be a Rebel, feed the hungry, feel sad for Native Americans and remember War Veterans because Only The Strong Survive. Nothing to really argue against, but it doesn't really pose a point of view that is new or interesting either. Sort of the equivalent to sleeping in history class.
9. Heart's On Fire - Finally, Adams loosens up with a chunky guitar heavy rock anthem. This was the second single from the album. "Heart's On Fire" is my favorite Bryan Adams song period. More cowbell please!
10. Home Again - The closing number finds Adams wishing to go "Home Again". Can you blame him? It's a big bad world out there. I shouldn't be so strident, the song ends the record well following the serious topics that shake out of going "Into The Fire". Pensive with ominous bell sounds, "Home Again" takes the listener back to the security of home.
Released in 1987, Bryan Adams saw his career grind to a near halt with the release of this album. Even though it went Platinum and had three Top 40 singles, it wasn't Reckless. Fans couldn't handle or (if like me) were a little bored with the new Bryan Adams. All of the good times seemed to go out the window, even live on this tour the music was played with dry sincerity. Though Adams does deserve credit for trying something different, the Adams juggernaut was temporarily suspended.
And in reaction, Adams stopped working with Jim Vallance and hooked up with producer Mutt Lange to record basically a Def Leppard album (Waking Up The Neighbors in 1991). A power ballad for a Kevin Costner movie became a massive best selling hit, starting Adams on the path to becoming the Kenny Loggins of the 90's with one syrupy movie love song after another. The continued weakening of Adams rock image eroded completely after he dueted with Barbara Streisand.
Just think, if we had embraced Into The Fire all of this could have been avoided. Or maybe not, maybe I just like to imagine it could have been. Once "Have You Ever Loved A Woman" from the Don Juan De Marco soundtrack became a huge smash, I stopped caring. It wasn't that the song was bad, it's a good song, it just neutered Adams to the point I didn't want to hear him anymore. If he had started out wussy that would have been fine but its sort of like when The Fonz stopped protecting Richie Cunningham and started helping out Ted McGinley while taking ownership of Arnolds. It's OK to hit the jukebox now because he owns part of it. Any pretense of cool had been dropped and all that was left was a soft hearted dude with a haircut.