38 Special: Strength In Numbers (A&M); Dwight Twilley: Wild Dogs (A&M)

AT WORK, we play the radio constantly. A good part of the time it’s tuned to the local oldies station. The other day I was just coming down from the Supremes’ ‘Stoned Love’ when the deejay followed it with a recent Barry Manilow atrocity. As I lunged for the dial a co-worker remarked, “You’re not much for pop, are you?” Not much for pop?

For those of you scratching your heads and wondering what the hell Dwight Twilley and 38 Special have to do with each other: don’t worry. You’re not alone. Actually the connection is supposed to be something about the State of Modern Pop, but I think that’s stretching it. Problem is, pop’s become a bastardized catch-all phrase that can cover anything from Husker Du to Barbra Streisand. These days most of what passes for pop on the radio is just schlock.

Now we have bands like .38 Special who probably think every cut on their new album could be a hit single — and given the mundane state of the airwaves, who’s to say they’re wrong? No more two-bit boogie for these boys; bring on the slick hooks and mass-harmony choruses.

Keith Olsen (Fleetwood Mac, Pat Benatar, Heart) produced. Jim Vallance (Bryan Adams) co-wrote a bunch. They then proceeded to lean heavily on Foreigner (‘Last Time’), Boston (on that pseudo-anthem ‘Never Give An Inch’) and themselves (‘Somebody Like You’ is a skewed retread of ‘If I’d Been The One’, admittedly a good song the first time around). It all adds up to a lousy time for all concerned. This is the crummiest kind of “mainstream” pop: bloated, unimaginative and corporate all the way. Credit where credit is due: the first single, ‘Somebody Like You’, is a decent rip of Cheap Trick with a little Cars thrown in.

As for Dwight Twilley: now here, ladies and germs, is a man who knows the true joy and value of pure pop. Youthful verve, rapturous vocal ability, gorgeous melodies, blazing guitars (Bill Pitcock IV, backing Twilley since he began over a decade ago, is an incredible unsung guitar hero) and possessed with an amazing capacity for incandescent aching — I tell you, this guy has got what it takes and then some. If things were as they should be I’d be writing about All Dwight’s Might — Greatest Hits Volume I instead of Wild Dogs.

Which brings me to the unfortunate task at hand. I must inform you that Wild Dogs is something of a disappointment. Twilley has calmed down and chilled out a little too much for his own good. The one all-out rocker, ‘Baby Girl’, sounds a bit by-the-book for my money. Even his much-vaunted syllable-stretching seems a trifle patented.

And do my ears deceive me or is Pitcock used too sparingly here? And who asked Waddy Wachtel to sit in? Most likely the same clown who thought Kim Carnes would add a little something extra to ‘Hold On’ (she doesn’t). Blame producer Val Garay whose other contributions are somewhat innocuous.

The record is not without its beguiling charms. ‘Sexual’ has a shimmering lust, ‘You Don’t Care’ makes a terrific double play with Moon Martin’s ‘No Chance’ and it’s nice to know Susan Cowsill is still an adept harmony vocalist. But Wild Dogs is best enjoyed by onetime fans who remember what D.T. is capable of. If you want to hear Dwight at the peak of his bedazzling power, I refer you to side one, cut two of Twilley Don’t Mind. ‘Looking For The Magic’ is one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most ecstatic thrills. That moment when he cries “Hurt! Hurt!” is the greatest. May he approach it again someday soon.

© Craig ZellerCreem, October 1986

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