MORE THAN any other group of the Seventies, America — in both its British and U.S. periods—has epitomized the stiff, soulless side of California pop. After pretending to be Neil Young for an album, America developed an identifiable sound based on acoustic guitars, minor keys and nasal harmonies. To the group’s credit it now has chosen to expand its style rather than play out a rather limited hand.
On Holiday America has looked to the Beatles for inspiration, going so far as to enlist the services of George Martin as producer and arranger. It was a good move: the tracks are dominated by piano and strings rather than guitars, giving the harmonies a soft, billowy base, and the album as a whole sounds more solidly prepared than the group’s earlier LPs. And Martin hasn’t done this well in five years.
But the key to America’s surprising coming of age is the material, particularly the four songs and one instrumental piece by Gerry Beckley. Beckley seems to have switched his composing instrument from guitar to piano; his melodic songs are given momentum by simple, syncopated keyboard parts. ‘Baby It’s up to You’ has the most memorable melody the group has yet recorded and is surely one of its most durable tracks as well. ‘Mad Dog’ and ‘What Does It Matter’ betray a debt to McCartney’s more wistful work in their tunes, lyrics and vocals. That’s another plus: Beckley has learned to sing with style. Dewey Bunnell’s songs, while still containing much of the old America sound, are greatly enhanced by Martin’s adventurous arrangements. Dan Peek is the most erratic of the three, but he, too, is starting to write strong melodies to go with often callow lyrics.
Holiday is not a work of genius by any means but it will surprise those people — and there are more than a few — who gagged on ‘Ventura Highway’ and ‘A Horse with No Name’.
© Bud Scoppa, Rolling Stone, 26 September 1974