Thursday, November 13, 2014

Foreigner: The Best Of 4 & More - Delivering The Goods

A few months back I had written about how I thought that the current iteration of Foreigner, in spite of retaining only one original member (songwriter/guitarist Mick Jones), ranked as the finest lineup to ever sail under that name. Now there is convenient evidence that can be found to support my supposition with in the soon to be released 'Foreigner: The Best Of 4 & More', a live album recorded just last month in Atlantic City that includes the majority of the band's biggest ever album, 4 which contained more hits than misses, and some of the band's biggest hits.

If you never liked Foreigner this isn't going to change anything. If you already love the band, you don't need convincing, but if you're like me, and you thought the band never lived up to the promise of their hits as a live band, and you need some convincing, this is all the proof you need. If you liked Foreigner's hits, this might be the best record they've ever made. These songs have never sounded better in a live setting.

Photo by S. Schweiger
I've talked about it before, but the whole key to the band's success over the last decade is the fact that Mick Jones has truly assembled the best band that he could hire to do this particular job. Kelly Hanson is much more than capable in his role as frontman, he's become a top flight vocalist and performer since he joined the band back in 2005. Bassist Jeff Pilson brings a brilliant bit of brawn and finesse to the low end that gives these songs a punch they never had on FM radio. He's also part of a very powerful wall of background vocals that I would think overdubs had I not just seen the band days before this was recorded. Let's face it - the eighties were a tough time to be rich hit-makers. Sound systems were not nearly as sophisticated and the relaxed sense of prohibition of those times made hitting harmony vocals tough, if not impossible onstage. This band hits the mark, and they do it very powerfully, this is not a museum exhibition, this is rock 'n' roll.

I also like the win/win compromise of the show's basic premise - most bands have been electing to either do their greatest hits shows or their entire album shows. Foreigner has ended up in the middle with the majority of the spotlight album represented, but also a heavy dose of the band's mega-hits. This is a band that knows exactly what its fans want, and they deliver it. There is a reason that this classic rock band sells out shows, and has a stable lineup. They are doing it the right way.

After an elaborate musical montage type of introduction (it's much cooler than I'm making it sound - it is actually entertaining enough to keep me from thinking, "Let's just get on with the show."), the band kicks into some power chords that sound way tougher than the original take of 'Night Life', and the show is off and running. Drummer Chris Frazier got the call from David Coverdale to play drums for Whitesnake back in 2006 for the simple reason that he was the guy for the job. His predecessors had included legends like Ian Paice, and Cozy Powell, and those are tough shoes to fill, but Frazier is totally up to the task. He brings that to this band - he kicks everything up a few notches.

The guitars are  huge part of what makes this record so successful. The tones are huge, and both Mick Jones and co-lead guitarist Bruce Watson are playing hot fiery leads and throwing fills across the bow that are almost shocking in their freshness, piss, and vinegar. There's a fierceness on 'Woman In Black' that didn't exist on the original recording, most likely just a sign of the times when that record was made (1981), but in its new tough guy outfit it comes across as a riff worthy of its title.

Bringing some of the best hard rockers to come out of Los Angeles in the eighties has netted Jones a band the hits harder, and with more exuberance than the original band could have ever mustered - though they were no slouches as players, the original band was not big on image, and this bunch has it in spades. 'Urgent' is the first super hit of the evening, and it's tough and tight. It's on a song like this that the band proves its meddle. If they were just cruising they'd play up the original level of excitement of the song, and the audience would be perfectly happier, and none the wiser, but this outfit obviously tries to put the hardest rocking version of the song out that it can, and they succeed.

'Waiting For A Girl Like You' is up next, and Hanson owns it. Not going through any paces, he's singing the song to the very best of his considerable skills as a singer. He's got the power, the intonation, phrasing necessary for the job, but he's also putting a lot of himself into the song emotionally, and that comes across very strongly. Pilson plays some crazy cool bass on this one, and his tone is something every bassist should consider - it's perfect for the job, he is pushing his rig, and his skills.

Time for a few more deep tracks from 4, and both 'Break It Up', and 'Girl On The Moon' match or beat the originals once again. Why can't every band give a shit like this one does?

Knowing their audience well, the band gives the album re-creation a break and goes into a mini set of some of the band's biggest hits. Closing with all their fire power.

'Feels Like The First Time' was not just the band's first hit, it was the first song on their first album, and like a cowboy being buried in his boots, this band will ride off into the sunset playing this tune. These may be soldiers that have replaced old soldiers, but Jones' crew could not do more honor to these songs' legacy than to take them on with the vitality and energy that they bring to the game. Mick Jones can still rifle out his first big riff with as much vim and vigor as he ever did, and his soloing is spot on - he'll thrown in some new fills and odd notes to keep things fun, but when it comes down to his signature guitar solos, he gives the people what they want, and that is an excellent rendition of the original solo.

Next is the follow up single to the previous song back in 1977, and 'Cold As Ice' is a great example of how good Foreigner is at the art of live vocalizing. Everyone on the stage seems to sing well, and the combined effect is pretty stunning. You actually get the full effect of the voices on the original albums. I haven't spoken about the keyboard players, or their performances, but very part is right, and the advantage of current technology makes their delivery much more pleasing than in decades past.

'Hot Blooded' gives Jones a chance to show off his hard rock hero moves, and we're reminded why when Leslie West was putting together his solo band a few years before Foreign began, the guy he called to ride shotgun was Mick Jones, and he's been of top of the world ever since. He's got the roughest dirtiest tone on the stage, and he's going for it, never giving it less than his all.

'I Want To Know What Love Is' is as slick as it needs to be, but the rhythm section is kicking hard and driving it rather than just carrying it along. They make it swing. Hanson sings it like he wrote it, you can't ask more of the guy.

Who knew 'Jukebox Hero' could come off like a hard rock anthem that doesn't even begin to get tiresome in its thirteen minutes. Jones and Watson throw down a guitar exhibition that sounds more like early BOC than any FM top ten band, but it's all wrapped in a nice package of 'not too sweet' commercial rock.

Like I said earlier - if you're not a Foreigner fan, why have you read this far? If you are a die hard fan, you've probably already pre-ordered the album. But for you that have been on the fence, go ahead and put this one to bed, and buy a copy. You're going to like it, even if you keep it on the down low as a guilty pleasure. Sure, Foreigner is above all a hits band, but they happen to be fielding a band that makes those hits more than they have ever been, and who else is doing that for their fans?        


Janet philpot said...

I have been to three Foreigner concerts this year. This band is absolutely amazing. I always leave wanting more and looking for the next performance that I will be able to attend. Never a disappointing moment. Everyone should do themselves a favor and attend their concerts. You will just want more.

Anonymous said...

I have been a big Foreigner Fan since Feels Like the First Time came out. I saw them recently in concert and boy they put on a show like no other. I loved the fact that they interact with the fans. Kelly Hansen pours his heart and soul into the songs. All these guys play awesome. I will definately go see them next year when they come back to my neck of the woods. The only thing I wish is that we in the US could get this wonderful live CD. I would so buy it. Don't understand why?

Anonymous said...

So all of the hard work that Lou Gramm put into these songs and collaborated with Mick on was of less quality than the new remake? That is complete B.S. I have seen both versions of the band and I am sorry Kelly Hansen does not have the range and quality of voice that Lou Gramm had. I am not saying he is not a good vocalist but he is merely an imitator of Lou Gramm. Instead of remixing and repackaging 30 year old music why not come out with some new tunes. Can't Slow Down was a good album! I can accept that Lou Gramm can no longer sign like he did but don't forget who the original voice of Foreigner was. There is no substitute and to characterize the original musicians as something less is insulting. Just remember who's names were on those Gold and Platinum albums!

Tony Conley said...

Brian, I call them as I see them. When I saw Foreigner in the 70s and 80s, they were simply not a great live band. Lou Gramm is Lou Gramm, that speaks for itself, I didn't even mention him in the article, I'm writing about the band that is Foreigner today. I think Kelly Hanson does a fabulous job, does he not exude respect for the band's past? I happen to enjoy the way the band sounds today in comparison with any of their fine history. If you would have told me that the band would sound like this in 2014, I'd have been damned pleased!

Anonymous said...

Mick found some very fine musicians to keep his music alive! And Kelly now owns these songs, he's an amazing singer. Love the new line-up! Thank you, Mr. Jones.

Brian said...

Not taking anything away from the current line up. There are opinions on both sides of the fence as to the quality of the new Foreigner band vs. Original lineup.
I look at it like the Mona Lisa painting. There is only one and anything else is just an imitation.
There are many bands that have had member lineup changes Journey, Bad Co., Styx etc. Some can pull it off better than others. It does irk me that Mick Jones has re recorded the original hits with Hansen. None of the other bands have done this and I do think this may be a way of probably screwing Lou Gramm out of royalties or other monies by Mick Jones. He has had a history of not being very generous on the splits with Lou Gramm in the past.

Tony Conley said...

Yeah, I don't know anything about the business aspects of the Foreigner/Lou Gramm split, but I would guess that if Mick is re-recording old material in the studio, it's to get a better deal than he was getting from the labels more than to do with Gramm, who is covered via copyrights for the songs he helped compose.

My whole point is that I saw Foreigner three times during their heyday, and they never impressed me as a live band - beyond Gramm and Jones, I didn't see much that thrilled me.

I'm glad that Gramm seems to be doing well on his own, but I can't say that I've checked anything out to see how he's sounding these days.

In terms of the Mona Lisa, I can see it in its original state - with a rock band that is often impossible. For me it comes down to intent and execution - the guys in Foreigner are in it for what seems to be best intentions, and they put on one hell of a good show. In a perfect world I would live perpetually in the 60s and 70s, haha!

Brian said...

Thanks Tony!
Good commentary! I agree me too!