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Bryan Adams

A neo-BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN-type rocker turned showbiz golden boy, Canadian BRYAN ADAMS has cornered the market for AOR singles/albums – as well as saccharine film themes – with unprecedented success. His country’s greatest-selling musical export, eclipsing the likes of NEIL YOUNG and JONI MITCHELL, the 80s and 90s were the singer-songwriter’s salad days, signature singles such as `Run To You’ and `Summer Of ‘69’, confounding doubters of his mass appeal. However, it was his trifling contribution to the high-grossing Kevin Costner vehicle, Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, which had the movie execs in rapture. The song in question, `(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’, sold millions around the world, earning him a Best Song Grammy and an Oscar nomination. The Canadian was duly recruited to come up with another blockbusting song for 1993’s all-star update of The Three Muskateers. The result was `All For Love’ (with STING & ROD STEWART), establishing his heavy-handed balladry niche and making the appearance of the truly awful `Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman?’ an inevitability. The latter was the showcase song for Francis Ford Coppola’s `Don Juan DeMarco, and the recipient of yet more award nominations; `I Finally Found Someone’, penned for the 1996 Barbra Streisand vanity flick, The Mirror Has Two Faces, wasn’t quite so successful,
Born November 5, 1959, Kingston, Ontario, from ex-pat English parents, the young Bryan travelled around the world – his father was a Canadian diplomat; he settled back in Vancouver with his mother when they divorced in 1973.
Always aspiring to be an entertainer after finding the cash to buy a guitar when working his socks off as a dishwasher, Bryan left school abruptly when he answered the call to become the lead-vocalist replacement for Nick Gilder in the band Sweeney Todd. Aged only 17, Bryan led out the quintet (guitarist Skip Prest, keyboardist Dan Gaudin, bassist Budd Marr and drummer John Booth), on the group’s sophomore set, “If Wishes Were Horses” (1977). However, the singer’s place was never permanent and, in 1977, he set up a writing partnership with Jim Vallance, former drummer/songwriter-in-chief with AOR band, PRISM. Numerous groups, including LOVERBOY, KISS, BACHMAN-TURNER OVERDRIVE et al, used their songs before ADAMS signed a contract with A&M, early in 1979.
While Vallance recorded with ADAMS on a low-key single (`Let Me Take You Dancing’) and the eponymous, best-forgotten BRYAN ADAMS (1980) {*4} debut album, the sticksman soon bowed out of the band, although the writing partnership continued unabated. ADAMS assembled new backers for the follow-up, YOU WANT IT, YOU GOT IT (1981) {*5}, a record that gelled slightly better when tracks such as `Fits Ya Good’, `Tonight’ and `Jealousy’, received a bit of airplay.
However, it wasn’t until early spring ‘83, with the release of `Straight From The Heart’, that the name of BRYAN ADAMS made a significant impact on the US charts. His gravel-voiced, sub-SPRINGSTEEN/MELLENCAMP rock was soon to enter into an ongoing love affair with coffee tables the world over; the accompanying album, CUTS LIKE A KNIFE (1983) {*7} reaching Top 10 status in America. Co-produced with Bob Clearmountain, and sticking with main players Vallance, Mickey Curry (drums) and Tommy Mandel (keyboards) – Keith Scott (guitars) and Dave Taylor (bass) respectively superseded Jamie Glaser, G.E. Smith and Brian Stanley – BRYAN ADAMS was finally winning over the hearts and minds of North American 30-somethings. Inoffensive and melody-driven, the deepest “cuts” that were perfect for the MTV age were `The Only One’, `This Time’, the title track and gutsy, good-time ballad `The Best Was Yet To Come’.
ADAMS really hit his stride with chart-topper RECKLESS (1984) {*7}, a sturdy, professional set of soft-rockers and ballads. While `Summer Of ‘69’ was an entertaining piece of anthemic pop-rock, and the album possessed just enough rough-edged charm to offset the cheese factor, the likes of `Kids Wanna Rock’ was downright cringe-worthy. Featuring no less than six hit singles, `Run To You’ (his opening gambit in Britain at No.11), `Somebody’ and `It’s Only Love’ (a duet with TINA TURNER), were handpicked for mainstream success; ADAMS also beat Elton to a Princess Di tribute with the B-side of the `Heaven’ single, entitled, funnily enough… `Diana’.
While the album made the man a household name, the follow-up effort, INTO THE FIRE (1987) {*5}, marked the end of his songwriting partnership with Vallance, and saw Bryan’s lyrics take on a more political bent (the following year saw the man playing the Nelson Mandela benefit concert at Wembley Stadium). Formulaic but appealing to anyone that registered with the likes of SPRINGSTEEN’s “Born In The USA”, average-guy ADAMS veered toward the political on pro-Native American track, `Native Son’, and the anti-war `Remembrance Day’. Of course, the buying public were more concerned with throwaway singles such as `Heat Of The Night’, `Hearts On Fire’, `Victim Of Love’, `Only The Strong Survive’, et al.
Still, any hopes of a radical new direction were dashed four years later upon the release of the unashamed slush-pop ballad, `(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’. The record – featured on the aforementioned “Robin Hood” soundtrack – went to No. 1 on both sides of the Atlantic for what seemed an eternity. After 16 weeks of radio overkill, one might have suspected that the populace had satiated their ADAMS appetite, so to speak, but no, the follow-up, `Can’t Stop This Thing We Started’ – more uptempo but equally bland – almost breached the UK Top 10. The attendant album, WAKING UP THE NEIGHBOURS (1991) {*5} went to the top of the charts, although it was safe to say that by now, ADAMS was probably appealing to a slightly different market and had lost any credibility – if, that was, he actually had any in the first place! – with a younger, more discerning audience. `There Will Never Be Another Tonight’, `Thought I’d Died And Gone To Heaven’, `All I Want Is You’ and `Do I Have To Say The Words?’, were saccharine-sweet and all for the ladies on a night-in with chocolates and the man of their dreams by a roaring fireside.
More nauseatingly ballads followed through the likes of `All For Love’ and `Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman?’ – you get the picture – into the charts, while subsequent attempts at rock (in the loosest sense of the term, naturally) made popstars HANSON sound dangerous.
Catchy or corny titles (delete as appropriate), `The Only Thing That Looks Good On Me Is You’, premiered what was to come on accompanying UK chart-topping, 18 TIL I DIE (1996) {*4}, his first studio set in five years. Also contained within the ghastly grooves of the MTV-sanctioned UNPLUGGED (1997) {*5}, were singles `Let’s Make A Night To Remember’ and `18 Til I Die’ (and a host of others not so recent) – but not Top 20 hit, `Star’. While it was hard to criticise a man who could do no wrong in the eyes of his loyal fanbase, umpteenth album ON A DAY LIKE TODAY (1998) {*3} was just sheer… how does one put it… crap. His first set in 15 years not to go platinum, the hits (mainly British) just kept rolling on, by way of the title track, `When You’re Gone’ (a duet alongside SPICE GIRL, Melanie C) and `Cloud #9’.
The icing on ADAMS’ sickly-sweet cake came with SPIRIT: STALLION OF THE CIMARRON (2002) {*4}, a shared soundtrack for an innocuous animation about a runaway horse. So smooth was BRYAN ADAMS’ transition from journeyman rocker to Hollywood balladeer that it was difficult to see the join. A surprise UK Top 10 entry, considering much of his chart action had been generated by celluloid love songs priceless in their vacuity – if ADAMS could’ve bottled this formula, he’d have been an even richer man than he was already. His link-up with “Media Ventures” golden boy HANS ZIMMER was as inevitable as George Bush’s second term, with just as predictable a platform: ADAMS took bloodless title theme (`Here I Am’) into the Top 5, rasps through an album’s worth of corporate schlock, and ZIMMER tags a few score excerpts onto the end. “Don’t judge a thing till you know what’s inside it” was one of his lyrical pearls of wisdom (from the dire `You Can’t Take Me’). Well, the sleeve doesn’t bode well, and a thorough rummage around inside leaves judgement unavoidable: that this is the kind of professionally scripted, multi-tasking muzak that should’ve gone out of fashion in the 80s. To be fair, `Brothers Under The Sun’ was at least cinematic and `Get Off My Back’ hinted at the ADAMS of old, although even then its hook lumbers like a hobbled donkey. SARAH McLACHLAN made a SHAKESPEARS SISTER-like cameo on `Don’t Let Go’, and Zimmer rolled out his usual electro-symphonic fusion. In two words, horseshit sandwich.
Bypassing the obligatory DVD/CD package, LIVE AT THE BUDOKAN (2003) {*5}, studio set ROOM SERVICE (2004) {*4}, was hardly penthouse suite-standard, more like a time-warped Butlins chalet; while America had virtually distanced itself from ADAMS’ oil-slick “rock”, the Brits were still taking plenty of bookings, elevating the long-player to the Top 5; `Open Road’ and `Flying’, minor hits.
After another sidestep into the world of film via “Colour Me Kubrick” – a download-EP was available a year after its premier in 2005, Bryan’s soft-rock extravaganza continued unabated courtesy of 11 (2008) {*4}, an album penned with Vallance, Gretchen Peters, Mutt Lange and Eliot Kennedy (among others). Reaching 50 years of age, BARE BONES (2010) {*5}, was just what it said on the tin – an acoustic live set that highlighted all his best material over the course of some 30 years.
Retrospective with a side platter of X-Factor fever, Canada’s number uno act dished out a near-covers set in TRACKS OF MY YEARS (2014) {*5}; the one exception being `She Knows Me’. Complete with late-60s wig-on for the photo-shoot (STEVE WINWOOD anyone?), ADAMS flitted from emotive ballads such as RAY CHARLES’ `I Can’t Stop Loving You’, DYLAN’s `Lay Lady Lay’, a beautiful interpretation of The BEACH BOYS’ `God Only Knows’ (about to be surrendered for a V/A TV charity dirge) and the SMOKEY ROBINSON, er, title track. For other pop/rock music buffs that had forgotten The MANHATTANS’ `Kiss And Say Goodbye’ and CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL’s `Down On The Corner’, FERRY’s “these foolish things” remind me of you.
On hearing the retro-RnR of Bryan’s next crumpled chip-paper chapter, GET UP! (2015) {*4}, one could hardly avoid the TRAVELING WILBURY-ness of producer JEFF LYNNE. A mini-set of sorts if one avoided the addendum acoustic reprises of `Don’t Even Try’, `We Did It All’, `You Belong To Me’ and `Brand New Day’, fans might feel a little cheated by the audacity of such an austere enterprise. Combining songwriting resources with the ELO man on `Do What You Gotta Do’ (and the rest with the stoic Jim Vallance), the UK Top 3 record encapsulated nothing but a time-warp of time-worn memories: from the Fab Four, BUDDY HOLLY, TOM PETTY and, of course, SPRINGSTEEN.
© MC Strong 1994-2008/MCS/BG-LCS // rev-up MCS Sep2013-Oct2015

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