Ok, I was not looking forward to reviewing this album, a re-release of Mike + The Mechanics’ 1988 album The Living Years, including a second CD of bonus tracks. 80’s pop rock is not really my genre. And indeed when I pressed play on the first track, Nobody’s Perfect my stomach churned at the sound of the high-pitched keyboard noises starting off the song. I felt queasier still as I listened to the cheesy, predictable lyrics riffing on the done to death angel/devil theme (“It must be hard being an angel/When the devil in your heart won’t set you free”). However, the second song, The Living Years started to restore some of my hope for the album with a marked improvement in song-writing and a rather touching message. And in fact, a few songs later came a track that I actually thoroughly enjoyed and even had a bit of a dance to: Poor Boy Down. The keyboard line on Poor Boy Down is bouncy and fun and the vocal performance is powerfully energetic.
The other highlights of the album are Black And Blue, which has a lot of soul and features some excellent female backing vocalists, and two of the bonus tracks: Don’t (Live) which features a great vocal performance as well as a jaunty almost Bollywood-esque guitar and percussion backing and Silent Running (Live) which is very slick with a catchy chorus. Many of the live recordings feature guitar solos, which I actually enjoyed. They are not too over the top, don’t go for too long and they add to the feel of the songs: three of my key criteria for good guitar solos. Another good feature of the live tracks here are that they often start with a vocal intro where the vocalist talks over the intro to the song or shouts something. Those kinds of moments always feel like treats to me.
There are downsides to this album though – it is, as I had anticipated, rather draining for a single listen (the two CDs contain a total of 21 tracks). There is also one dud track: the 2014 version of The Living Years, with new vocalist Tim Howar giving a Backstreet Boys type vocal performance (too perfect, too enthusiastic). This does not bode well for the future of the band in its current incarnation.
However, on the whole I was pleasantly surprised by this album, given how much I was dreading reviewing it. It’s not a particularly memorable album, but it does have its moments.