Wheels are Turnin' (1984)


1. I Do' Wanna Know 2. One Lonely Night 3. Thru the Window 4. Rock 'n' Roll Star 5. Live Every Moment 6. Can't Fight This Feeling 7. Gotta Feel More 8. Break His Spell 9. Wheels are Turnin'


 

Although their last record, Good Trouble sold a respectable amount of records, it didn't come close to the mammoth sales of Hi Infidelity. Since the last record was basically a carbon copy, it was obvious that a change was necessary. A personal lifestyle change was also needed for some of the members of the band - especially singer Kevin Cronin that was discovering his own personal epiphany before he began to work on the record. Years of hard partying, drug use, and being on the road non-stop was taking its toll, and he decided it was time to clean up his life.

When these sort of things happen to a performer, you never really know how it's going to affect the music, and Cronin would admit that he was going through a writer's block, and this record definitely had its challenges. In fact, the title (and the mediocre song...we'll get to that in a bit) seem to acknowledge the time and place in his life when the creative juices began to flow a bit, and that everything was going to be o.k. even in the midst of a lot of personal turmoil.

The first single, I Do'Wanna Know follows a subconscious pattern started on the last album, where it seems like Kevin Cronin is basically trying to re-write some old REO classics that never made it, even though they probably should have been heard by more people than they were. The single is basically a rewrite of Keep Pushin', the best song from 1976's R.E.O.. Differences are minimal. The single never fared that well. In fact, the whole album may have quietly disappeared had it not been for Cronin's killer ballad, and second single, Can't Fight This Feeling. This is arguably the best song that band ever recorded. Like Keep On Lovin' You from Hi Infidelity, it falls into the category of slow, soft and sweet which tended to piss off some of original core of fans of this band, but it was apparent that this was really where Kevin Cronin's major strength was. This one has a slightly more adult contemporary feel to it (another strike - some would say), but it managed to rightfully climb all the way to the top of the charts.

This was to be followed by another sweetie, Neal Doughty's One Lonely Night (when was the last time he wrote a song?). So in a way, the guys were unintentionally re-branding themselves, and this wasn't really going well with some members of the band - particularly guitarist Gary Richrath. Speaking of Richrath, it seems he was having a writers block of his own, yet unlike Cronin, he never really seemed to rebound. He has a few writing credits on this album, yet, for the most part, his contributions are nothing special and leave a bit of residue on the bottom of the barrel.

Bruce Hall, as usual, has a song that he contributes. His Thru the Window doesn't have the same punch as some of his earlier contributions, yet they're always somewhat refreshing. He's not singing this time around. Not sure why. Anyway, having Cronin at the mike doesn't do any damage to this piece.

Unfortunately, right after Can't Fight This Feelin', the album sinks hard and fast into mediocrity. With only nine songs, it's easy to be disappointed with the whole product. Particularly awful is the six minute title track at the end that really makes you wonder what Cronin was thinking. After all, it was his strong contributions that was keeping the Speedwagon afloat, yet this song plays like a rhyming dictionary. Gee, Kevin, how many words can you come up that rhyme with "Turnin'"? (burnin', churnin' returnin'). Anyway, give the guys credit for keeping the machine humming. Many of their arena rock counterparts were already dismantling themselves in this new decade, and truth be told, to the fan, some good REO material on an album was still better than no REO material at all.



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