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Stephen Crane – Kicks Award winner

Stephen Crane
by Rachel Montgomery at 16 April 2021, 5:16 PM

STEPHEN CRANE first released this album in 1984 and it’s here for second life. Crane was a member of the seventies band BABY and got his chance to solo record in the mid-80s. While the songs on this album are radio-friendly, it never got big. Did Crane’s solo record Kicks fail to stand out amid other acts jamming their albums with the same 80s musical tropes like synthesized, snare-fueled tracks of the same decade? Maybe, maybe not, but it appears the downfall of Crane’s made-for-radio album was that it never got a CD release, and at the time, the new medium had eclipsed records as the way to tune into new sounds.

The opening song, “Headed For A Heartbreak” has me asking: is this metal? In the go-big-or-go-home 80s, this would be placed squarely in the pop camp. Well, it was originally released in 1984, the days of Sunset Strip Glam Metal and the beginnings of thrash and heavier sounds. It may not be your jam if you’re looking for nostalgic metal to listen to, but if you have a hankering for harder 80s pop or 80s rock, the opening song slaps. In typical 80s fashion, the snare shoots out of the production like a bullet, and everything is big, big, BIG! However, in my humble opinion, although the production has an 80s quality, it’s crisp and harkens back to the era it’s from in a satisfying way.

As far as metal goes, the middle tracks on the album sound the most like heavy metal with a grittier guitar and lower drums.  Since this was released on vinyl on its first run, these tracks would be the end of side A and the beginning of side B respectively. “Victim Of Love” has a slow, heavy feeling reminiscent of blues-inspired metal of the early 70s. However, the swinging and upbeat chorus brings this song back into happy 80s territory, leaving you with a good feeling as you switch the record from side A to side B. “I Can’t Wait” opens Side B with a more VAN HALEN sound, complete with synthesized harmonies and an echoing chorus.

The rest of the songs are definitely in the pop/rock corner of 80s music. The guitars in “Joanne” remind me of a couple VAN HALEN riffs. It also makes me wonder why this wasn’t a single or in some 80s movie soundtrack back in the day. Again, the production is crisp, and it has a beat that makes you nod your head. I could throw this in my car and cruise down the highway and be incredibly satisfied. “Kicks” includes the standard 80s saxophone solo in the instrumental break and the outro just to make the track even more 80s. Later songs on the track like “I’ll Take Care of You” also have a distinct 80s aerobics feeling with some great synthesizer harmonies and of course, snare, snare, snare to keep your steps to the beat.

For some reason, the first ballad track, “All My Love” leaves me with the same feeling as HALL & OATES or a softer version of WHITESNAKE’s “Here I Go Again”. The piano opening puts it squarely in the ballad category, but when the music swells, it becomes anthemic, leaving the listener with that 80s song, fist-pumping triumphant feeling. The closing track, “Crying Don’t Look Good On You” is a more traditional soft song with less instrumentation and a softer voice. It gets more intense as the song goes on, taking on a stroll vibe.

If you’re looking for some deep-track 80s nostalgia, this is what you should be looking for. It has a lot of the tropes, including saxophones, heavy snare, and big synthesizers, it’s a solid look back at the decade. With 80s session gurus who worked with acts like TOTO, MR. MISTER, and LE ROUX contributing to the recording, this album is exactly what 80s dreams are made of.

Songwriting: 8
Production: 8
Musicianship: 10
Memorability: 9

4 Star Rating

1. Headed For A Heartbreak
2. Joanne
3. Kicks
4. All My Love
5. Victim Of Love
6. I Can’t Wait
7. Back On My Feet Again
8. I’ll Take Care Of You
9. Sooner Or Later
10. Crying Don’t Look Good On You
Stephen Crane – Vocals
Richard Page, Tom Kelly – Backing Vocals
Duane Sciacqua, Joey Brasler, Ray Pannell – Session Guitars
Jai Winding – Keyboards
Steve Lukather, Jeff, Mike & Steve Porcaro, Duane Sciacqua, James Newton Howard – Session musicians (unspecified instruments)
Record Label: AOR Heaven


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