Gregg Alexander/Intoxifornication (Epic)
There are many who are familiar with Gregg Alexander's work. A great majority of them probably don't know it, though. I was bowling after midnight a few nights ago and, among the usual string of 80's and 90's hits that came blasting over the speakers as I bowled my usual 130 was "You Get What You Give", the sole hit by the New Radicals. The minute the song began playing, the vibe of the entire alley picked up considerably. Girls started dancing in place as they approached the lane and just about everyone within earshot was singing along to the tune.
I've never gone bowling after midnight in England, but I'll bet much the same thing happens when Ronan Keating's "Life Is A Rollercoaster" plays. Ronan is a hunky crooner who did his time in boy band Westlife before becoming the blonde, clean cut devoted family man and gigantic pop star - the anti-Robbie Williams, if you will.
What unites these two songs, of course, is that they were written by Alexander. Truth be told, New Radicals' lone album, "Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too" (1988), is Alexander's third solo album, as far as this writer is concerned. That he chose to "break up the band" after one album for MCA sounds more like someone "wanted to get out of his contract".
Alexander has since become a popular songwriter for hire, penning numerous other hits for Keating, as well as writing songs recorded by Rod Stewart, Justin Guarini, and the post-"Rock Star" INXS. Most notably, he also co-wrote (with longtime co-writer and noted producer Rick Nowels) the Santana/Michelle Branch hit "Game Of Love".
Right off the bat, I will tell you that there are enough reasons to not give this album the time of day, which I didn't until very recently. The ambitiously lewd album title, the grainy public-library-copy-machine quality of the cover photo, and the cheesy lead-off track "Smokin' In Bed", are what we at The Shit call "three strikes, you're in"...the cut-out bins, that is.
But, quite honestly, that would be selling this album short. Sure, Alexander's youthful naivete overshadows the material at times, but, all things considered, this is a talented artist simply trying to hold on to his own identity while playing the major label game. The aforementioned "Smokin' In Bed" is a cringe-worthy attempt at sultry rock, undone by stodgy drum machines and sludgy guitar riffs. Pull this one out at the next party and see people become visibly confused. Are you serious? Or are you joking by playing this song, your friends will ask. One could ask this very question of Alexander.
But he quickly redeems himself with the heartland rocker, "Michigan Rain" (which is one of five tracks taken from the album of the same name, released by A&M Records three years prior) and the touchingly plaintive "Loving You Sets Me Free". The latter song reveals his adoration for Prince without resorting to full-blown emulation.
On "Intoxifornication", though, Alexander's pulls out all the stops and takes a walk on the Purple Side.
Before one can yank the CD out of the player, though, Alexander wins you back with a wink and a smile. For me, salvation comes in the form of a candid heart-on-his-sleeve ballad called "The Truth", wherein Alexander sings:
"I am a Jew
And you're my Hitler
Coz the things that make you happy make me sad
And them things you wants so bad I've already had
Listen I ain't your fuckin' buddy
Yet smile like a coward
I'm so suicidal I'll kill you with a flower
I hate the future yet try to look mod (Editor's note: hmm, he's right!)
On Sunday I go to church
But damn I think I'm God."
The part that got my attention, though, comes near the end of the song when Alexander exclaims, "Here it comes, here it comes, here it comes/Are you ready, here comes the lawsuit baby". He then incorporates a ligitigious portion of Foghat's "Slow Ride" (and gives them no songwriting credit to boot). If that ain't rock & roll, I dunno what is.
Sure, "Electric Girlfriend" is as bad as the title indicates (unless you actually like the title, of course) and "The World We Love So Much" is a worthy ballad that could've benefitted from a little more work in the vocal booth. The "hidden" track "Wear Your Love Beside You" is an ambitious, but aimless demo recording highlighted by an out-of-tune acoustic guitar, boom-chica-boom drum machine pattern, and such lyrics as "So don't lie and make this last another month, I need that time to plan your suicide, just kidding."
Thankfully, this album's commercial failure was not the last we would hear from Alexander, whose work on the music for the film "Begin Again" earned him a 2015 Oscar nomination for Best Song ("Lost Stars").