It's funny what can happen when a friend drags you kicking and screaming into what appears to be a St. Vincent de Paul thrift store that hasn't had a customer, or changed their decor, since 1987. While your friend goes off to sift through their no-zip-sorting bin of used luggage, you cover the entire store in thirty seconds and are then faced with the excruciating task of "killing more time" as your friend tries to make up his mind which $2 book bag to adopt.
Your best bet is to scour the cassette rack at the back of the store until your friend is ready to check out of this dump. You can almost predict which tapes will be there: Christian acts like Sandy Patti, Degarmo & Key, and Russ Taff, 90s hip hop acts Marky Mark & The Funky Bunch, MC Hammer, and Kris Kross, and other assorted albums you can't give away by the likes of C & C Music Factory, OMC, and Winger. You sense an oncoming fit of queasiness at the depressing sameness of it all, but then you spot a name you know, but never expected to see in such a place: Mitchell Froom.
The tape in question is called The Key Of Cool and is billed on the album's cover as "The source music from the film 'Cafe Flesh'?
You grab the tape, wipe away the years of dust and neglect, and peruse the credits for clues as to how the existence of such an album could have eluded you for so long.
Like many of you, I came to know of Mitchell Froom from his production work on the first Crowded House album, which featured the hits "Don't Dream It's Over", "Something So Strong" and "World Where You Live". Froom's production gave the songs of former Split Enz guitarist Neil Finn a soulful, organic richness devoid of unnecessary bells and whistles of the day.
Considering the album was released in 1986, a notoriously grandiose time for pop production where synthesized instrumentation and gated reverb ran amok, it's truly amazing how unaffected by the times both producer and band were able to remain.
Listening to the album thirty years later, not only do Finn's songs stand out as some of the best of his career, but Froom's production sounds as lush and warm as the day it came out. What's most striking about Froom's production style is how non-intrusive he is, seeking only to capture the band in their natural element and not force them into a sound that doesn't fit them.
Only two years prior, Froom had released The Key of Cool on the esteemed L.A. indie label Slash Records, with the music also acting as the soundtrack to a film called "Cafe Flesh".
It would probably surprise you to discover that Cafe Flesh was, for all intents and purposes, a porn flick, Granted, it was a high-concept, sci-fi porn flick with a script co-written by Jerry "Permanent Midnight" Stahl. Seems, at the time, that both Froom and Stahl were a prolific songwriting team still looking for their big break.
In 1982, they'd written a lion's share of the Gamma's Gamma 3 album with Ronnie Montrose, which explains why one of the songs on Key Of Cool, "Blue Lips", was produced by Ronnie Montrose.
Both the film and the album remain largely unknown, but there is a rabid cult audience that hails both as absolute works of genius. The Key of Cool, however, remains largely unavailable, even on eBay, where my search mere seconds ago turned up "0 matches found" while over at Amazon, two used copies are available for $44.99.
As for the movie itself, it can be had on DVD for just under $40, but is officially out-of-print, much like Froom's album. If you're into kitschy movie music from the '80s, though, and neither the album or film is yet in your possession, well, what are you waiting for?