by Jeff Fiedler
Albums from the Lost & Found is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Jeff Fiedler reviews and helps us rediscover great pop albums that seem to have been lost to time.
There are some albums you just can’t help but associate with the Christmas season even if they’re not technically Christmas albums; perhaps it’s the cover art, perhaps it’s a particular track, or perhaps it simply recalls a warm memory for you from an unforgettable prior holiday season. I myself always think of Christmas whenever I hear the Erasure EP Crackers International, for example; there’s a bona fide Christmas song on the record in the wildly underrated and tear-jerking original “She Won’t Be Home,” but the snow in the cover art also enhances that vibe, as does the sheer joy of non-seasonal cuts like “Stop!” and “The Hardest Part.” I get the same feeling anytime I hear the self-titled debut album from Shaun Cassidy, whose song “Holiday” – a happy, playful love song not actually related to the holiday season in any way – my sister and I would play as kids alongside true Christmas records from the likes of Andy Williams or the Carpenters while we were hanging Christmas decorations. [Say what you will about David Cassidy – I still maintain that his half-brother made some high-quality 45s during his brief period as a recording artist. How many other teen idols are hip enough to cover songs (“Hey Deanie,” “That’s Rock ’n’ Roll”) penned by a power-pop legend like the Raspberries’ Eric Carmen?]
And I also get the same feeling anytime I hear Peace of Mind, Breathe's 1990 follow-up to All That Jazz . It’s not technically a Christmas record – although the single “Does She Love That Man?” does specifically reference Christmas and takes place during the holiday season – but there’s something about their music in general that captures the joy of the season, and there are several songs from this disc that I’ve made a point of including on a mix CD that I traditionally take with me every year when I go out mall-hopping to do Christmas shopping; it just gives me a warm feeling.
Peace of Mind, released in August of 1990, perhaps arrived just a little too late to sell as well as it should have; grunge was about to take over, and sophisti-pop was already falling out of style, so Breathe wisely remolded its sound ever so slightly, downplaying the jazzier elements of their debut in favor of a more soul-pop-oriented sound. The material was admittedly slightly less strong this time, but the best songs here still retained all the charm and the strong hooks of your average Breathe single, and while most of the sophomore efforts from the band’s British peers on the charts, i.e. Johnny Hates Jazz, Cutting Crew, Danny Wilson, etc., landed with a complete thud, Peace of Mind, in contrast, would give the band – now reduced to a trio following the departure of Delahunty – two additional Top 40 hits in America.
The first of these Top 40 hits, the spiritually-inclined “Say a Prayer,” might have come as a rude awakening to those who had passed over All That Jazz in favor of buying the singles and only knew the band for ballads like “Hands to Heaven,” but there are echoes of the previous album’s title cut in the song, which is heavily rooted in soul and gospel, Glasper even pulling an Al Green in places and breaking into an unexpected falsetto. The song just barely missed the Top Twenty, peaking at #21.
The follow-up single, the #34-peaking “Does She Love That Man?,” deserved to do much, much better. The lovely, tear-jerking ballad features Glasper singing about bumping into an ex-girlfriend around the holidays and seeing her with the new man in her life. The power and the soul with which Glasper goes from singing the chorus’ climactic line (“She has broken my will to survive”) into a key change that introduces the song’s bridge is one of his finest moments as a vocalist, and the gospel choir that kicks in almost immediately afterwards is the perfect added touch.
The band branches out into new territory on the surprisingly good country-tinged R&B of “Mississippi Water” (which coincidentally shows up just before a cut called “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” not a cover of the famous country standard popularized by the Carter Family and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band but a funk-tinged original) and the old-school-soul stylings that shade “Say Hello.” The disc isn’t a complete departure, though, and fans of All That Jazz will enjoy cuts like the mellow ballad “Woman,” the waltz rhythms of “A Perfect Love” and the light adult-contemporary pop-rock of “Without Your Love.”
The band would sadly disband shortly after Peace of Mind, allegedly due to their frustrations with the lack of promotional support they were receiving by that time from A&M, which had just been acquired by PolyGram, and they’ve never reunited (although Lillington would go on to play in the band Stroke the Toad with original Breathe bassist Phil Harrison.) As to where Glasper is today and why he never took a crack at a solo album after the band’s breakup, that remains a well-kept mystery, but his incredible voice has been missed.