Discog Fever - Rating and Reviewing Every Bryan Adams Album (Part 1)

by Jeff Fiedler

Discog Fever is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com, rating and reviewing a band's entire catalogue of studio albums.

Bryan Adams (1980, A&M)

C

Not a bad album so much as it is very embryonic and the work of an artist yet to find his forte, this is a very different affair from, say, Reckless, but the potential is certainly audible, and it’s already clear that the young talent can write songs, even if he doesn’t quite yet know how to produce them. (He’d figure that out shortly enough, however.) There are no U.S. chart hits on here, but quite a few songs here would be covered by other artists, and there are some fine ones here indeed, particularly the rocker “Remember”
(later covered by Bob Welch on his self-titled 1981 RCA album), “Wastin’ Time,” and, best of all, “Win Some, Lose Some,” which would get covered by Scandal on their delightful 1982 self-titled EP.

You Want It, You Got It (1981, A&M)

B –

It’s a bit of a shame that A&M rejected Adams’ original title for this album, Bryan Adams Hasn’t Heard of You, Either (an inside joke about the poor commercial performance of his first album), because that truly would have been one of the most memorable and hilarious album titles of all-time. But, even if the final album title isn’t nearly as memorable, the music is, and this is a significant leap forward in quality from his debut. Bryan finally finds the style and sound that fits him best on the muscular arena-rock of “Lonely Nights,” his first truly fantastic single (and his first to crack the Hot 100, though it strangely missed the Top 40), but the sound doesn’t carry across the whole disc (“Jealousy,” for instance, sounds more like a lost Springsteen side circa The River), which makes the album feel a tad unfocused. There are other great cuts, particularly “Tonight” and “Fits Ya Good,” that further demonstrate Adams’ improvement since the debut, but there were even better albums to come.

Cuts Like a Knife (1983, A&M)

A +

Adams’ commercial breakthrough, this album doesn’t technically have as many hits as some of his others, but it sure sounds jam-packed with hits. The piercing, gritty arena-rock of the excellent title cut (featuring some impressively muscular playing from one of the finest drummers in all of ‘80s rock, Mickey Curry, who, incredibly enough, would simultaneously function as the full-time drummer for many years for both Adams and Daryl Hall and John Oates) would be a Top Twenty hit, while the sunny pop of “This Time,” one of Adams’ most underrated singles, would nearly follow the title cut into the Top Twenty, peaking at #24. The album also boasts Adams’ first Top Ten hit, the first-rate ballad “Straight from the Heart,” which sports what easily has to be the prettiest instrumental break to be found on any Bryan Adams single. It’s surprising in hindsight that there were just three Top 40 hits here, though, because there are some absolutely fantastic non-singles here, starting with the hard-rocking album opener “The Only One,” which easily could have gone Top Ten had it been issued as a single. “What’s It Gonna Be” is every bit as catchy, while the pure-pop stomp of “Let Him Know” is a fun singalong. “I’m Ready” would pop up in many an Adams concert setlist for decades to come, and the mellow ballad “The Best Was Yet to Come” is one of the best closing cuts to be found on any Adams album. If Reckless isn’t Adams’ finest album, then this is it.

Reckless (1984, A&M)

A +

Arguably the greatest album Adams ever made (with the possible exception of Cuts Like a Knife), this album went platinum five times over in the U.S. alone and spawned an impressive six Top Twenty hits, including Adams’ first Number One hit, the classic power ballad “Heaven” (originally written for and included on the soundtrack of the obscure film A Night in Heaven and later made a Top Ten hit a second time in 2002 in the form of a cover by DJ Sammy & Yanou; Journey’s Steve Smith also provides the drum work on the track). The chilling rocker “Run to You” (originally written by Adams and songwriting partner Jim Vallance for – but turned down by – Blue Oyster Cult) is also here, as is the timeless arena-rock of “Summer of ’69.” The muscular singalong “Somebody” (featuring some fantastic playing from everyone involved, particularly lead guitarist Keith Scott and drummer Mickey Curry) just stopped one spot shy of becoming the fourth Top Ten hit from the album, and the punchy album-opener “One Night Love Affair” didn’t miss by much, either, peaking at #13. (You sadly seldom hear the latter song on the radio these days, but it’s just as good as “Somebody” or “Run to You.”) There’s also a fiery duet with Tina Turner, “It’s Only Love,” that would reach the Top Twenty. The amazing thing is that there could have even been more hits here had A&M wanted to keep milking the album, because “Long Gone” and “She’s Only Happy When She’s Dancing” are both nearly every bit as catchy as any of the singles.

Into the Fire (1987, A&M)

C +    

Every bit as muscular-sounding and heart-pounding as Reckless, Into the Fire is only undone by the fact that the bulk of the songs aren’t anywhere near as good or as catchy as those on the previous two albums, and that would be reflected in the relatively disappointing chart performance of both the album (which would peak at #7 and ultimately become a common sighting in cut-out bins) and its singles. Part of this is due to the fact that – like his labelmates Simple Minds did in the late ‘80s on Street Fighting Years to disastrous commercial response in the U.S. – Adams tries to get a bit topical here and delve into sociopolitical matters, and it’s just not his forte.  The album does have its great moments, though. “Hearts on Fire” strangely peaked at #26, but it’s both catchier and a lot more fun than its chart peak might suggest and remains one of his more underrated singles, while the muscular ballad “Victim of Love” (which also dented the Top 40, reaching #32) overflows with attitude. The biggest highlight, however, is undeniably the cavernous album-opener “Heat of the Night,” which sports a first-rate singalong chorus (as well as some fierce, punchy drumming from Curry) and is perhaps the most underrated of Adams’ singles; while the song did reach the Top Ten, it’s become one of the more “lost” hit singles in Adams’ catalog and doesn’t get anywhere near the radio airplay these days that it deserves.

Waking Up the Neighbors (1991, A&M)

A –  

It was a massive-seller and cemented Adams’ position as one of the biggest rock stars of his generation, but in retrospect, Adams’ first album of the ‘90s is also responsible for kicking off one of the most artistically questionable periods of his career, if only for the fact that he’s modified his style and sound by hooking up with former Def Leppard producer/co-writer Robert John “Mutt” Lange and creating an album full of arena-rock songs that sound exactly like … well, Def Leppard, actually. As fabulous though Pyromania and Hysteria are, Adams isn’t Def Leppard, so it’s totally jarring to hear Adams singing songs like “All I Want Is You” (which has the cringe-inducing line “If ya don’t need love, ya gotta be nuts”), “House Arrest,” and “Touch the Hand” that nearly sound like leftovers from Hysteria. The album’s also very, very long, with a total of fifteen songs spanning seventy-four minutes, seven of those cuts clocking in at over five minutes and only two cuts shorter than four minutes. But when the collaboration works, it does work very well, and there are five solid Top 40 hits here, including the biggest Bryan Adams hit of all, the Number One smash (and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves theme) “Everything I Do (I Do It for You),” the fun “Can’t Stop This Thing We Started” (which manages to find the perfect balance between Adams’ old style and Lange’s sensibilities), the underrated “There Will Never Be Another Tonight” and the power ballads “Do I Have to Say the Words?” and the catchy “Thought I’d Died and Gone to Heaven,” while “Vanishing” and “Is Your Mama Gonna Miss Ya?” are the best non-singles here.  It’s not as glorious as his best ‘80s work, but it’s still an awfully fun listen and it’s certainly a fine recovery from the spotty Into the Fire.

18 'til I Die (1996, A&M)

B –

A second full-length collaboration with “Mutt” Lange, there are – perhaps not surprisingly – a few dubious moments here, namely the ill-advised “(I Wanna Be) Your Underwear,” but, while this album didn’t do nearly as well commercially or critically as its predecessor and was considered something of a disappointment, its best moments might actually be more fun and more pleasant than most of the highlights from Neighbors. “The Only Thing That Looks Good on Me Is You” got a lot of flak over its hook – a lot of flak – when it first came out, and the single ended up just barely missing the Top 40, but in hindsight, the song is so, so much better than anyone gave it credit for at the time, and it’d fit in like a charm on any album by, say, AC/DC, who are guilty of making songs that are far more sexist and crass than this one, and the track is actually – dare I say it – rather fun. “Let’s Make a Night to Remember,” easily one of Adams’ better post-“Heaven” ballads and a Top 40 hit – is also here, as is the wildly catchy, flamenco-flavored Number One hit (and Don Juan de Marco soundtrack contribution) “Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?” Most music critics love to trash this album, not in the least because of its lead-off single (this from people who are largely silent about the rampant misogyny in rap music), but then, most music critics also love to trash Bryan Adams, so take their reviews with a grain of salt; it’s certainly not his best album, but it’s at least as good – and as fun – as Into the Fire, if not better.