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.
By the time he finally launched a solo career in the late ‘80s, the American-born singer/songwriter/guitarist Jude Cole had put together quite a cool little resume. His first big break came from serving as the guitarist in the Ravens, the backing band for little-known new-wave rocker Moon Martin (who scored an American Top 40 hit of his own in 1979 with “Rolene” but is better known for having penned Robert Palmer’s “Bad Case of Loving You”).
Cole followed that up with a stint as the guitarist in the much-acclaimed British power-pop outfit The Records (whose single “Starry Eyes” remains one of the finest singles of its genre). He appeared alongside Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on Del Shannon’s 1982 comeback album Drop Down and Get Me and even made a brief appearance in the John Cusack cult classic Better Off Dead. Later on, after putting his solo career on hiatus in the late ‘90s and working as a session musician for the likes of Jewel (you can hear Cole’s guitar work on her hit “Hands”), he would both become an onscreen music journalist/critic for the entertainment-news TV series “Extra” and the manager, producer, and occasional co-writer for all of Lifehouse’s albums from their self-titled 2005 album onwards (Cole co-wrote their hits “You and Me,” “First Time,” and “Whatever It Takes”).
He, with longtime friend Kiefer Sutherland, would also co-found and co-manage the record label Ironworks (Lifehouse, Ron Sexsmith, Rocco Deluca and the Burden) and the recording studio of the same name. The resume is impressive, to be sure, and it’s one that helps to makes his finest album, 1990’s A View from 3rd Street, one of the most beloved lost pop albums of its era, all the more fascinating.
It’s not surprising, perhaps, exactly why A View from 3rd Street didn’t do better (in spite of yielding two Top 40 hits) – simply, it just sounds like very little else from its time. A radio program director in 1990 could be somewhat forgiven for not knowing how to quite slip an album like this into their then-blend of hair-metal, teeny-bop, R&B-pop and dance music. A View from 3rd Street is still modern enough to be easily identifiable as an early ‘90s album; it’s not too sonically different from, say, Nelson’s After the Rain, albeit with a bit more – and much-welcomed – crispness in the mix. It’s still nonetheless a bit of a throwback in its sophisticated pop/rock, a surprisingly successful fusion of modern adult-contemporary pop and power pop. The production is clearly designed to get Cole on the radio, but his own particular songwriting style makes him less akin to the male pop stars of the time, i.e. George Michael or Richard Marx, and more akin to new-wave acts like Nick Lowe and Squeeze, both of whom had ceased to find a place on FM radio by the dawn of the ‘90s. (Michael Penn would suffer from the same problem, his similarly sophisticated brand of pop/rock finding favor on radio only briefly with “No Myth” before he drifted back into cult status.)
The end result is an album that has ended up becoming an obscurity simply for failing to file neatly under either extreme. It was just a little too different to get the bigger reception at Top 40 radio that it deserved, but it was simultaneously too commercially-inclined in its execution to get embraced by the independent stations who provided exposure to the likes of John Hiatt or Marshall Crenshaw. Simply, Cole was a wildly talented singer-songwriter who just happened to arrive at the wrong time, though his way with a pop/rock hook was thankfully more in vogue by the time he linked up with Lifehouse. (“First Time” in particular takes much after Cole’s own music, as one listen to this album will make clear.)
The album’s two Top 40 singles remain impressive to this day. The Top 20 hit “Baby, It’s Tonight,” pulls off the neat trick of successfully coupling verses that melodically recall early-‘80s-era Jackson Browne at his finest with a passionate performance and a chorus more akin to .38 Special’s “Caught Up in You” or John Waite’s underrated rocker “Tears.” It’s a fine line to walk, to be sure, but Cole, an excellent vocalist, manages to switch gears throughout the song effortlessly and manages to refrain from over-singing during the more high-energy moments.
The more laid-back and mid-tempo Top 40 follow-up “Time for Letting Go” is a little slice of pop perfection that should’ve been an even bigger hit than its successor. It has a warm, winning adult-contemporary-rock groove to it and an emotionally naked lyric that you can’t help but be impressed by, especially Cole’s weary declaration that “promises don’t justify feeling this way anymore.” “House Full of Reasons,” definitely a single ahead of its time, failed to reach the Top 40 but is something of a precursor to the similarly-flavored Gin Blossoms hit “’Til I Hear It from You” from seven years later, and boasts both the most clever set of lyrics on the album and, in its chorus, the disc’s prettiest harmony vocals. The bouncy, jaunty “Stranger to Myself,” the countrified “Heart of Blues,” the vaguely-McCartney-esque piano ballad “Compared to Nothing,” and the minor-key album-closing “Prove Me Wrong” (which nearly sounds like it could be a lost Monkees hit from the ‘60s, right down to the guitar-picking in the choruses) are all equally as enticing.
Cole would go on to record three more albums before putting his career as a performer on hold, but this album remains his best and most beloved outing. The album is slightly tricky to find these days, but you can find it every once in a while in the budget-bins at used music shops for two or three dollars, and it’s a real steal at that price.