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.
Outside Inside – cleverly packaged in a die-cut cover featuring an embossed eye chart – is every bit as charming and hilarious as its predecessor, Foster once more unexpectedly embracing some hilariously ridiculous songs like the thoroughly over-the-top, largely-narrated jungle funk of “Wild Women of Wongo” and “Out of the Business,” a comically jubilant rocker about getting laid off from work (“Who wants a grey flannel suit? / I’ll throw in a tie”) and exiting in epic fashion. But it’s not all jokes, and the driving rocker “No Not Again” and the power-pop-tinged “Glass House” are surprisingly straightforward – and quite catchy – tunes by this band’s standards.
Martha Davis of the criminally-underrated new-wave band The Motels (“Only the Lonely,” “Suddenly Last Summer”) pops up to serve as Fee Waybill’s duet partner on a playful, lascivious cover of the Curtis Mayfield-penned Major Lance hit “The Monkey Time,” and her vocal performance on the cut is perfectly nuanced and helps to make the song seem much stronger in execution than it looks on paper.
Foster also gets in on the writing again this time around, teaming up with Waybill and Toto’s Steve Lukather to pen the album’s opening cut, the massive Top Ten hit “She’s a Beauty,” which hooks you in immediately with its pulsating synth and its gritty electric-guitar groove. [Richard Marx – a huge Tubes buff who would even later regularly employ Waybill as a co-writer on his albums, most notably on Marx’s near-Top-Ten hit “Too Late to Say Goodbye” – has called “She’s a Beauty” one of his all-time favorite songs and a huge influence on his Number One hit “Satisfied.”]
But the album’s hidden gem is arguably “Tip of My Tongue,” a danceable, brass-section-laden and surprisingly heavy slab of funk-pop written with Earth, Wind & Fire’s Maurice White, who also appears on the song. The cut is comparable to Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer,” not just for its similarly brass-laden funk sound and its otherworldly production touches – namely, the wormy sound effect that opens “Tip of My Tongue” and the jarring, contrasting synth stabs that kick off the song’s instrumental break – but in its similarly heavily sexual-innuendo-laden lyrics, both songs being equally playfully risqué without actually needing to be cleaned up any for radio play (though it’s likely that the line “Never been too cunning / I’m no linguist” still scared off a few radio programmers). It’s far and away the funkiest – if not the most dancefloor-friendly – song in the entire Tubes catalog, but the song sadly petered out at #53.
Shockingly enough, just as they were coming off the biggest album of their career, both the Tubes’ relationship with Foster and the band itself completely imploded. So what happened? Reportedly, Foster – seeking more control over the band’s product – was ready and willing to do a third album with the band on the condition that only Waybill be involved. Naturally, the band voted the idea down, and Waybill subsequently went off and made a solo album with Foster entitled Read My Lips that was a sales flop of epic proportions and severely diminished the band’s standing at Capitol. Rundgren would return to produce the band’s final album for Capitol (and, as it would turn out, the band’s last album for eleven years), Love Bomb, but the deliberately off-beat album proved to be the band’s lowest-charting outing since 1977’s Now, its lone charting single, “Piece by Piece,” stalling out at #87.
Considering that Foster’s run of hits as a producer and songwriter would continue well into the ‘90s, it’s intriguing to wonder what might have become of The Tubes had the team that worked so well together on The Completion Backward Principle and Outside Inside continued to work together further into the ‘80s. It’s possible that Foster would have continued to sand down the band’s rough edges and turned them into something much less interesting and more adult-contemporary-leaning, but the Tubes also brought out an uncharacteristically less serious side of Foster in their work together, one that resulted in a very fun pair of albums that were unusually both bizarre and commercial at the same time – no easy feat! – and it’s rather a shame that they’d never work together again.