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The ’80s And The Cringe Factor: Mr. Mister’s One Album Wonder

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Love is so strange
How we change from day to night
Love is so strange
How we change from black to white

The music of our childhood and early adulthood…it seems that no matter how crappy the music is of the time, there's still a strong, lasting connection to it. Recently I've been listening to some of the albums I've used to blast 'er up in my ride's cassette player or in the apartment during those hazy college days. And when was that, you might ask? Well, that was during the whole Duran Duran/Flock Of Seagulls/Men Without Hats time now called The '80s.

You can't mistake the time frame from when this music came from; the heavily processed vocals, over-synthesized sounds of Yamaha DX-7's and the Sonar drums brought way to the front of the mix (you can thank Hugh Padgham and Phil Collins for that distinctive booming noise). And lyrics that weren't exactly mind tingling. Along with the spandex and mullets, that's what makes VH-1 Classic's "We Are The Eighties" so entertaining. OK, sure, there were a lot of great artists of that time and there are for every era, but more often than not they got pushed to the fringes; a trend from that time which persists to this day.

But, I digress. I used to think Morris Day's Colour Of Success was such a great set of jams, then I cued it up recently for the first time since wine coolers were outselling Budweisers and got a hard cringe out of it. Same with most of Robert Palmer's Riptide. I got a semi-cringe out of Hall & Oates' Big Bam Boom, although "Out Of Touch" is still a great pop tune. Even Miles Davis' formally beloved Tutu hadn't aged all that well (the full SLOB review) and Miles' records typically have the opposite effect. I haven't gone back to "rediscover" Wang Chung's Mosaic or ABC's How To Be A Millionaire but uh, I don't think I'll need to. I know they suck, now. But curiously, they made me pretty happy back then. Ah, to be young and foolish and drunk again.

But there's a few records out of that decade I still cherish as before even though they identify so much with that period. Billy Idol's Rebel Yell still does it for me. If anything, Tears For Fears' The Seeds Of Love sounds even better now than it did back in '89. Who knows, maybe that record was one year ahead of its time.
mr mister
About the same time Tears For Fears released that monster hit album Songs From The Big Chair smack dab in the middle of the decade, another mainstream pop band seemingly from nowhere unleashed a blockbuster. Mr. Mister's Welcome To The Real World of 1985 spun off two #1 pop hits "Kyrie" and "Broken Wings" and another top ten hit "Is It Love."

Mr. Mister rocked slightly harder and were certainly more spiritual in a positive but vague way than the primal scream therapy disciples at Tears For Fears. Still, it's a pretty good guess that their fanbases overlapped a lot.

True to the times, Welcome To The Real World had those heavily processed guitars and vocals, the Yamaha synths and Phil Collins booms, even served up in supersize portions. And yet, while revisiting it the other day, it still didn't out and out suck. Huh.

There's a explanation for this, however. The songs were generally written better and performed better than most MOR music of that time. It's a cheap and easy explanation, but I'm sticking to it. The band was founded by bassist/lead singer Richard Page and keyboardist Steve George.

These guys didn't just materialize out of thin air like they were sent through a Star Trek transporter, they were already polished L.A. musicians and songwriters for several years by the time they recruited guitarist Steve Farris and drummer Pat Mastelotto, both of whom were also veteran sidemen. Instead of helping out the careers of The Pointer Sisters, Kenny Loggins, REO Speedwagon, Eddie Money, Al Jarreau and countless other name artists, they felt it was time they launched their own careers in the spotlight.

Any notion that Page & George's West Coast session player pedigree were going to make Mr. Mister sound like David Foster's defanged Chicago were quickly dispelled right off with the bombast intro of "Black/White", a strong tune quickly followed by the power anthem "Uniform Of Youth." "Run To Her" is perhaps the only true ballad on this collection, although it would hardly remind anyone of "You're The Inspiration."

"Tangent Tears" could have been a radio hit too, but "Kyrie" with it's instantly recognizable fluttering synth opening, Page's superb vocals and the grand metal guitar entry about a minute in made this the chart topper it deserved to be. Only when you reach the title track at the end does this record sound like disposable, generic, mid-80's pop crap.

The band took two years to follow up with their 3rd effort Go On but like their first one, it made little impact and the band soon broke up afterwards. To make a long story short, the individual members went back to the supporting roles they played before Mr. Mister.

So for every Prince, The Cars or Dire Straits people got into during the Reign of Reagan, there were always a few other acts that might cause them to shudder today. I know that's been the case for me. But Mr. Mister, with their sole hit album, isn't one of them.

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  • Mark Saleski

    i’m still amazed when think about the fact that Mastelotto went on to play with King Crimson.

  • http://spatulaforum.blogspot.com/ Nik

    One of the most uncomfortable moments of my young life was watching my best friend karaoke “Broken Wings” at a junior high talent show and failing miserably. Still, always had a soft spot for the band.

  • Tom

    It looks like Daryl Hall & John Oates is the only artist from the 80’s still going strong with great music. People like Madonna are still riding on media fumes.

  • duane

    I saw these guys play a lunchtime concert on the cafeteria patio at UCLA circa 1984. They were damn good. I like ‘em. I have two King Crimson DVDs where Mastelotto is playing drums. I admit that I was amazed when I heard he had joined the studly double trio lineup, but there ya go. I heard that Richard Page was offered lead singer spots in both Chicago and Toto, which he turned down. Izzat true? What happened to him?

    And Mr. Mister is certainly not in the same league as Tears for Fears. That Seeds of Love album is a masterpiece.

  • zingzing

    tom: “It looks like Daryl Hall & John Oates is the only artist from the 80’s still going strong with great music.”

    blue nile, pet shop boys, new order, melvins, coil, current 93, u2, nick cave, the fall, prince, scritti politti… all artists well known in the 80’s still going strong today, and with much better music (u2 maybe excluded…) than hall and oates.

  • http://daslob.blogspot.com/ Pico

    Mastelotto went on to play for King Crimson? Dayum.

    Agree 100% about Seeds Of Love. The Mr. Mister sounds of its time (even though I still like it, and thus this review). In contrast, that Tears For Fears album is pretty timeless sounding. I remember thinking it was overwrought when I first bought it at release. Now, I just appreciate how these guys (mainly Orzabel) sweated the details. And Oleta Adams was a great find.

  • duane

    It’s overwrought, yes, indeed. And one of the most heavily produced CDs I have ever heard. I remember my brother made me listen to it, and I didn’t really get it at first. “Sounds nothing like Head over Heels,” etc. He said at the time, “I wonder who they think their audience is,” and, yeah, I still wonder. I don’t think they did well by it, but it’s got some beautiful sections of rich, interwoven, soaring music, layer over layer, just the kind of stuff zingzing likes. I started thinking that Orzabal was quite the talented one.

    See Mastelotto on the Eyes Wide Open DVD by KC. Better yet, see the Deja Vroom DVD when KC was in the double trio configuration. Very nice stuff, if you go in for that kind of thing, I mean.

  • zingzing

    ok look. back in january i said some bad things about hall & oates. i now realize my mistake. they made some classic singles. fucking great. i looooooove them. really. i am not kidding. damn. i hate it when that shit happens.

  • http://daslob.blogspot.com/ Pico

    So you respond to this but I don’t get a freakin’ peep out of you when I write about Caspar Brotzmann? WTH?

    ;&)

  • daryl d

    Daryl Hall & John Oates still making great music? When? There are some artists from the 80s, like Madonna and U2 who still sell a lot of records. But there aren’t ANY artists from the decade who still make music in the same quality as they used to.

  • zingzing

    oh, pico… my head hurts. i go through periods. yeah. i’m in a pop phase right now. when the nasty returns to my brain, i will drag it through some caspar.

  • http://halloatesrock.proboards.com/index.cgi MacDermot

    Out of Touch is a good tune.

  • http://www.knownjohnson.com Tom Johnson

    I had to go and listen to clips of the Mr. Mister album because of this. Sounds as good as I remember it . . . which was “okay.” Man, were the 80s glossy. Pat became a really great drummer after his stint with Mr. M.

    And Tears For Fears hasn’t put out a bad album. They clearly had their sites set above “just” big-name status, wanting to write some great songs in the meantime. Lots of artists have that intent, too, but few achieve their aim.

  • http://somethingelsemusic.blogspot.com/ Pico

    I remember at the time thinking The Seeds of Love suffered from overwrought production and it turns out the production has stood the test of time much better than nearly any other pop album of 1989. Plus, Oleta Adams was terrific on that record. Yeah, I can’t really recall any bad TFT records, even the Orzabal-only ones.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Nice Article…

    I still love the 80’s for that “Big” produced sound and the fact that a lot of those artists could recreate a good portion of that experience in concert. Maybe it’s just my fondness of that era but I always thought there were more styles to choose from even in the “Pop” category.
    I guess what I am trying to say is that not all of the popular artists sounded alike like they do today.
    (you can thank Hugh Padgham and Phil Collins for that distinctive booming noise)

    You gotta give credit to Power Station for incorporating that sound,if not exactly the same, with some class.

    My favorite song from Tears for Fears is “Head over Heels” but Mr.Mister’s “Broken Wings” is pretty damn close in caliber. I love The Cars and I totally agree with the article that is linked,but, I think Men at Work’s “Business as Usual” is right up there with any of these classics. If you went solely by the hits you would be missing out on some of the greatest & timeless songs to come out of the 80’s(IMO)

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    you would be missing out on some of the greatest & timeless songs to come out of the 80’s(IMO)

    *Oops* Besides a lot of stuff from The Police

  • http://www.confessionsofafanboy.com Josh Hathaway

    I remember at the time thinking The Seeds of Love suffered from overwrought production and it turns out the production has stood the test of time much better than nearly any other pop album of 1989. Plus, Oleta Adams was terrific on that record. Yeah, I can’t really recall any bad TFT records, even the Orzabal-only ones.

    I agree, Pico. I liked the Orzabal “solo” discs as well as the rest of the TFF discography.

  • http://www.marksaleski.com MarkSaleski

    ah, all of this great pop & rock music before they duct-taped the compression knobs to “stun”.

  • http://somethingelsemusic.blogspot.com/ Pico

    Heck, I was even listening to the Thompson Twins the other day for old times’ sake. I can’t explain why, but “Hold Me Now” does it for me even today.

  • http://www.marksaleski.com MarkSaleski

    but “Hold Me Now” does it for me even today.

    that’s because it’s really cool when the piano tumbles when they sing “please don’t cry anymore”

    i don’t know why i remember that, but i do.

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