Welcome to Review Revue, where every Thursday I dig through the KEXP stacks to share DJ reviews and comments written on the covers of LPs (and occasionally CDs) in the ’80s and ’90s, when the station was called KCMU, the DJs were volunteers, and people shared their opinions on little white labels instead of the internet.
If there are two things I often find myself embarrassed not to know more about, it's Pacific Northwest bands from the '80s and pretty much anything related to Canada. As an American, I feel like a genius of international diplomacy for knowing that their Prime Minister is Justin Trudeau and it used to be Stephen Harper, which is pretty sad since I bet most Canadians can name more American presidents than I can. And bands! Don't get me started. Take today's example, 54-40 (who were clearly named before the invention of internet search). I had not only never heard of this band — who released nine or so albums on major labels between 1986 and 2003 — I had no idea they were still playing, and in fact just released a new album in 2018! 54-40, where have I been your whole life? 54-40 clearly did not make a huge name for themselves here in the states, but they did make a huge bucket of money when Hootie and the Blowfish covered their song "I Go Blind," which appears on this very record. Well done, fellows.
This self-titled album, often referred to as "The Green Album" (a good 15 years before Weezer pulled that move, by the way), had a mixed reception here at KCMU. It was the band's major label debut, which often spells trouble at a college radio station, and it suffered from the dreaded condition of many albums in the 1980s: overproduction. All of this shows that, even one album into their career, the band had built a name and reputation here in Seattle in the two years since the release of their debut, Set the Fire. Here's hoping they won back some fans here in the intervening years.
"A disappointment. Sounds like 54-40 has been listening to some American bar bands . . . oh well, to be fair, there are 3 good cuts on here. Find 'em! I probably just expected too much!"
"C'est la vie. C'est la guerre."
"'Holy Cow' is one of em . . ."
"I down 2 to go . . ."
"I pick 'I Wanna Know.' The problem with this record, I think, is that it's just way too overproduced. Listen to the difference between 'Me Island' on cart + on the record. I'm a bit disappointed but hopefully live they don't sound this slick. But they had to remix the LP to get the big record deal. Too bad." [As far as I know this is all conjecture, but it is intriguing. It sounds like the station had earlier versions of some of these songs with different mixes? Do those carts still exist somewhere? Is there any truth to the "remixing-for-the-majors" story? Inquiring bloggers want to know!]