Wednesday, November 11, 2009

REO Speedwagon - Lost in a Dream (1974)

Before becoming arena rock giants along with Journey, Foreigner, & Styx; REO Speedwagon was a hard workin', hard rock band. After a rocky start, and on their third lead singer in as many albums REO had seemingly found some stability with Michael Murphy who, at this point, was the first of their singers to sing lead on two consecutive albums.

Much like his predecessor (and as history would bear out-- his successor as well), Kevin Cronin, Murphy had a rather distinct vocal style. Where Cronin's vocals leaned more towards the nasal, Murphy's were more towards the Rod Stewart meets the more contemporary Macy Gray end of the vocal spectrum.

That this band could survive a revolving door of tenor vocalists as distinctly different as Terry Luttrell, Kevin Cronin, and Michael Murphy is a testament to the strength of REO Speedwagon.

This album is a return to form of sorts to the band's roots. Much like their 1971 debut there's a strong roadhouse dive bar vibe to this album. You can almost feel the sticky floors at your feet and see the Harleys lined up outside and the paint peeling from the tattered walls inside.

Unlike Ridin' the Storm Out which also features Murphy on vocals, I don't believe any material from Lost in a Dream or its 1975, follow-up This Time We Mean It has ever made it into the live set since Murphy's departure from and Kevin Cronin's return to the band. It's a shame really as there's some respectable material. The underrated Gary Richrath has some excellent solos, and Neal Doughty's piano/keyboard chops give off that really cool aforementioned roadhouse dive bar vibe, and as always Greg Philbin and Alan Gratzer on bass & drums respectively provide a strong backbone to the band's sound.

The trouble with the album is that it never rises above that roadhouse dive-bar vibe. That's both its greatest strength and Achilles heel. At this point in their career REO's fans were largely a regional cult following. There were hundreds of house bands at roadhouse dive bars playing the same kind of music. The only thing setting REO apart from their more anonymous less famous bar band counterparts was a record deal and the polish of professional studio production that went with the standard recording contracts of that era.

From start to finish the album is fun and catchy but never realizes or even aspires to excellence. If you're a fan of REO's latter day much more pop friendly sound, you'd scarcely be able to tell that the band that recorded Keep On Lovin' You, Take It On the Run, and Can't Fight This Feelin' also recorded this album. On the other hand if you're not a fan of their latter day more pop-friendly material and you think you know REO Speedwagon you might want to give Lost in a Dream a chance. You might just find yourself pleasantly surprised.

Related Links
REO Speedwagon (Official Website)
REO Speedwagon (wikipedia)
Lost in a Dream (wikipedia)
Gary Richrath (wikipedia)
Neal Doughty (Official Website)
Neal Doughty (wikipedia)


classicrockforthesoul said...

I had no idea you had another blog besides "Pieces of Perplexio" -- oops! Ha, glad I found it though.

Sadly, I had no idea there was once an REO Speedwagon without Kevin Cronin. Was it a better world without him?

Haha I saw REO, .38 Special and Styx this past summer... pretty good show -- totally '80s though. ;)

drewzepmeister said...

I have the original vinyl of this album in my collection. A very underrated album. It's solid piece of work. I also really liked their sixth album simply called R.E.O.

Perplexio said...

classicrockforthesoul: Glad you found it! There are 4 albums without Kevin Cronin. Their debut, which is excellent, features Terry Luttrell. And Ridin' the Storm Out, Lost in a Dream, and This Time We Mean It feature Michael Murphy. Kevin Cronin sang lead on their 2nd album, recorded their 3rd album (Ridin' the Storm Out) but was fired before it was released. He was replaced by Murphy, his image was airbrushed off the album cover and replaced by Murphy's. Murphy either left or was fired after their 5th album and Cronin was rehired and has been their lead singer ever since.

Incidentally, Terry Luttrell who sang lead on their debut later was the lead singer of a band called Starcastle which were criticized for being American clones of British prog rockers, Yes. He recorded 3 albums with Starcastle in the mid 70s. I've got one of those. It's pretty good.

I'd argue all REO up to and even including Hi-Infidelity or possibly even Good Trouble (released in 1982) is pretty good. It's the stuff they've released since then which is a bit too light for my tastes.

drewzepmeister: Of the 3 albums Murphy sang lead on, I think this was the best. Incidentally, I think Ridin' the Storm Out was the weakest. The material was written with Kevin Cronin in mind and Murphy doesn't sound comfortable singing it.

bearockr said...

i havent heard many songs of this band, but there is one song that i just loved : Keep on loving you ... t'was simply a wonderful ballad by the band.. .can you please help me out by suggesting some more too ...

Perplexio said...

bearocker: If you like Keep On Lovin' You and want to hear more stuff like it I recommend the following REO Speedwagon albums: You Can Tune a Piano But You Can't Tuna Fish, Nine Lives, Hi-Infidelity, and Good Trouble