Album of the Day — May 26
BoDeans — Outside Looking In
BoDeans — Outside Looking In
Outside Looking In
After the 1986 T-Bone Burnett produced Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams prompted the readers of Rolling Stone to vote them the “Best New American Band”, Wisconsin’s BoDeans had arrived.
To record their second album BoDeans principle’s Kurt Neumann (guitar, vocals), Sam Llanas (guitar, vocals), Bob Griffin (bass) headed to Los Angeles to set-up with Heartbreaker Mike Campbell. After butting heads over the sound, the band returned home to Wisconsin.
Talking Head Jerry Harrison had expressed interest in the band and then stepped in to produce. And in October 1987, Outside Looking In was released.
Harrison and the band delivered an album that stepped away from their rockabilly-influenced debut. With songs like “Dreams”, “Only Love”, and “Forever Young (The Wild Ones)” Outside Looking In featured a bigger, heavier sound that was reaching for the stages of arenas.
They found the arenas.
BoDeans toured extensively with U2 on their epic The Joshua Tree tour, found themselves working with The Band’s Robbie Robertson, and Peter Gabriel.
Even though Outside Looking In was their highest-selling album, it was not well-received by critics. But as history has proven time and time again, critics and fans don’t always align. With that said, even the band themselves have said that Outside Looking In didn’t quite capture the band's “essence.”
To a certain extent that’s true because where BoDeans have always excelled is as a live band. They are one of the best live rock bands. And capturing the kind of energy that is transmitted between audience and band, the kind that can feed a band's “essence”, is impossible to duplicate in a recording studio.
The Replacements suffered from a similar problem. Comparatively, not a bad club to be part of.
Outside Looking In attributes all songs to Kurt Neumann and Sam Llanas. I suspect (but have no proof) that they took the John Lennon and Paul McCartney approach. By that I mean, whoever sings the song was the principal songwriter … and it’s here that that album stumbles a little. Neumann is a better songwriter and singer … but that’s my preference.
Llanas has a more nasal voice that borders somewhere between Bob Dylan and Cheech Marin. But he would deliver the band’s biggest hit, “Closer to Free”.
The range of songs on the record range from ballads like “I’m In Trouble Again” to all-out rockers like “What It Feels Like”. They speak to the range and dynamism the band had at that time. With two dominant songwriters and vocalists, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. With BoDeans Outside Looking In, it’s a moot point.
While both Neumann and Llanas wrote rocker and ballads perfectly fine. It’s that kind of push and pull between the vocal and songwriting styles that add to the tension of the album. It can also subtract from it. But there is enough so that they zero each other out and oddly make it noticeable … yet a non-issue.
Despite the critics and the band's grumbling, Outside Looking In elevated BoDeans to the next level. And they did continue to move upwards on the rock and roll ladder for the next few years.
But that slight shift from the rockabilly tinted Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams to the rock sheen of Outside Looking In put the band on their path, and despite themselves, may have captured more of their essence than they think.