Skip to main content

REO Speedwagon: Find Your Own Way Home (2007)

Where We Left Off:
REO Speedwagon's 1996 album Building the Bridge was their first album not to chart since 1972's R.E.O./T.W.O.. But their appeal as a live concert draw continued to grow, especially as nostalgia for the 1970s and 1980s built.

*

Though 11 years between albums certainly seems egregious, REO did release some new music during that span. The 1999 Epic compilation The Ballads featured two new love songs, "Just For You" (written by Kevin Cronin with Jim Peterik from Survivor) and "Til the River Runs Dry" (by Cronin and singer-songwriter Jimmy Scott).

But it would be another 8 years before new REO music appeared on the shelves. According to Cronin, a 2000 tour with Styx - specifically seeing a new generation of fans singing along with the old songs - lit a fire under the band to start working up new material again.

The result was Find Your Own Way Home, which came out in April 2007. The band self-released the record, and cut a deal with XM Satellite Radio to put it out as part of a special three-CD set at Wal-Mart and Sam's Club (the other two discs were a DVD of unplugged performance/interview and a CD with a live version of Hi Infidelity).

Though they'd only recorded two albums together, the Hitt-Amato-Doughty-Cronin-Hall line-up of REO had now been together longer than the classic Gratzer-Richrath-Doughty-Cronin-Hall line-up. And as surprising and inspiring as that might be, its undercut by the fact that Neal Doughty only plays on one track on Find Your Own Way Home.

Joe Vannelli (longtime keyboardist for his brother, "I Just Wanna Stop" and "Living Inside Myself" hitmaker Gino Vannelli), who co-produced the album, plays in Doughty's stead. Personally, I have a hard time accepting this. I realize that bands bring in other players to the studio, and that studio recordings are a different beast from live performances, but to replace the only player who'd been in the band since its inception doesn't seem justifiable. Perhaps Doughty was going through something that prevented him from participating fully, but if you've already waited 11 years between records, why not wait a bit longer until you're at full strength?

Setting aside that very large caveat, lets dive into the album itself. In short, it's pretty clearly the best of this line-up's three records. It expertly walks the line between the shiny, highly produced The Earth, a Small Man, His Dog, and a Chicken and the stripped-down Building the Bridge.

It's also the first REO album since Hi Infidelity to feel like a concept album. In an interview with Julio Diaz of the Pensacola News Journal Cronin spoke about how the band was meticulous in making sure every song fit together. He also said that part of the delay was a happy home life. "I normally do my best songwriting when my personal life is in the most chaotic state" he told Julio Diaz of the Pensacola News Journal.

Perhaps that's why this album's songs dig emotionally deeper than REO songs of the past. There's still a lot about love and romance, but a big theme on Find Your Own Way Home can be found right there in the title. Over and over again in the album's songs, the narrators are in that "chaotic state," and concluding in many cases that self-reflection, self-belief, and self-love are what's going to get them through it. In this way the tunes almost seem like both a form of therapy as well as the result of it.

The album opens with one of Cronin's trademark kiss-off songs, "Smilin' in the End" but instead of being aimed at a woman, this one is more addressed to anyone who dismisses or continues to dismiss him. He had written explicitly to being bullied in "Can't Stop Rockin'" but it's also there in subtext in songs like Hi Infidelity's "Tough Guys." This song belongs in that category, but also in the long list of REO don't-give-up anthems. The whole album is really about perseverance, but less "roll with the changes," "keep pushin' on," and "ridin' the storm out" and more take-a-look-in-the-mirror-and-figure-your-shit-out.

That's not to say there aren't love songs:

The album's title track is sort of an inverse of the sentiment on "Can't Fight This Feeling." Instead of the narrator declaring he'll "come crawling across the floor / come crashing through your door" he's asking "are you gonna go the distance / step into the cold hard rain?" He wants her to fight for the feeling.

The other big ballad is "I Needed to Fall." Cronin has said it was the final song to fall into place for the record, and that it was part of a trilogy with "Keep On Loving You" and "Can't Fight This Feeling." Seems like hyperbole to compare a new song to two beloved #1 hits, but damned if he isn't close to right. The song uses an embarrassingly rich melody and stacked harmonies to tell another tale of feeling overwhelmed and lost. The verses are bleak, but the chorus repeatedly acknowledges the value of being laid low and rebuilding, as well as the power of love to help that happen.

The rest of the album sporadically continues this theme of losing and finding your way. It's there overtly in "Lost on the Road of Love" and closer "Let My Love Find You." Dangerous Combination" and "Run Away Baby" both allude to trouble and strife. But it's the expansive "Everything You Feel" that brings it all home. One of the first songs written for the record - the band had played it in concerts as early as 2002 - the song is an advertisement for self-exploration and self-acceptance, encouraging the listener to both embrace and seek out the roots of their feelings. "You are everything you feel," Cronin tells us on the chorus.

Musically "Everything You Feel" is vibey, sounding a lot like the band circa Life As We Know It, with its synth, organ, shared vocals, and electric guitar solo. That makes it a musical outlier on an album that's the most country-and-blues leaning of REO's career. REO always had a slight country tinge, but in a 2016 Classic Rock article, Kevin Cronin listed his 10 favorite albums, and included newish records by Keith Urban and Little Big Town, which shows it as an increasing influence. That can be heard clearly in "Dangerous Combination," "Lost on the Road of Love," "Another Lifetime," and "Let My Love Find You."

Finally, we have to talk about Bruce Hall's requisite contribution. It's called "Born to Love You" and it sounds a bit like the Blues Brothers jamming with Ray Charles, even down to the Raelettes (in this case, uncredited female background singers). Cronin takes over on the Beatlesesque bridge (John and Paul would have called it a "middle eight") which sounds like it could almost be another song completely. Overall, like most of Hall's songs, the tune provides a nice change of pace on the album.

*

Find Your Own Way Home was met with positive reviews all around, and though it didn't chart, it did produce the band's first radio hits since 1990, with "I Needed to Fall" getting to #25 on the Billboard adult contemporary chart, and "Find Your Own Way Home" rising to #23.

Despite the success, Find Your Own Way Home didn't send REO back to regular recording. It has now been 12 years since Find Your Own Way Home, one year longer than the gap between that record and Building the Bridge. There's no sign of a follow-up, unless you count 2009's Not So Silent Night...Christmas with REO Speedwagon (which I don't).

The band continues to tour regularly, and in recent years has debuted a new song called "Whipping Boy," but it's looking increasingly likely that Find Your Own Way Home will be the band's swan song. If that turns out to be the case, it's certainly a fine and fitting final statement.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Radio, Radio: A Scientific Study of Cities 97

To start, I want to make it clear that I'm not going to write a comprehensive screed about the state of modern radio. Whatever problems radio has, it's had them for many years, and there are people who are much more informed and insightful on the topic than I am. Of course, you may wish to apply the conclusions drawn below more broadly, but that's out of my hands.

Instead, this piece is a scientific experiment of sorts, a detailed analysis of Twin Cities station Cities 97 (KTCZ-FM), a Clear Channel joint.

Why, you may ask, if I didn't not have a theory to prove about the state of radio, did I decided to perform this experiment? Well, basically it comes out of 10 years of tumultuous Twin Cities radio. When I first moved here in 1999, there were a few good choices for hearing new pop and alternative music. There was 104.1 The Point. It didn't last long and soon became an '80s station called Mix 104. Now it's 104.1 Jack FM. The 105.3 signal was Zone 105 when I m…

REO Speedwagon: Good Trouble (1982)

Where we left off:
REO Speedwagon became household names with the massive sales of Hi Infidelity and the number 1 hit "Keep On Loving You."

*

The common narrative pushed by a certain segment of REO Speedwagon fans and various critics is that the breakthrough of Hi Infidelity led the band to abandon their rock bonafides and become a synth band that mostly wrote ballads.

As direct evidence that this is a false narrative, I offer you Good Trouble. From the organ solo on opener "Keep the Fire Burnin'" to the atmospheric rock of Gary Richrath's "Stillness of the Night," Good Trouble is very much continuous with the REO of 1976 on.

Released in June 1982, meaning the guys barely had a moment to breathe following the mega-tour for Hi Infidelity, Good Trouble is in many ways the yang to its predecessor's yin. While Hi Infidelity was a loose concept album about heartbreak, this one is heavy on love songs and devotionals. Cronin's ballad "Sweet …

262. Broken Bells: Broken Bells (2010)

Broken Bells is a collaboration between Shins frontman James Mercer and producer extraordinaire Brian "Danger Mouse" Burton. The latter has already had great success as half of a super-duo, teaming with Cee-Lo to become Gnarls Barkley.

And though it contains no breakout hit on the level of Crazy, Broken Bells' debut album is an enjoyable piece of work.

However, that assessment is mostly dependent on you holding Mercer in high regard, since his voice and sensibility stand at the center of the record. In fact, it's easy to view Broken Bells as a James Mercer solo album with production by Danger Mouse. Sure, Burton cowrites every song and brings an experimental spirit with him (especially in the diverse instrumentation), but this is Mercer's show.

In fact, those hoping for something that doesn't sound mostly like The Shins will only have one song to latch onto. That'd be The Ghost Inside, which is the strange amalgam of indie rock and futuristic R & B that …