PAT BENATAR REVIEWS:
In the Heat of the Night (1979)
Album Score: 10
You wouldn't know it by looking at Pat Benatar, who stood at a miniature 5' 0'' and looked like a character from Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas, but she had such a guttural and powerful voice that it could blast through brick walls. Like a lot of pop-rock icons, she had a formal musical education in classical music, but she ended up devoting her skills to benefit Mother Rock 'n' Roll! Good for Benatar, I say! Rock 'n' roll is awesome.
And this album doesn't beat around the bush. It opens right away with the big hit, “Heartbreaker,” a song so instantly recognizable that I'm sure 75 percent of you have it playing through your head right now. That's one of Benatar's most iconic tunes, because it gave her the perfect showcase for those flashy tough-girl chops! Instrumentally, it's pretty obviously dated to the late-'70s with its new wave rhythms and textures, but I'd wager that song will continue to remain wildly popular until the days of rock 'n' roll sink into antiquity. The lyrics are often described as “women-empowering” although I seem to get a deviant message from it reading the lyrics; I interpret it as a celebration of the sorts of men who are prone to breaking women's hearts. Of course, I'm probably completely wrong about that. That's what I get for trying to interpret lyrics of pop songs!
Surprisingly the only other song on this album that projects Benatar's tough-girl image is “No You Don't.” Everything else is essentially nothing more than tame pop music. There's nothing wrong with that of course. I don't want everything on here to sound the same! And besides, Benatar's vocals were so versatile that they could conquer pretty much anything. “We Live For Love,” for example, is a soaring power ballad that puts Benatar's sweet soprano voice to great use. That's an original song from Giraldo, which shows that Benatar was really lucky to have landed a lead guitarist who knew how to write catchy songs! (And she evidentially thought he was a hunk, too, since the two would later tie the knot.)
Benatar herself also took a crack at songwriting, co-writing two songs with her bassist Roger Chapps called “My Clone Sleeps Alone” and “So Sincere.” They're not half-bad. Even though I wouldn't call either of those melodies “inspired,” they're strong enough that I can recall both of 'em from memory. At the very least, Benatar and Chapps seemed to think melodies were important, which is more than I can say about a lot of songwriters like whoever is writing those stupid Christina Aguilera songs.
Three of these tracks originated with Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, the latter of which co-produced this album. If you're into cheesy '70s music from Great Britain, then you probably recognize those two from The Sweet of “Ballroom Blitz” fame. (Actually, I've got to wonder if they weren't being a little bit devious here—using their power over this up-and-coming singer to get royalty paychecks... These songs had all been previously written...) “No You Don't” has an obvious glam-vibe to it, but they also contributed the slow-paced title track and the extraordinarily dull “If You Think You Know How to Love Me.”
There are also a lot of covers from other/random artists. Her cover of Johnny Cougar Mellencamp's “I Need a Lover,” for some reason gets a lot praise by some critics. Sure, it's something that you can bop your head to rather pleasantly, but that melody is even simpler and dumber than either of Benatar's originals! Hasn't Mellencamp ever heard of a “chorus?” She also does an unexpected cover of The Alan Parsons Projects' “Don't Let it Show,” which is a brilliantly catchy pop ballad. My only complaint about that one is that the instrumentation is wussy. I mean, it's even wussier than the original, which really says something. There's also a cover, “Rated X,” which is from a singer-songwriter called Nick Gilder who I never heard of. That's a pretty dippy song, though.
Of course, the whole purpose of this album is not really about the music but as a means to showcase Benatar's singing voice. For that, this served its purpose very well. Benatar's voice is the comfortable constant through this album. Her backing band weren't extraordinarily talented, but along the same lines they were humble and never seemed to overdo it. If anything, they under-did it as though they were too afraid that they would steal the spotlight away from the star! ...I do wish that these guys would've had more patience to orchestrate these songs a little better since many of these songs don't seem to be very well driven, but I had a feeling that this was recorded rather quickly and was extremely low-budget. So, I'll forgive her for that this time!
Read the track reviews:
Crimes of Passion (1980)
Album Score: 10
We've seen this before approximately 100 million times in pop-rock. This is an album with one great song on it that gets played everywhere, but the rest of the material seems incomplete somehow. The songs are all pretty well-written, and most of them are original either from Benatar or the band members, but they don't quite pack the punch like they ought to. That doesn't mean that any of these songs are particularly dismal; nah, this is a pretty solid album. It's much better than most Journey or Foreigner albums, and that's definitely a very important benchmark for any arena-rock musician to clear. But it just doesn't seem like it's nearly as *great* as it should have been.
It's of roughly the same quality as her debut album, which I certainly enjoyed; I usually don't argue against albums full of hooky songs and soaring vocal performances! However, Benatar's backing band didn't completely seem together in that album; they seemed to have a hard time finding their groove. I thought they were perhaps a little rushed, as though they had to record the album as quickly as possible to capitalize on the big hit before it ran out of momentum! ...I was hoping their fame and fortune would have granted the band more time to polish up their act, but that doesn't appear to have happened. Apart from the big hit, they seem to have an awfully difficult time rocking out.
And what is this big hit I speak of? Ah, I should have mentioned that sooner! It's “Hit Me With Your Best Shot!” Along with “Heartbreaker,” that song granted the universe another shining example of a great tough-girl pop-rock anthem that perfectly showcases Benatar's powerful vocal chords. Not only does that song have *attitude*, but it also has one of the catchiest pop-rock riffs of all mankind. The verses are as equally catchy and exciting as the chorus, and how Benatar playfully delivers the memorable lyrics is about as much fun as these things get. Do I need to say anything else?
This album also garnered a secondary, much more minor hit, an original called “Hell is for Children.” It is a formidable song for sure with a good chorus, but it expresses nothing of the vibrancy of the big hit. The verses aren't very memorable—backing band plays very slowly and seems rather dead. It's an altogether good song—I hear radio stations play it occasionally, and I don't mind hearing it—it just doesn't have much charisma. The opening song, “Treat Me Right,” gets the album off on a solid start, but I find the melody to be a little bit blander than it should be. Of course, the whole point of that song was to give Benatar another chance to show us how well her voice could soar, and she accomplishes that swimmingly of course. I was just hoping for something a little *more* than that. “Never Wanna Leave You” is a surprisingly solid attempt at a white reggae number with a good, tight groove and a rather hooky melody. Of course, nowhere even close to The Police... but it's worthy of comparison, and I greatly appreciate their attempt.
“I'm Gonna Follow You” is a surprisingly complex pop-rock song written by corporate songwriter Billy Steinberg, and it's quite a treat to listen to! I also like the straight-ahead and catchy pop-rock song called “Prisoner of Love” written by Benatar's rhythm guitarist, Scott St. Clair Sheets. (There wasn't a great need to mention that song in this album overview... I just wanted to publish that guy's name, because it sounds like toilet paper.) Perhaps the most unexpected moment of this album is a cover of Kate Bush's “Wuthering Heights.” I'm convinced that the song is one of the greatest ever written, and Benatar surely does a formidable job with it considering it's a very difficult to sing. ...But I just don't like this rendition. Perhaps I'm too far addicted to the original and I'll never be able to accept a weaker cover version, but this just seems plastic. The guitar-led orchestration is terribly uninspired—nothing like the magic that Bush's session musicians managed to capture. Oh well.
As I said earlier, this is a solid album and I like pretty much everything here. The only song that fails to capture me whatsoever is Neil Giraldo's “Little Children” in which Benatar sounds like she's trying to imitate Elvis Presley, which doesn't really work for me. The melody is by far the album's most boring, and I don't even care for Giraldo's busy guitar texture.
Despite my fairly lukewarm attitude toward Crimes of Passion, it remains a pretty dang good album with more than its fair share of good melodies. At the same time, I wouldn't really recommend that you buy this. I would suspect the only reason most listeners would want to get this is for “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” ...Just be warned that nothing else on this album even comes close to the caliber of that song. I'd just get a compilation, and call it good.
Read the track reviews:
Precious Time (1981)
Album Score: 10
My wildest dreams came true, and Pat Benatar and Co. received a much larger budget to cut their third album. Precious Time is not only a slick and well-polished record when it comes to the songs that would be marketed as radio hits, but it's slick and well-polished record everywhere! There is not one clumsy, clunky song in sight. But, as you might have noticed, I gave this album the exact same rating as I gave her previous two albums. So what's the problem?
You see, Pat Benatar in her career thus far has been most well-known for at least one big radio hit in each album. In the Heat of the Night had “Heartbreaker” and Crimes of Passion had “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” What does Precious Time have? ... “Fire and Ice?” ... While that's a good song and the chorus is memorable, it has nothing on her previous big hits. Nothing at all. Granted, “Heartbreaker” and “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” were written by outside songwriters and “Fire and Ice” was written by Benatar and members of her band, which I guess is more commendable. ...But still, it's really a pity that there weren't anymore corporate songwriters out there anymore with unforgettable “tough-girl” arena-rock songs.
Another song that seemed to aspire to be a hit single is “Take it Any Way You Want It.” I definitely like its catchy melody and Benatar's exciting vocal performance, but it still seems like it's missing something. Her previous two hit singles had the nerve to slap me in the face just for listening to them. This song seems woefully tame in comparison. “Promises in the Dark” is a good, slick opener—it's certainly stronger than the opener of her previous album! The melody is good and I have fun listening to it, but I'm really looking for something a little more infectious than those watered-down hooks! Ah, but at least Benatar is singing her heart out, right? I guess that's all that matters in the end.
The best song of this album is, without any real doubt, a cover of The Beatles' “Helter Skelter!” I've had a thing or two to say against some of Benatar's previous covers, namely Alan Parsons Project's “Don't Let it Show” and Kate Bush's “Wuthering Heights,” but it seems that she finally got it right and covered a song that she's actually exceptional at singing! She can do that dirty vicious growl as well as Paul McCartney could (and that's saying something). Her backing band pretty much plays it the same way The Beatles did, but I can't really blame them for that... As the saying goes, why fix something that isn't broken? This is a good cover of a great song, and a nice way to close the album.
The weakest bit of this album has got to be the title track. Weirdly, that's also the album's most complex song! The individual parts are written well; the verses section consists of an interesting mid-tempo groove, and the chorus completely soars. The problem is that these two sections do not fit well together... Every time the chorus pops up, I'm left saying: Wha? Where did that come from? It's as if the songwriter had two incomplete songs that he decided to meld together and call it finished. That song is also plagued by its excessive running length. Sorry, but a Pat Benatar song has no business running past six minutes. I demand brevity in my pop albums, dang it!!!
The biggest surprise of this album is a Benatar and Giraldo collaboration called “Evil Genius.” It's not a great song *per se*, but it's interesting and verges on the art-rock of Pat Benatar's future masterpiece Tropico. (Well... that's the closest that Pat Benatar could get to a masterpiece, anyway!) That song has a weirdly disconnected melody and a nicely used horn section! My only problem with that song is that the melody repeats a few times too many, and Neil Giraldo wasn't good enough of a guitarist to pull off that extended jam session he brought in the middle. Other than that, it's a pretty good song!
So, Pat Benatar's Precious Time is by far her slickest record to date. It's certainly nice to see that her band has been given more time in the studio to polish their act! Unfortunately, I think the quality of the songwriting has taken a bit of a hit compared to the previous two albums. But still, you've got to count your blessings. The quality of songs on Precious Time continues to be superior to other arena-rock acts like Foreigner! I'm extremely appreciative of that! But I want my Pat Benatar songs to be more unforgettable than this. Is that so much to ask for? This is a nice album to listen to on a road trip, but don't expect to be whistling any of these songs under your breath when the trip is over.
Read the track reviews:
Get Nervous (1982)
Album Score: 10
Pat Benatar was adamant in her refusal to be pigeonholed as a hard-rock type act. Not only was she quoted as saying that, but you can tell by listening to this album that she was very keen on exploring different horizons. All her albums released prior to this had strong new wave elements in them, but Get Nervous takes that a step further; this is a new-wave album that veers toward art-rock. There are also a couple songs that I guess you could consider “arena-rock.” But apart from “Shadows of the Night,” they don't seem at all like cheap knock-offs you'd expect from any old generic band with dollar signs in their eyes.
This was a very gutsy move for Benatar, particularly since it meant that not as many people would buy her albums anymore. I mean, her big singles made her a household name, and it would have been very easy and profitable for her to just continue doing the same old thing. Of course I find it to be 100 percent respectable, since many of these red-hot musicians have the mentality that they can stop being creative after they make it big. I certainly wouldn't have expected that Benatar would go the opposite direction.
But this does has its drawbacks. While I appreciate that they're thinking outside of the box, these guys aren't exactly geniuses. Some of their ideas just don't work. “Fight it Out” might have a mystical Pink-Floyd-style fade in and all sorts of dramatic crescendos interwoven in it, but absolutely none of it is interesting. The melody is dull, Pat Benatar's overdoing it with her over-dramatic vocals, and the song trudges along at a very clunky and mind-numbing pace. Making it even worse is Neil Giraldo's chalkboard screeching electric guitar solo he brings in there... Giraldo's generally a fine guitarist, but I have a hard time fathoming how the man was able to even be in the same room as he was playing that horrendous solo. “Little Too Late” is another unusual pop song with a weirdly clompy rhythm that doesn't seem to be paced right. I could have lived with that, though; my main problem is it has a melody that never takes off.
So that about sums up all my grumbling! Thank goodness, because a lot of the other stuff is really quite good! “Looking For a Stranger” is a very bubbly new-wave song with a quirky groove, catchy melody and an engagingly playful vocal performance. It even has a rather inventive chorus-verse structure that puts a smile on my face. (Listen to how that synthesizer texture drastically changes from verse to chorus! It's really difficult to successfully pull something like that off so well.) “Anxiety (Get Nervous)” is probably the weirdest song of the whole album. It's an original composition that reminds me more of Lene Lovich than Pat Benatar! That's a good thing, of course, because Lene Lovich rules! It's a quickly paced keyboard song that presents a wide variety of interesting and dark textures and a mildly catchy melody. It not only has an unusual texture, but it is a lot of fun to listen to as well.
“The Victim” is reminiscent of her tough-girl songs. Benatar's performance is the main attraction of that song, of course, but I'm also weirdly attracted to that song's harmonies. They are certainly less predictable and more theatric than “Heartbreaker,” and it's probably better for it. My only complaint about it is that the melody is just not infectious; it's been only a few minutes since I last heard it and I'm struggling to remember how it went. At least I should commend Giraldo for delivering an entertaining guitar performance in its extended instrumental interlude. That's an example of a good Giraldo solo. I also like that mid-tempo tune “I Want Out,” which has such an alluringly slick bass guitar that I can't help but bob my head very agreeably with it! I also find that song to have an interesting chord structure, but that bass guitar steals the show.
So, yes. I'd say Get Nervous is a good album. It shows Pat Benatar inching away from her AOR roots and exploring what could be considered artsy new wave music, which is a move that I very highly endorse. She would get even more deeply in this direction with her future singles “Love is a Battlefield” and “Lipstick Lies” and particularly her follow-up studio album Tropico. While I do greatly like Benatar's decision to express more creativity in her music, she does make a few unfortunate missteps. There aren't really enough mistakes on it to keep me from mildly recommending it to you, but they did prevent Get Nervous from becoming the art-rock masterpiece that it aspired to be.
Read the track reviews:
Live From Earth (1983)
Album Score: 10
It's an interesting experience sitting here listening to the live portion of this Pat Benatar live album. She puts on an entirely decent show (according to this) and this depicts this arena rock diva at the height of her popularity. As you'd expect, she goes through the usual laundry list of her big hits here. Also, as you'd expect, Benatar sings on this album! And her husband delivers a bunch of nice, guitar licks.
What probably surprises me most about the album is that it isn't bad. I was expecting something more obnoxious ...... In fact, this concert doesn't even sound particularly dated. Sure, there's an '80s synth here and there, but I'd imagine this could have been performed in any decade! What we get is a mightily tasteful concert. Plus, anyone who doesn't care for all that studio polish in her studio albums might enjoy the fact these songs are considerably rougher and sloppier. That said, anyone who doesn't like Pat Benatar the studio artist probably is hesitant about buying Pat Benatar the live musician. And, I'm not going to do anything to convince you otherwise.
I can't help but think Pat Benatar fans might still be disappointed with this release. The one thing this album seems to lack (despite all the positives I outlined) is spirit. Sure, the music is poppy and fun, but the best thing about listening to Benatar's songs is her voice. She belts out everything, but her voice doesn't seem *quite* as fun. It's too drowned out in the instrumentals. (Case in point, "Hell is For Children" requires a very loud and very mean delivery of the chorus. Benatar is certainly giving it the effort and singing it 'right,' but I don't quite get that confrontational *growl* that would have sent shivers down my spine.) If her voice was more dominant in the mixing, I'm almost certain it would have prompted me to raise the live album rating to a 1-. Maybe this wasn't planned that well. But what do I know about making live albums? Even if changing the mixing was impossible, my impression of it remains the same.
Nonetheless, this is a fun live album, that I enjoyed very much. Despite the flaws, it's worth getting. Certainly, Benatar fans must own it. Luckily, the audience noise are kept in (I love hearing audience noise in live albums). Benatar even takes a few moments to talk to the audience (she talks verrrrrrry much like a rock star would ... she has a gruff growl in her yell).
I wrote all that without mentioning much of the playlist ... Everything I wrote applies to all the songs equally I guess. Here's the playlist: "Fire and Ice," "Lookin' For a Stranger," "I Want Out," "We Live for Love," "Hell is For Children," "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," "Promises in the Dark," "Heartbreaker," and ...................... Oh, and there are two new studio tracks! And for the love of all the swiss cheese in heaven, these are some of the best songs I've ever heard from Pat Benatar. They are among her finest, and I couldn't deny either of them a '10' rating. It's a shame she didn't put them on a studio album so they would go to contribute to one of her album scores! ... That's what Bat Penatar gets for not thinking about Don Ignacio's Music Reviews before releasing these albums.
Read the track reviews:
Album Score: 11
Thanks to Pat Benatar's unexpected hit singles "Love is a Battlefield" and "Lipstick Lies," she decided to axe that whole AOR scene and concentrate on songs more on that art-pop vein. Why not? Her two previous albums weren't that good anyway, so a change-up was very warranted.
It's pretty obvious she took a hint from Kate Bush, one of her idols (remember, she did a pretty bland cover version of "Wuthering Heights" ... and that cover of Get Nervous is very reminiscent of our pixie queen hero). Yes, to my happy surprise, Benatar and her husband begins to explore some of the quirky and artsy sides of pop music. I don't think any of these songs are better than those two singles, which kind of disappointed me, but at least this album is altogether one of Benatar's more respectable releases. There are no weak spots!! Unlike her first four (and more popular) albums, this one doesn't seem to have as much filler material or uninspired covers.
Naturally, if you're actually aiming to compare this stuff to Kate Bush, you're going to find that it comes quite a bit short. (Remember, we're talking about The Dreaming-era Bush!!!) The point is, she's trying pretty hard, and it comes off well most of the time. Heck, she sure comes off better than Tori Amos! (... Yeah, I'm being serious about that statement.) It's like Benatar is Bush's little sister. She's nowhere near as talented, but she gives it all she's got without really being a copy cat. So who's to hate it?
Besides, I like a lot of these melodies anyway. And remember, Benatar has a great guitarist (Neil Giraldo! Her husband!). Instead of giving us a rip-roaring power riff or a freakishly awesome guitar solo, he goes more for the contemplative background stuff. Well, that's sometimes the best thing about these songs.
Now it's time to mention the factor that disappointed all the fans. This is not a hard rock album. As far as any equivalents of "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," there isn't one. Benatar sings rather calmly thoughout with the occasional 'powerful' chorus. You can almost sense the restraint of her voice. On that same note, she does take mighty command over these songs. She's like a passive queen who chooses not to exercise all her power... That's not a bad thing, you know.
Anyway, I really enjoyed this effort. It's a shame its reputation for being non-hard-rock (thus anti-Benatar) seems to have sort of obstructed it from view.
Read the track reviews:
Seven the Hard Way (1985)
Album Score: 7
I was shocked when I wrote my review of Pat Benatar's Tropico. I called it Benatar's greatest album --- and one that was forgotten with time. It was an art-friendly album that alienated her fan base (who worshiped her AOR work), but it greatly increased her songmanship and instrumentation standards.
It is of the greatest sadness for me to report that her follow-up makes all those advances seem like bad ideas. This is one horribly messed-up album! Most notably, the instrumentation has taken quite a severe nosedive ... these tracks all have an ugly, cluttered quality. It was as if they were just adding layers of sounds onto each track without considering the damaging, overall effect that would have. That's quite a disappointment considering their previous work was more innovative than anything else. Also, another very damaging factor, is that the songwriting isn't nearly as good. The catchy melodies that are prone to stick in your mind are AWOL.
So, what's left? Bat Penatar's voice? ... I suppose. She seems partly trying to regain her AOR image here. She's singing loudly most of the time even though it's drowned out by the horrible instrumentation some of the time. There's not really a whole lot appealing about the album. The only nice aspect is that it isn't banal most of the time --- I'd certainly rather see them be unusual rather than just aiming straight for radio singles. But they were, in a way, aiming for radio singles ... well nothing really stuck. The only song that comes close is "Sex as a Weapon," but even that comes considerably shy of matching her similar-minded hit "Love is a Battlefield."
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Wide Awake in Dreamland (1988)
Album Score: 9
Well the good news is that this album isn't as crazy-stupid as her previous album, but Wide Awake in Dreamland isn't the sweet bed of cakes and roses as you might have hoped. But it suffices. I suppose. Pat Benatar's loss of commercial prowess was as evident as ever after she released Tropico and she could no longer get a radio staple to save her life! She couldn't get one in this release either, but she sure seemed like she was probing for one.
A few attempts worked well enough, although I'm not too crazy about the only track here that charted on the singles charts: "All Fired Up." Rather, I prefer the title track, which is a rather convincing arena rocker. Also, the '80s ballad "One Love" is lovely with plenty of nice instrumental touches.
Some tracks do deserve compliments in the arrangements department, but others are just cluttered. It's like they're trying to make a Peter Gabriel album or something, but they're not so innovative with their arranging. Well... Nice try at least. Their melodies are certainly better than your average '80s album, but only just. A few tracks are pretty stale and meaningless. None of these melodies are likely going to stick with you long after the album is through.
Overall, this is a rather middle-of-the-road album. It has some good merit, indeed, but it's nothing you're ever going to need unless you're a die-hard Benatar fan. I don't think there are too many of those!
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