Graded on a Curve:
Hooters,
Nervous Night

Remember the Hooters? I know, I know, I wish I could forget them too. I found their meteoric, mid-eighties rise to stardom utterly depressing, and what made it worse was that I was living in Philadelphia–ground zero of the Hooters’ phenomenon–at the time.

Talk about your civic shame. Fantastic things were happening in NYC and LA and Minneapolis and just about everywhere else, really, and what did we get? Five boobs with all the edge of a safety razor. All I could do was hang my head and say thank god for the Dead Milkmen.

Guitarist Eric Bazilian and keyboardist Rob Hyman made their bones on Cyndi Lauper’s immensely fun She’s So Unusual, but the fun stopped there. When it came time to record 1985’s Nervous Night they settled for bland and, thanks to MTV, Rolling Stone (which dubbed the Hooters the best new band of 1986), and lots of record buyers willing to settle for bland, found themselves with a platinum LP on their hands. All you zombies indeed.

Earnest and anodyne, the Hooters aimed for faceless small arena rock and hit their target; first they won over the kids of Philly, then they conquered Australia. And they did it with thin gruel; Nervous Night is a lackluster collection of clunky, wannabe rousing tunes, three of them taken straight off their 1983 independent release Amore, and one of them (gak!) an Arthur Lee cover.

This isn’t rock’n’roll–it’s a criminally watered-down stew of rock, reggae, ska, and folk music, all of which the Hooters seem to have learned about by listening to Clash, U2, and Bruce Springsteen records. The mandolin and melodica (hence the Hooters) lend their songs a tinge of exoticism, but a tinge is all–this quintet eschews the exotic for the middle of the road, and never deviates from course. They’re not so different from early John Mellencamp, really, except that Mellencamp had personality and a message, and wasn’t afraid to show off his rock’n’roll roots.

The Hooters go out of their way not to offend anybody, and that’s what’s so offensive about this quintet of quislings. Just listen to their colorless take on Arthur Lee’s “She Comes in Colors,” and ask yourself what a band like the Psychedelic Furs might have done with the same song. And who do they look to when it comes to the big dumb duet on big dumb ballad “Where Do the Children Go” but Patty Smyth, the Lynyrd Skynyrd of vapid MOR schlock? I can’t tell you where the children go, but I suspect they’re trying to escape this song.

One thing they do know how to do, and that is how to start off an album with a solid 1-2-3 punch. “And We Danced” (interesting mandolin and melodica intro followed by some very sub-Springsteen pop rock) is followed by “Day by Day” (repeat formula of “And We Danced” and up the earnestness level–to 11!) and “All You Zombies” (reggae-inflected hokum but perhaps the catchiest thing they ever did). I don’t turn off this Old Testament prediction of biblical justice when it comes on the radio; the portentous lyrics are delivered with a straight face and good for a laugh, and the riddim is just seductive enough to allure. Besides, I love zombie movies.

There are, to be sure, a few decent songs on Nervous Night. “South Ferry Road” makes up for its lack of originality with some real momentum. Split the difference between Bruce and U2, wipe clean all fingerprints and any trace of personality, and you’ve got this one. And while Blondie or Joe Jackson (or just about anybody really) might have done more with “Hanging on a Heartbeat” (given it a lighter touch, for starters), it’s palatable radio fare. That said, can anybody in this band sing a song without over emoting? They should have called themselves the Streisands.

“Blood from a Stone” is more bad Springsteen; “I work hard to pay my rent/And support my government,” sing the Hooters, and while I suspect this one’s a protest song I really I couldn’t tell you what they’re protesting about. They’re not big on details, the Hoots, and when it comes to eschatology the best they can do is “The future raises so many doubts.” Even their portents of doom are lukewarm.

“Don’t Take My Car Out Tonight” is a monster; half New Wave and half lumbering arena rock, it simultaneously evokes Rockwell and Loverboy, and I’m more than ready to hand over the car keys; these safety-first advocates would never drive drunk. “Nervous Night” makes me nervous; the Hooters aim for ebullient and barely hit spritely, and the lyrics–from African queen to attack of the vegetables–are a hot mess.

As useless as tits–er, make that hooters–on a boar, the Hooters’ fare is every bit as generic as the fast food served up by the crass, boobs-a-lot restaurant chain they’re (not really) named after.

As a proud Philadelphian, I can only say that the City of Sisterly Love needed the Hooters like it needed breast cancer. I thought time and distance would soften me on this vapid but innocuous bunch, but it hasn’t. As much as it amuses me to be called a zombie by a bunch of a guys without a single original idea in their heads, the joke stops there. These boobs don’t even have the guts to be terrible, and I can’t think of a worse crime than that.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
D+

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  • Robert Sharpe

    You can’t get to heaven on the frankord el ’cause the frankford el takes you straight to … Yeah, this Philly native was living in Little Rock when the Hooters shat upon the legacy of Todd Rundgren and others and I felt the same: Hey, Young Americans, this is not what Philadelphia sounds like.

    • Michael Little

      I hear ya. We deserved much, much better. Hell, I’d have settled for Jon Bon Jovi. And that’s some very serious settling.

      • Robert Sharpe

        By the way, the frankford el lyrics I referred to were meant to recall the original song, by the band “American Dream,” on an album produced by Todd Rundgren in the late ’60s I believe, not the latter song by the Hooters, who repeated the lyrics as an homage, I guess, to the original.

        • Michael Little

          Wow, I don’t know either band or song. I’ll check it out. Thanks!

  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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