Graded on a Curve:
Mike + The Mechanics, Living Years

I suppose you’re asking yourself why I’m wasting my valuable time writing about Mike + The Mechanics, and more importantly, why you should waste your valuable time reading about them. But before I get around to answering that question, I must ask another question: Would you really let this so-called supergroup of English wheelnut monkeys anywhere near your car?

Oh, and I can only answer the first question (this is getting confusing, I know) by asking yet another question. To wit, what exactly was it that made this vapid Genesis offshoot’s 1988 debut LP Living Years such a smashing commercial success? Did living breathing human beings really hanker for music that was even blander and more faceless than the bland and faceless “product” Phil Collins’ Genesis was supersaturating the airwaves with? Is it possible they found the likes of Duke and Abacab too musically challenging?

It’s a demoralizing thought. The generic pablum produced by Mike + The Mechanics–who were led by Genesis guitarist Mike Rutherford and included two vocalists named Paul (Carrack and Young, respectively)–is a lot of things, but idiosyncratic ain’t one of ‘em. These guys aren’t your colorful auto jockeys down the street, who crank Motörhead in the garage and drink beer during work hours. They’re a chain, like Midas, and their songs are antiseptic outlets that all look exactly the same. Just look for the big yellow sign!

The music on Living Years is (to switch metaphors on ya) white bread and margarine, flavorless fare incapable even of inducing heartburn. If music (here I go again!) is a drug, Living Years is a placebo–in single-blind clinical trials almost 70 percent of participants thought they were listening to real music!

I’ve listened to Living Years several times now (I’m a masochist!), and what I said above about all their songs sounding the same isn’t exactly true. What I should have said is that every song sounds like a placeholder for a much better song of the same kind written by a better band with something to say. Nothing on this album is quite real. The music sounds borrowed, and the vocalists sound like insipid and slightly faded photocopies of other singers (Lou Gramm comes to mind) I don’t much care for either.

The “many moods” of Mike + The Mechanics all sound like the same mood to me, but Rutherford and Company do strive impotently to hit all the bases. “Why Me” and big hit single “Living Years” are anthemic ballads in the tradition of Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is.” The latter song is the only one on the LP that has any reason for existing, and I say that as someone who despises it.

“Seeing Is Believing,” “Blame,” and “Beautiful Day” are colorless uptempo numbers ostensibly designed to get you on your feet and dance. I remained seated throughout. “Black and Blue” and “Poor Boy Down” aim to prove Mike + The Mechanics have an edge, and it can in fact be argued that they’re slightly more “dangerous” than your average Huey Lewis and the News song.

“Don’t” purports to be soulful, and might have succeeded in a sub-Michael McDonald Doobie Brothers kinda way except Paul Carrack is the least soulful singer this side of a vocoder. Finally, while the quirky and jerky-jerky percussion effects that kick-start “Nobody’s Perfect” strike the LP’s only interesting note, the song itself has all the personality of a fax machine.

What fascinates me about Living Years isn’t that it exists–musicians have been aiming for the lowest common denominator and hitting it right between the eyeballs since the days of Frankie Avalon and Fabian Forte. The difference, of course, is that while the latter represented something their audience desired (to wit, a nicely dressed boy who would never try to paw their breasts!), I can’t for the life of me imagine what itch Mike + His Faceless Mechanics might scratch.

For some unfathomable reason the eighties abounded with generic “Big Blands” (Mike + The Mechanics, Mr. Mister, Asia, the Little River Band, etc.) noteworthy only for being as anonymous as 12-step programs. Corporate rock bands all, and all as devoid of character and charm as a Fortune 500 company. What drew people to these bands? Did they all dream of becoming shareholders? Or did they simply long to disappear into their music the same way you would into the corporate bowels of General Motors or ExxonMobil?

Everybody’s favorite American Psycho/music critic Patrick Bateman famously gave Phil Collins’ Genesis a glowing review, and I have no doubt he’d have loved Mike + The Mechanics too. Could it be this that accounts for the seemingly inexplicable success of Living Years? Could the folks who bought all be serial killers?

GRADED ON A CURVE:
D-

This entry was posted in The TVD Storefront. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.
  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text
  • Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text