Graded on a Curve:
Pablo Cruise,
Lifeline

Are there any Pablo Cruise fans out there? Hello? A single one? Or have they all disappeared like the canaries from the Canary Islands? I was never a fan—in fact I regularly planted claymores in their front yards—but I needn’t have bothered; history has more or less erased them from the modern consciousness. All that’s left is the cover of 1976’s Lifeline, on which they show more flesh even than Orleans on 1976’s Waking and Dreaming—which should have been entitled Waking and Screaming—and a pair of desultory hits, which you can still hear on easy listening stations.

Pablo Cruise were so middle of the road they caused numerous highway fatalities, with tractor-trailers jack-knifing to avoid them only to run into decrepit Ford Pintos, which promptly exploded in balls of fire. This was the only exciting thing about Pablo Cruise, because their AOR approach to rock wasn’t in the least incendiary.

The band—which for some reason I always thought hailed from Australia—was formed in San Francisco in 1973, and didn’t really break through until 1977’s A Place in the Sun and 1978’s Worlds Away. So why am I reviewing their sophomore LP, which wasn’t nearly so successful? God only knows, although I have to admit I was swayed by Robert Christgau’s cryptic review of the album, which went simply, “You can take the Doobie Brothers out of the country, but you can’t turn them into Three Dog Night.” I don’t know what it means, but it always makes me laugh.

The most exciting track on the LP, “The Good Ship Pablo Cruise,” invites you to climb aboard. It has an Island beat, the chorus actually works, and it’s all performed in a high humor, with one player calling out, “Yeah, that’s nice.” That said, I have no intention whatsoever of boarding the good ship Pablo Cruise, because, well, the ship’s band is Pablo Cruise.

“Who Knows” is also an okay tune, a kind of blues with great harmonies that isn’t so lightweight you’ll need a paperweight to hold it down. Nice organ too. I listen to this one and think these guys could’ve been somebody, because that guitar is nice and the vocalist once again shows some real spunk. “Never See That Girl Enough” is as smooth as they come, and comes complete with the usual complaint about touring, and is just soulful enough to demonstrate that these guys have no soul whatsoever.

“Crystal” boasts an Elton John-like chorus and an Elton John-like piano, but lacks Elton John’s personality, which can transform material like this into a hit. And who is this Crystal, who will “do anything you tell her too,” but a lurid fantasy of a bunch of shameless chauvinists? Fortunately “Don’t Believe It” has actual spunk, an excellent chorus complete with ringing guitar, and a funky beat that won’t—unlike many of their other tunes—make you wish you were deaf.

As for the lyrics, they’re bad, bad, bad. “I’m in the country club,” sings vocalist David Jenkins, “Tryin’ to explain/Why she prefers to stay at home/With her friends/And entertain.” What kind of rocker sings about hanging out at the country club? The tone deaf kind, because it certainly doesn’t win him any sympathy with those of us who don’t hang out at country clubs, and we are legion. And then he has the unmitigated gall to sing, “Don’t believe it/It’s a dog’s life we lead.” Yes, I’m sure life gets difficult, what with all your golf balls landing in the sand traps and what.

“Tearin’ Down My Mind” is an inoffensive tune that can be listened to without pain, and even builds to an exciting climax featuring multiple vocalists throwing in to the accompaniment of horns. I would never buy it, but I might let it play on the car radio without reaching for the dial.

The title track is pleasant enough in a vacuous way, just like most of Pablo Cruise’s songs are pleasant enough in a vacuous way. The female vocalists add a little zing, but the musicianship is humdrum and, speaking not as a rock critic but as a medical professional, this is the kind of song that can kill you if you listen to it too often.

“Zero to Sixty in Five” opens with an angelic choir that segues into a slow piano march, and you’re tempted to change its title to “Zero to Zero in Five.” There’s some fancy piano, and strings, but no vocals, until at about the halfway point the boys make an effort to see that the song lives up to its name by finally taking off, although it has no more balls at high speed than it did in low drive.

Okay, so the guitar solo demonstrates some skill, and I like how Jenkins lets out a scream for no reason whatsoever before scatting some before the ending. What this song really sounds like is the soundtrack to a sixties cop TV program, which will either entice you or cause you to not get within 50 yards of it.

“Look to the Sky” boasts some tasty guitar licks but otherwise might as well have come off a bad Poco album. And who is that on tambourine? Why, it’s none other than Andrew Gold, the guy who gave us “Lonely Boy,” sitting in. He also gave us the treacle-infused “Thank You For Being a Friend,” and is on The Hague’s Most Wanted List for crimes against music listeners.

“(I Think) It’s Finally Over” actually shows some muscle, a chorus that is both appealing and English-sounding, and Jenkins practically roars, and this one is a keeper solely for the fact that it shows the band is capable of producing a song that doesn’t sound like it was written by committee.

Pablo Cruise will be remembered, if they are remembered, as a poor man’s Little River Band, or Kenny Loggins on Prozac, or as England Dan and John Ford Coley both severed down the middle to make four people, none of them with a single interesting musical idea in their half-heads. But why be cruel? They were a product of their time, and the fact that it was a horrible, horrible time notwithstanding does not subtract from the fact that they were no better or worse than Andrew Gold.

Theirs was the age of pop schlock, California Division, and it makes no more sense to blame them for that than it does to blame a dog for contracting rabies. People who like this sort of thing will go on liking this sort of thing, and that’s okay. You like what you like. So if you’re a Pablo Cruise fan, go in peace. I will never like their brand of the blahs, but I will defend to the death their right to produce them.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
C-

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  • Gene

    A fan here. Used to own PabloCruise.com even. I enjoyed your take.

  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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