Graded on a Curve:
Bob Welch,
French Kiss

Remembering Bob Welch, born on this day in 1945.Ed.

Climb aboard my pleasure craft, ye mateys, and I’ll tell you a tale of a true Yacht Rock captain. In 1977 former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Bob Welch cast off on his debut LP French Kiss, and sailed bravely into the upper reaches of the American Top 40. It was a voyage worthy of Ferdinand Magellan, or that guy who discovered America.

You don’t hear much of Welch outside of SiriusXM’s Yacht Rock Radio these days, and I have a hard time imagining an actual human being walking into a record store with the express purpose of buying French Kiss. But he was a very big deal in the late seventies, when such songs as “Sentimental Lady” and “Ebony Eyes” (featuring the immortal Juice Newton!) won Welch his admiral stripes, alongside other Yacht Rock giants as Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, and Pablo Cruise, who are actually four guys but who’s counting?

Where to start with Welch? Well, he’s not as much of a Yacht rocker as you might think. “Sentimental Lady” certainly falls into the category, but on the rest of French Kiss he melds hard rock riffs to disco beats and drops a lot of strings on you, and the formula works better than you think it would.

For the most part these songs are good pop fun, and as catchy as they are utterly disposable; The Village Voice’s Robert Christgau dismissed them as “aural chic” as good a soundtrack for doing your ironing as the Doobie Brothers, but I think he’s just being a meanie. I’m sure you’d have to look hard to find a Brooklyn hipster who will give French Kiss his imprimatur, but that says more about Brooklyn hipsters than it does about the album.

Welch is no wordsmith, and lyrically he doesn’t have a single interesting thing to say. Most of the songs are French Kiss are about nothing much; you get two songs about eyes, a pair of related songs entitled “Lose My Heart” and “Lose Your Heart” respectively, a song with the unpromising title “Hot Love, Cold World,” and a song called “Danchiva” that includes such immortal lines as “Go to the seashore one fine day/Pretend that you’re a bubble on a wave/Ocean keeps going/Bubble bound to break/Leaving Danchiva in the wake.” The guy makes Lionel Richie look like T.S. Eliot.

Musically, Welch was doing something far more interesting. At a time when the disco/rock divide seemed–and I stress that seemed–insurmountable, he was fusing the two in such songs as “Easy to Fall,” “Carolene,” “Dancin’ Eyes,” “Mystery Train” and “Danchiva.” With its sweeping strings–which come to us gratis Gene Page, the guy who did the string arrangements for Barry White and the Love Unlimited Orchestra–“Dancin’ Eyes” is the most obvious example, with “Easy to Fall” coming in a close second. There’s something in these songs for both camps–”Easy to Fall” sounds like the Cars doing the bump, and if that sounds like a worst case scenario to you, well, give it a listen. It’s tasty stuff.

Other tunes explore different territory. “Hot Love, Cold World” and “Outskirts” bring Steve Miller to mind. “Ebony Eyes” does the impossible by sounding like a Foreigner song I don’t hate. The hook-happy and utterly vapid “Lose My Heart” would have sounded great on FM radio. As for “Sentimental Lady,” well, it just happens to be one of the sappiest–and greatest–love songs of the Yacht Rock epoch. The melody pushes you along, Welch’s pals Mick Fleetwood, Lindsey Buckingham, and Christine McVie do their thing behind the scenes, and what you get is a more streamlined (if less intimate) take on a song that first saw the light of day on the Mac’s 1972 LP Bare Trees.

I don’t want to give anyone the impression that French Kiss is a great album. It’s doesn’t even begin, for example, to measure up to the brilliant froth being produced at the same time by Welch’s former Fleetwood Mac bandmates. But Welch was a prophet of sorts, and there’s still something forward thinking–if not visionary–about his fusion of disco and hard rock. And “Sentimental Lady” is still the epitome of romance, both at sea and on shore.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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 Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text Alternative Text