Foreigner – Acoustique & More (2xCD/DVD)

US title: Feels Like The First Time

US: Razor & Tie

Review: Rick Ossian

Now THIS particular review is, indeed, a true labour of love.  On first listen, of course, one is tempted to compare Foreigner’s current vocalist, Kelly Hansen, with Lou Gramm, Foreigner’s, shall we say, traditional vocalist, for lack of a better word. I would have been the first to say that there’s no comparison, having seen Hansen’s old band, Hurricane, open for The Cult way, way back (through the fog) when Guns N’ Roses bailed at the last minute. Well, guess what? I was wrong, and of course it had to be Mr. Hansen who would inevitably point it out to me. According to a recent interview, he used to ‘sing in a band that did Foreigner covers’. Okay, Rick, insert foot firmly in mouth, then proceed!  To make a long story short, any comparison to Lou would be a favourable one, because, unfortunately, Lou cannot sing like he used to (and that in itself, dear reader, is a shame — see not only Foreigner’s considerable legacy, but Lou’s solo LP Ready or Not for evidence). Monsieur Hansen, however, has pipes for days, and then some. Talk about bringing the power; one need only consult Maestro Mick Jones: “not taking anything away from Lou, but Kelly doesn’t even need our help for backing vocals. He can hit all those old notes and hold them!

Well, good for Kelly. I bet he feels good being in a band again. One also can’t help but mayhaps feel a bit sorry for Mark Schulman, Foreigner’s latest drummer. Even though he had already done a couple of stints with the band (1992-95, 2000-02), to have to follow Jason Bonham, he of the illustrious parentage AND not to mention a wicked good band of his own — the MIGHTY Black Country Communion, or Dennis Elliot, for that matter, as he was a righteous skin-pounder himself. And, while one misses Rick Wills (bassist extraordinaire whose CV may surprise you, and includes David Gilmour’s solo work, amongst others), we have to tip the hat to Jeff Pilson, formerly of Dokken, who not only does a stand-up (pun fully intended) job on bass and background vocals, but works the crowd into a frenzy as well, as evidenced on the DVD portion of this extravaganza. Myself, I miss Ian McDonald, but that’s only because I’m  something of a King Crimson freak! More on that later…promise.

Also in Foreigner’s most recent line-up are Thom Gimbel (1993, 95-present) on guitar, sax, flute, and backing vocals. By the way, he turns in a stand-out performance on the whole affair, particularly on Junior Walker’s signature sax solo from Urgent. Rounding out the line-up is Michael Bluestein on keys and background vocals. He has been with the band since 2008. Now that we’ve got the personnel sorted, then, on to bigger and better things; in short, is this thing worth listening to or not? In this listener’s humble opinion, it is indeed that. But it also oh so much more!

Our first task should be to tackle the ‘warm-up’ disc, if you will. Anybody remember Unplugged? Well, this whole disc is in that style, and it is titled Acoustique : The Classics. Now, just to set aside any initial skeptics, some of you may not dig this. It is good, there is no denying that. However, stripped back, paired down, as it is, there may be a few of you die-hards who just really miss Mick’s riffs too much to be interested in any acoustic strumming. Ignore this part of the program at your own peril; listen, and you will not be disappointed. The Flame Still Burns strikes me as a new(er) tune, as does Say You Will. I cannot honestly recall if these are Lou Gramm-era numbers or not. Just as well – Kelly sings the shit out of them! His urgency, if you will, in the latter, is evident in the lyrics: Make up your mind this time/Say you will say you won’t/Be mine tonight, whereas, in the former, we get more of a mystical, inward journey: A life that’s surreal/my life”s an ever-spinning wheel. And, of course, I was duped again with the tune, That’s All Right. Anybody who knows this number knows it as an Elvis vehicle, perhaps even a Robert Plant thang…but Foreigner? Well, you faithful followers needn’t worry – Kelly pulls it off with aplomb, as he does most of the songs on offer here.

Contained within, of course, on both CD’s, are several tracks from Foreigner’s auspicious debut (1977). Those on Acoustique are, of course, Cold As Ice and the title track, being two of the biggest hits. However, there is also a surprise in the shape of Long Long Way From Home (maybe not quite as much), Starrider (wonderful choice), and Fool For You Anyway (a personal fave of mine). Littered as it is with tracks from the eponymous debut, I would have also welcomed At War With the World or the slow-burning blues-rocker, The Damage Is Done. For that matter, any track off that LP would work here. And, again, for those of you worried that Kelly would screw up the vocals, listen close — only the most faithful of you will recognize any vocal faux-pas…
Now then, on to the second disc, aptly titled Juke Box Heroes. Again, some of you may be concerned that these re-recordings may be sacrilege to the originals. I ask you, dear reader, to once again listen closely, and NOT with earbuds or computer speakers! Put it on the big set, and then I dare you to draw comparisons! Only the true believers will dare to point out any flaws, if you notice them at all. I, for one, was impressed with the subtle changes here and there, particularly with Mick Jones’ guitar work, still stunning, bright and powerful as ever. If you are not convinced by now that you have a good listen/watch on your hands, then check out the DVD, and prepare to be blown away. Its pretty much the same setlist as their High Voltage appearance, but its still worth watching. Foreigner fans, buy now! New listeners, discover the past of this band and work your way towards today!

Rating: ***** (Superior stuff!)

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