Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Chris Rea - Whatever Happened To Benny Santini? (1978)


  

Released April 1978

This was a strange album. It was the previously unknown Chris Rea's debut and was released into the cultural upheaval of punk and new wave. Musically, it really had no place and neither did Rea's decidedly non-punk/new wave/post punk appearance. He poses on the cover in a multi-coloured scarf looking very boy next door and unthreatening. He was neither a punk nor a Costello/Dury-style anti-hero. The music was actually quite an appealing mix of Jackson Browne/Eagles American-influenced rock with a vague country/West Coast air to it. As you can see - totally at odds with anything coming out of the UK at the time. Unsurprisingly the album and its big hit single, "Fool (If You Think It's Over)" were far more successful in the US than the UK. An album like this would have meant nothing in the UK in April 1978.

TRACK LISTING

1. Whatever Happened To Benny Santini?
2. The Closer You Get
3. Because Of You
4. Dancing With Charlie
5. Bows And Bangles
6. Fool (If You Think It's Over)
7. Three Angels
8. Just One Of Those Days
9. Standing In Your Doorway
10. Fires Of Spring

"Whatever Happened To Benny Santini?" is a very Eagles-esque track, with hints of John Mellencamp in its riffiness. Incidentally, "Benny Santini" was one of the names Rea's record company wanted him to change his name to. Full of excellent driving, roadhouse guitar and wailing saxophone, it is an excellent track. A Stonesy riff introduces the mid-pace rock of "The Closer You Get". This is all very rock in its feel, not much of the blues that Rea would dip into on so much in his later career. The eventually to be trademark slide guitar makes its first appearance on this track, though, to great effect. "Because Of You" is a gentle, summery pop ballad, highlighted again by the fact that Rea could clearly play a mean guitar.

"Dancing With Charlie" has more killer guitar and more Eagles vibe, with a bit of Doobie Brothers thrown in. It sounds very much like a song referencing increasing cocaine habits, particularly among the rich and famous, but whether "Charlie" was used as a term in 1978, I am not sure. "Bows And Bangles" has Rea sound very much like Don Henley on its US style vocal. Listening to this you would think Rea was American, not from Middlesbrough.

"Fool (If You Think It's Over)" is now one of Rea's best known songs. He has since re-recorded it and it has better sound than the somewhat light, tinny one that it as here. It still has an infectious, easy-listening appeal, however, even in this incarnation. Rea's voice sounds more British on this one. It was covered successfully by Elkie Brooks. "Three Angels" is a rousing, riffy rocker with some great guitar and a solid bass line underpinning it. "Just One of Those Days" is very country rock with that Don Henley voice back again. "Standing In Your Doorway" is a hidden gem of a melodic West Coast meets Tex-Mex song. It has the first strains of the material Rea would visit on his "Blue Guitars" project, particularly in his "Texas Blues" section it. It features a Tex-Mex-style accordion. "Fires Of Spring" is an appealing, solid rocker to end on. It really reminds of something but I can't put my finger on it.

I didn't have any time for anything like this in 1978, but in retrospect, it is a pretty good first offering. The sound on it is unremastered, however, and is a bit indistinct, but it is still listenable.

C+

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