Picks and Pans Review: Walking a Changing Line

updated 10/10/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/10/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Ian Matthews

You know those old horror movies—Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Invaders from Mars, say—where creatures take over the bodies of humans so they look and act normal but have no real feelings? Well, somebody check Matthews' neck for strange electrodes and look in the trunk of his car to make sure he isn't carrying any weirdo seed pods. One of the liveliest and sweetest-voiced pop singers of the 70s, he seems on this album to have fallen under the spell of aliens a lot more loathsome and menacing than Martians. Yes, we're talking about the New Age Music People. Aaaaargh! The album begins with one of those vapid sequences of formless, stringy synthesizer sounds that immediately suggest a picture of clouds or a sand dune on the jacket cover. Periodically throughout the record he and his corps of synthesizer programmers lapse back into that kind of misarranging; at one moment it sounds as if Matthews had wandered into a convention of tone-deaf zither fanatics, at another he seems to be thinking of lachrymose Greer Garson movies. All the songs on the album except one were written by Jules Shear. While he has contributed hit songs to such people as the Bangles (If She Knew What She Wants) and Cyndi Lauper (All Through the Night), most of these tracks sound as if he had thrown them into his piano bench before they were finished and forgotten them. There's an occasional sign that Matthews hasn't been completely transformed. Except for a Tear recalls some of the brightness and bounce that he showed back on such 70s tunes as Some Days You Eat the Bear...(And Some Days the Bear Eats You) or Stealin' Home. His voice is still light, easy, melodious. This is a guy who could be causing Paul Simon sleepless nights, but instead he's singing air-ball guff like the track On Squirrel Hill. Matthews hasn't released an album in this country for eight years—he's been scouting talent for record labels. It's an unhappy choice that he picked this—Windham Hill's first vocal record—as a comeback vehicle. It is Shear foolishness in more ways than one. (Windham Hill)

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