Release Date: 09.15.98
Record label: oxygen
Genre(s): Movies, Film Scores, Musicals, Etc.
Are They Beating a Dead Horse?
by: mark feldman
America, lest we forget, is the band that is still famous for "A Horse With No Name," the 1972 Neil Young-influenced smash with the refrain "in the desert you can remember your name" (is it so hard anywhere else?) A few other catchy-but-innocuous America singles followed in the next few years, but by the late '70s, bands like this were the target of loud mouthed punks everywhere and quickly became irrelevant. By 1990, America was headlining at the Cape Cod Melody Tent, and worse yet, Starship was their opening act.
So why buy a new America album in 1999? To be truthful, life has gone on just fine without them, but they can still crack a smile occasionally. Human Nature, like each and every one of their '70s albums, starts with 'H' and contains just enough feel-good-about-yourself California mellow psychedelia to satisfy anyone cruising down the Sunset Strip on a hot August night. The mystical "Pages" urges to "Step inside and find the other you." The folkish "From a Moving Train" rides the travelling man myth adequately - "I've seen the Ides of March and the fall of Rome / I've seen all kinds of stuff but I've never seen my home." "Wheels Are Turning" fulfills a similar function - "Step outside and take a breath of the morning / and the wind will tell you which way to go." Wow, man, deep.
Human Nature is also true to America form in its utter confusion and disconnectedness between the songs. One minute it's introspective and idealistic, which, as "A Horse With No Name" dictated, tends to be America's true calling, but the next minute it's utterly shallow and indistinguishable from any other arena rock. "Hot Town," with the refrain "it's gonna be a hot town / hot town tonight" and the lame hip hop lite of "Hidden Talent" are straight out of the Kenny Loggins school of songwriting, and make America's darker side sound like epic poetry. Perhaps most embarrassing is the "Overwhelming World Suite," consisting of three parts - the dippy ballad with the same name as the suite, the cute Beach Boy pop of "Come Back" and the finale "Barstow," a tribute to a small California town that serves little purpose other than to tell you how far you are from L.A. As three separate songs, this could be OK. But as a "Suite?" There may be some sort of deep connection here, but it's lost on me.
They do recover. "Whispering" is one of the prettiest songs they've ever done, and "Oloololo" is the top of the line philosophic schlock that America does best. They leave us with "And the river was flowing / while the crocodiles baked in the sun / was the elephant knowing / that a change had already begun?" Now that's more like it.
it's tough to be an aging hippie, but America have been aging hippies for more than 20 years, so by now they've mastered the art of being, as the Rolling Stone would put it, "yesterday's papers," and have stopped trying to regain past glories, merely putting out acceptable product and hoping that their aging hippie audience will still dig it. Save for a brief 1982 return to the spotlight with the hit "You Can Do Magic," that is precisely what has happened. But Human Nature is one of their better 'acceptable products' and should be given a listen.