Friday, 4 November 2011
Nils Lofgren "Flip!" (1985) (News, Views and Music 120)
“It can happen when you’re six, it can hit age 29, never too young or old – can happen any time, it can make you feel 200 years old, it’s a weight that no one ought to hold” “It’s tough to be the good one, but being the best don’t mean being number one” “Lift your pretty head, hold it high, sure the world keeps getting tougher, but so do you darling just you try, you can have your share of heartaches, life it can often seem unfair, but when it comes to heartaches you’re not alone out there” “Been so uninspired and lonely, been studying hard values of pain, bottom doubt went walking at midnight, the streets breathe hard, I dance with the rain” “Friendships – never pull them apart, I can take it if it’s straight from the heart” “18 or 90 I’ll be rocking, rocking till I’m dead” “Where does this heavy hurt turn, when will the three-piece suits and the powers ever learn that I was born born born destined to rock, if I could just get a start man I’d never stop, king of the rock, every creation has purpose and mine is to rock!” “Six to five to survive, cigarette money and staying alive, know what’s in your heart? Somebody! Break your back every day so at midnight you can play, who will you be tonight? Somebody!” “I thought I patched it up, I thought I got it made, had a new soft touch, but it was the same old blade, said I wouldn’t be scared of the world no more, but a heavy hanmd keeps knocking on my door, was I born to lose? Ain’t I here to choose? Every time I’m looking down I find new holes in old shoes”
Nils Lofgren “Flip!” (1985)
Flip Ya Flip/Secrets From The Street/From The Heart/Delivery Night/King Of The Rock//Sweet Midnight/New Holes In Old Shoes/Dreams Die Hard/Big Tears Fall
Flippin Heck #1! I can’t believe I actually own this album on CD (and bought it in a sale to boot!) You see, for those who don’t know, Nils Lofgren CDs are as rare as a decent Spice Girls song these days, especially Nils’ mid 80s material when the guitarist chose to sign a series of one-off album deals with a load of wild and wacky names who all have their own re-issue programmes in the CD era (and many of whom don’t actually exist anymore – hence this album’s reappearance on ‘Castle’). The only Nils Lofgren albums you can track down on CD these days are compilations of Nils’ early Grin material or, thankfully, ‘Damaged Goods’ – Nils’ most uncharacteristic but definitely best album (see review no 97 for why!) The reason you see so few Nils albums on this website isn’t because I don’t own them – and it’s certainly not because I don’t like them – but because my vinyl collection is spread across various houses across the country and I only have ‘highlights’ from most of Nils’ albums with me here. For the record, if you’re a strolling millionaire with good contacts and a string of second-hand record shops near you, the albums you want to buy after ‘Damaged Goods’ and Grin’s ‘1+1’ are ‘Nils Lofgren’ (1973) and ‘Nils’ (1979) - but I don’t think I’ve ever seen these albums on CD in my life, never mind be able to afford them. (You’ve got a much better chance on vinyl). So imagine the look on my face when I saw this CD going in my local record shop (now alas closed) five years ago for the unbearably decent porice of £3.99! Flip! But anyway enough of that – what about the album ‘Flip!’ itself?
Flippin Heck #2! I actually like an album that’s so badly drenched in synths and artificial squeaky drumming it might just as well be buried in a time capsule dated ‘mid-80s’ and wearing shoulder pads! Yes, ‘Flip’ sounds dreadful on the surface, like a set of drums has been left in a washing machine on a rinse cycle and then been hit with a mallet, to the point where said percussion drowns out everything else. Even the trains running outside my window. If the songs on ‘Flip’ are to be anything like their production values, then they should be the least subtle and most mangled set of songs ever, caught somewhere between Michael Jackson and Metallica. Thankfully, they’re not. Despite first appearances, ‘Flip’ contains many of Nils’ best melodies and most moving lyrics, with a theme about ‘flipping’ what’s wrong in your life and overcoming obstacles with determination and hope. The title’s actually a very clever pun because as well as his music Nils is also famous for his in-concert back-flips. Talking of which...
Flippin Heck #3! Have you seen that back cover? Or indeed any Nils Lofgren concert from before 1985, when Nils retired his somersaults and trampoline from his act? Why the hell wasn’t he part of the American gymnastics team? The guy is actually playing some of the best guitar solos ever whilst travelling in the air upside down and doing somersaults in the air! And it’s not as if it hurts the playing in any way either, with some of the most adventurous, exciting guitar work this side of, well, anybody (it makes Jimi Hendrix look like Posh Spice!) Alas, this album is named after the ‘back flips’ because its the trampoline’s last hurrah on stage – at the age of 34, Nils was worrying about being able to keep his gymnastics up and for his sake its probably for the best he stopped when he did (although he’s still a ball of energy onstage now, at the age of 60). The resultant album is surprisingly low on frantic guitar solos and the sort of things Nils traditionally played whilst upside down in the air (‘MoonTears’ ‘Cry Tough’ ‘Incidentally...It’s Over’ ‘Back It Up’ etc, fiesty rockers all), but it is full of a nostalgia for times passing and just been and having to relinquish the things in life you badly want but know you are never going to get. It’s a ‘growing up’ album, in other words, with a few songs that return Nils back to the years when he was young and hungry and had nothing to lose in his quest for a career in music.
Alright, let’s calm down now from this flipping and look at this album objectively. One of the few ‘good’ things about the fact that Nils Lofgren never went global, despite his obvious ‘talent’, is that he’s very good at writing songs that identify with those who also never ‘made it’ or are waiting to become someone big. Pete Townshend was the same in his early days (the frustration and rage of ‘I Can’t Explain’, the wish fulfilment of ‘Anyway Anyhow Anywhere’ and the taunting ‘My Generation’, plus some of the songs off The Who’s first LP) and so was Ray Davies in his later period when the hist stopped coming and he started worrying about what might have been (The Kinks’ whole series of mid 70s, post-hits what-would-my-life-have-been-like-without-writing-You-Really-Got-Me?) Here such songs cut closer to the bone than either, as Nils comes to terms with the fact that, 16 years into a career where every album he made was greeted with the words from the critics that ‘this could be the one that makes him’, he’s actually never going to make it at all. There’s a whole series of songs on this album, ‘Flip’ in particular, that are all about readjusting your sights and re-evaluating whether what you’ve achieved in life is really so bad simply because you judge yourself by how much you want to achieve. Nils is particular good at playing the teenager who wants a piece of rock and roll so badly he’ll do anything to get it – it’s here in ‘King Of The Rock’ and you can hear it again in later songs like the brilliant ‘Walkin’ Nerve’, a perfect slice of teenage angst written when Nils was 44! Lofgren has the perfect memory for how cruel bad times could be and the sympathy to acknowledge that feeling everywhere he goes, with kids that haven’t yet worked out who they want to be or where they want to go. Nils still writes these kind of songs better than anybody and there’s more of them on ‘Flip’ than possibly any other Lofgren album, from the gang culture of ‘Secrets In The Street’ to the dreamer of ‘Big Tears Fall’, all the while offering quiet support. So why was he writing so many of the believe-and-you’ll-still-make-it-songs in this part of his career?
Well back in 1985, things were rough for Nils, kinda. ‘Flip’ is the latest in a long series of Nils Lofgren albums that find Nils further and further away from his ‘source’, that of long guitar duelling epics and breathy orchestrated ballads in an attempt to go commercial. It doesn’t work – everything that is wrong about this LP comes from the attempts to shoe-horn production values onto songs that simply don’t want or need them. But there’s nothing wrong with the songs themselves, which are one of the best batches of Nils’ work released in one go. To put this album back in context, it’s the fourth in a series of albums made for low budget-ready-to-implode-at-any-time labels. Considering that just a few years earlier Nils had been tipped for big things and was the big star-in-waiting at A and M, this must have been tough and it’s to Nils’ credit that he didn’t a) retire or b) hold out for a major album deal that wasn’t about to come. The record business is so often a cruel mistress more interested in sales than talent and its a mystery to most people, even the stars themselves, why some are chosen to become household names and others become yesterday’s news (did you see the series of programmes on Creation mastermind Alan McGee the other night? The record industry simply couldn’t let that level of success happen without getting a part of it). Understandably some good things got overlooked over the years because of low promotional efforts and general record company indifference – and Nils’ albums are a prime example of that. Nils was always of the opinion that his real ‘fans’, the ones who supported him through thick and thin, had the right to have access to his music someway, even if it meant a load of cheap album deals and marketing budgets that meant most of his releases sold more by word of mouth than anything else. I’ve just had a look on Amazon and most of Nils’ albums on CD are selling at an extortionate price (£80 for ‘Night Fades Away’? Are you kidding?! I might pay that for ‘Damaged Goods’ – it really is that good, folks – but ‘Night Fades Away’?!) so I’m probably only preaching to the converted anyway in my article but what the heck – I’m sure they’ll agree with me that, even all these albums on, Nils Lofgren is still the one to watch.
Things weren’t helped by the fact that Nils’ bit-time work helping out a young kid called Bruce Springsteen had taken off to a ridiculous point by 1985, to the point where it was overshadowing his own career. Nils was trying to return the favour Neil Young had shown him about a decade earlier, helping ‘the boss’ get contacts with the right people and draw their attention to the fact that at least one highly rated musician was rating this newcomer highly too. (A neat AAA link for you, The Hollies’ Allan Clarke was the other musician to worship Springsteen before anyone else had heard of him – and thanks in part to the Springsteen connection will make a cover of Lofgren’s own ‘Shine Silently’ pretty much the last Hollies release worth buying). However, Lofgren only signed up to be in Springsteen’s band in the short term whilst he was pursuing his own career – how cruel, then, that the promising but undeniably weaker talent of Springsteen should pip Lofgren to the ‘hero worship’ stakes. Lofgren’s always been a strong number two, generous with his time and ideas, which is why so many leading artists want to work with him, but seeing those you support go on to out-sell a hundred to one while you get to play perhaps one song a night on stage if ‘the boss’ is in a generous mood must surely have rankled with Nils after a time.
I notice, too, that brother Tommy Lofgren is missing in the album credits for only the second time since joining Nils’ teenage band ‘Grin’. Without another guitarist to bounce off, especially one as close to Nils as Tommy, the music suffers: Nils’ playing is always of the highest order but there’s no one to bounce off here and even usual reliable bass player Wornell Jones sounds lost here, a true musician lost in a sea of 80s aratificially induced synth filled hell. Drummer Andy Newmark comes off worst of all – we know he can play exceptionally well on a whole series of albums by all sorts of musicians so I’m tempted to blame producer Lance Quinn for the sheer hell of sitting through the thwack-thwack-thwack-thwack drum sound that runs through songs like ‘Dreams Die Hard’ without any deviation or subtlety. Although to be fair even to him, the producer was probably told ‘make this album as commercial as you can’, even though this clearly isn’t a poppy upbeat piece of nonsense fluff you can get away with that sort of noise on. To all those of you who follow my advice and beg, steal or borrow a copy of this album somehow, I apologise for having to make you sit through such a godawful noise that makes Dave Clark sound like an inventive drummer. What Jon Bovi’s drummer Tico Torres is doing on this album – singing harmonies amazingly rather than drumming which might actually have been preferable – is also anyone’s guess, even if this album does have a similar empty ‘hole’ where the ‘heart’ should be to Jon Bovi’s records.
Ah yes, ‘heart’. Nils has always had so much of that and ‘Flip’ is no exception, exhorting his audience to ‘hit the world’, to only let your dreams die ‘hard’, even memorably to ‘flip ya flip’ every time something gets you down. Like a big brother coming to the aid of the world, ‘Flip’ is a collection of songs that may well be autobiographical and to some extent about Nils’ problems of the time but is also finding us a solution and a ‘way out’. He starts by telling everyone suffering their own personal hell that however bad it gets ‘you’re not alone out there’ – that Nils feels your pain too, with such tenderness and lack of patronisation you believe him (unlike, say, Michael Jackson’s Earth Song). When Nils ends this album by singing ‘beautiful world...cold cold world’ after a full five minutes of asking whether happiness is an illusion and the fact that the world is never just as long as somewhere an innocent child cries, he’s not contradicting what he’s just told us, just thrown our problems in a new light where because there’s no reason to suffer what we suffer when all man wants is to be happy then, well, there’s no reason we can’t all be happy tomorrow. Or something like that. Maybe those synth drums have gotten into my brain instead.
Like ‘Damaged Goods’ with the paranoia turned up low and the synths turned up high, ‘Flip!’ is a realistic, chilling, anguished and yet still ultimately uplifting album. As the great man says, trying your best doesn’t always mean being number one and we shouldn’t judge an artist by how many albums they sell but b y how many lives they touched for the better. Just look at how well the new (and largely terrible) Noel Gallagher record is selling, whilst Nils’ latest disappeared from the shops so fast I didn’t even get a chance to see what it looked like. I’m willing to bet that Nils is near the top of that list to his many fans, even if not every song is up to his highest standard – and its questionable whether any of it is worth sitting through when you have to cope with that drum sound!
‘Flip Ya Flip’ must stand as one of the worst song titles in the history of this website. But instead of being the tired, desperate-to-sound-young song you might be expecting, this is actually among the best songs on the album – realistic, but uplifting. Nils is singing to someone about how to overcome their troubles, acknowledging that no human on Earth ever gets through their life unscathed and that the low point of our life ‘can happen when you’re six, can hit age 29...never too young or old, can happen any time’. The title, of course, refers not only to the backflips but the idea of flipping situations round and meeting them head on – if the world gets ‘tougher’ then so can you. The second verse is perhaps the most interesting, with a discourse about what constitutes being a success, with Nils’ narrator fed up of people telling him ‘you’ve missed your prime’ when by most people’s standards he’s actually a success. Nils’ vocal on this song is delicious and its clear that the song means a lot to him: just look at the way he holds the notes on the line ‘you’re not alone out there...’, close to tears in his attempts to ride out the storm suffered by the person he’s addressing. Musically, this song has a lovely sing-songy feel about it, which makes it sound surprisingly stable and grounded amongst all that emotion (there’s no back flips in the music – instead it all flows nicely). Sure, the drums are horrid and the song would have sounded even better without the synthesiser twirls, but the de facto title track of ‘Flip’ is an excellent start to any album, offering comfort without dumbing down just how big the problems we sometimes face in life really are.
‘Secrets In The Street’ is still Nils’ best-selling single in the UK to date (just outshining his best known track ‘Shine Silently’, which is a surprise because for the most part this is the most downbeat and melancholic song on the record, only coming alive for the tacked-on sounding chorus. On the surface this is a song about the glow of joy the narrator feels at joining a gang, finding he ‘belongs’ in street culture’ and finding that amongst his peers who understand him better ‘some dreams do come true’. The chorus and the minor key chord changes make things a little more complex though: the narrator doesn’t just learn who he wants to be, he loses himself in the process, learning about ‘survival’ and ‘self denial’, ending the song by confronting his family about their lack of empathy with him with the curse ‘out of my way!’ – a line that’s as much about the family blocking his dreams as it is about them physically trying to stop him to leave. There’s some great lyrics in this song – urged to study, instead the narrator teen is ‘studying hard...values of pain’, feeling betrayed as a university career is not made for him. Where this song works is by juxtaposing the sadness and isolation with the teenager on the verses (‘feeling so uninspired and lonely’) with the excitement of the chorus - where the ‘secrets’ of teenagers spending time together sounds genuinely enticing after all that melancholy. However, listen to how easily the song switches back into minor key mode after this sudden burst of power, suggesting that this battle between the two is going to be a long, hard one and that although some dreams do indeed ‘come true’, others fall apart by the wayside. I’m amazed that a song as complex and – for the most part – sad as this could do so well with the British public, especially when set against yet another irritating burst of drum gunfire, but ‘Secrets In The Street’ is still a major song for Lofgren, full of the complexity and sympathy the guitarist made his own in the ‘first half’ of his career.
‘From The Heart’ is slightly less impressive, with that drum sound even more in the way than normal on a chirpy song that sounds somewhat soulless in such u musical surroundings. There’s not much of a tune here either, which is unusual for Lofgren who usually has melodies pouring forth as naturally as breathing, although there is quite a nice build to a climax in the chorus. Lyrically this is a song about being able to take criticism as long as it’s well meant and in the narrator’s best interests – but he’s beginning to have doubts whether the snipes from his girlfriend are really helpful and might just be trying to get him down. Lofgren’s narrator is unsure what to do, though, because even just thinking that thought seems like a betrayal and he might be better just to let the relationship work itself (‘friendships...never pull them apart’). There’s a nice idea in there somewhere, but alas the production gets in the way big time, clobbering everything with a big hammer and sucking out all the life and subtlety. It doesn’t help that Nils’ vocal is mixed way down and drenched in echo so that it’s hard to hear what he’s singing. Sorry, Nils, but this criticism really is meant constructively and, yes, straight from the heart.
‘Delivery Night’ is a step in the right direction, opening with a flurry of overdubbed Lofgren guitars which is probably the most characteristically Nils moment on the whole album. One of those breathy ballads Nils specialises in, this is a slow sad song that has the narrator having yet more doubts about a long-term relationship, setting a deadline for the two to make up their differences and deciding that its ‘delivery night’. The usual long list of problems follow (its a one-way relationship, they never shared any dreams, etc), sung in an unusually detached manner from Nils who sounds as if he doesn’t care what his girl decides either way. Laidback enough to risk falling off his chair, this is one narrator who doesn’t seem to understand the depth of what he’s saying, ending his demands with a bright and breezy ‘sha-la-la baby’, as if he’s dictating a shopping list rather than demand she gets out of his life or change her act. That’s a shame, because there’s a real sense of regret in the opening verse that deserved to be better developed (‘you’re experienced, I’m not, and I believe I’ve talked enough’). Where the song does come alive is in the opening to the chorus, where the song comes to a brief halt and Nils’ vocal briefly sparks into life on the line ‘I need someone to love me...I need someone to care’. This narrator really does care, passionately – so much so that he’s afraid of how badly he needs his girl in his life, which is why he pretends she means nothing to him. The ‘delivery night’ in question sounds more like his day of judgement than hers and that he really could be in trouble if he doesn’t realise that he needs to act less and start talking from the heart. A fascinating song when you analyse it closely, this is nevertheless a disappointment after that great start and yet again you wonder whether the effort of paying attention is worth it when all you think the first time round is ‘God, how I want to throttle that drummer!’
Actually, to be fair the pounding drums work really well on ‘King Of The Rock’, another of the album highlights that, as its title suggests, is no-holds barred rocker. Alarmed by his recent fall in sales and ending up on a series of one-off album deals with minor record labels, this sounds like Nils wondering what might have been had he never met Neil Young at the age of 18 and suddenly been whisked off into a whirlwind of fame and record contracts. The narrator is convinced he’s going to be big and has already declared himself ‘king of the rock’ – but no one else has cottoned onto how important he is yet except himself. By the end this positive and egotistical song sounds more and more desperate, spiralling further and further out of control whilst Nils adds some grumbly spoken-word phrases over a crazed guitar solo. We’ve heard this sort of thing before lots of times, but where this song works is how straight its played and how genuinely excited the musicians sound: Nils’ nagging harmony line, stabbing away on one note, is excellent, spurring the lead vocal on into ever more histrionics and Nils’ guitar playing is rarely better or as showman-like as it is here. The words are good too, adding in some clearly autobiographical lines about Nils’ career (’18 or 90 I’ll be rocking rocking till I’m dead!’) that sound like a determination to continue no matter the ups and downs of his career. There’s also a hint that the narrator hits on music as he was of getting even in a world that’s ignored him his whole life, with the narrator ‘bent on recovery, bent on discovery’, which puts his wild gesticulations about his talent into a much more sympathetic context. The fact that the song then ends up in a most unexpected solo of acoustic guitars and bass playing a simple retro 50s riff quite different to the very 80s synth-filled sound of the rest of the song also suggests something deeper going on. The end result is a song so simple it barely changes pace or harmonics throughout and yet sounds like one of the more rounded songs on the album, conjuring up an easily believable world of wanting so hard to make it and prove yourself that you’re never ever going to back down. All together now: ‘Every creation has purpose: and mine is to rock!’
‘Sweet Midnight’ used to be the start of the second half on my old vinyl copy, but it continues the story where it left off. The narrator (if it is the same one) is now a pissed off factory worker, doing monotonous work he dreads during the day – but experiencing such exquisite moments of release thanks to music in his evenings off that it sounds like, if anything, music has become even more important to him. The music is ‘the only way to let out some of that hurt inside’ and it’s a means to become ‘anybody’ the musician wants to be, freed from the dull and repetitive routine of his daytime. It’s as if Nils, suffering a bad patch in his career, wanted to remind himself how central music was to his life and how he’d rather be playing and struggling at the bottom of the career ladder than becoming a ,millionaire doing a job he hates. The song is pulled back out of focus, however, revealing that everyone in his grimy factory with neighbouring mine all have their own means of release during the nights when they can become ‘themselves’, acting as ‘Jekyll and Hyde’. Again, the pounding drums actually make sense on this track, where they mimic the repetitive and dull plod of the factory worker, with Nils’ wildest guitarwork yes showing how, by contrast, music has left him free, without boundaries. The whole theme of the song can be summed up in the scene where the narrator stops dreaming of the night and is actually enjoying music at the midnight hour: ‘Who’re you gonna be tonight?’ ‘Somebody!’ a chorus suddenly chips in from nowhere after three minutes of isolation, as if only now is the narrator really ‘alive’. This is a song about identity and release, and its only natural that for a musician the best thing life has to offer for that is music. Arguably the track lasts a minute too long, with a guitar solo that doesn’t really go anywhere and a confusing coda that suggests the narrator can’t let his brief moment of freedom go, but until then its pretty impressive. Another song that sounds simple and dumb but is actually really complex, this is another of the best songs on the album.
It’s ‘New Holes In Old Shoes’, though, that’s my favourite song on the album. It’s one of those songs that’s so unique that there’s nothing really I can compare it to, although ‘blues’ is probably the closest genre – and a deeply unusual one for the generally bouncy Nils Lofgren. A regretful song about thinking you’ve got over the worst aspects of your character and ‘trained’ yourself to hide your worst aspects, only to have them arrive out of nowhere and catch you by surprise, the first verse of this song ranks among the best of Nils’ whole career. The ‘soft touch’ the narrator had learn to use turning into ‘the same old blade’ is especially memorable, as is his wailed protest as his world falls apart that he was sure he’d ‘never be scared of this world no more’ – but it’s not as safe and reliable as he’d thought. The rest of the song isn’t bad either, opening the song out to include the person whose hurt him and realising that he’s never going to get over what she did to him – that ‘there are some things only death erases’. It’s unusual for Nils to be down for this long – and yes there is a rocky, upbeat, largely instrumental coda to stop the song getting too sad which frankly we could have down without – but for a moment there we had as nakedly open a song from Nils as anyone has ever written. The chorus especially tugs at your heart strings, with the song attempting to lift its head musically out of the gloom and looking for answers from something ‘bigger’ (Was I born to loose? Ain’t I here to choose? Every time I’m looking down I find new holes in old shoes!’), before realising that there aren’t any – that it’s down to him. Thank goodness they didn’t ruin this song with that drumming effect (although it is back as loud as ever for the chorus), with the addition of a drum-click track actually quite a nifty idea. The blues harmonica, presumably played by Nils although it’s unusual to hear so early in his career, is another highlight of a song full of surprises that ranks amongst Lofgren’s greatest classics. This song took on another dimension live, too, although sadly there’s only a slightly ropey version of it on 1986’s ‘Code Of the Road’ available at the moment officially.
After three strong songs in a row ‘Dreams Die Hard’ sounds like a bit of an anticlimax, although even this poppy song has its joys. Like ‘Midnight’, this is a narrator putting his dreams on ‘hold’ while he tries to do all the things the world expects of him: get a family, a steady job and a stint in the army. Lofgren’s omnipresent narrator is unhappy with this, thinking that its everyone’s right to at least give their dreams a go and that we should only give in to what people ‘expect’ us to do as the absolute last resort, that we should let our dreams ‘die hard’. ‘You matter, so fight for better’ is the mantra to this song, which mirrors the theme of ‘Flip Ya Flip’ and has the same push and pull between chorus and verses, where the chorus full of hope and promise sounds exciting – and the verse sounds downbeat and fed up. The first verse, in particular, is excellent, with a rare bit of social commentary from Lofgren, who says about the song’s unnamed character that you are made to ‘kill...and not know what you’re fighting for’, waiting 10 years before your country allows you to even talk about the hatred you’ve seen. Lofgren’s pay off line to the audience ‘may all your dreams die hard’ sounds like an insult, but it’s actually a clever realisation that a majority of people never do get to fulfil their dreams (but should spend all their efforts trying to anyway). If Lofgren has a ‘theme’ to his career then surely its one of dreams: ‘I brought you into this world to be a dreamer’ ‘Daddy Dream’ a cover of ‘All I Have To Do Is Dream’ – the theme of doing what you’ve always wanted to do is a key part of many a Lofgren album, though it rarely sounded as good as it does here. Alas, those drums are back with reinforcements on this song and the vocal is low in the mix again, which a shame because otherwise this sounds like a natural single to me - surprisingly Towerbell decided to pass it over in favour of the much more complex ‘Secrets In The Street’.
Final track ‘Big Tears Fall’ sounds more like a warning than a song, another slow and dreamy ballad asking such big questions as what constitutes happiness and why there is so much injustice in the world. The song takes its name from the idea that the biggest tears fall from the most vulnerable and innocent – namely our children – and suggests that Nils had been watching the children in need charity marathons that had started in 1980 (although the children in need charity singles didn’t start until Clannad in 1985 – perhaps they should have used this song instead). The song isn’t just about children though – Nils’ narrator says at one point that ‘there’s a child inside every man until the day he dies’, suggesting that our innocence never truly leaves us. This song should be one of the most moving on the album – it has a warm and flowing melody that seems to want to cover the song in syrup and keep it from harm, whilst the lyrics by themselves read very well. But there’s something about ‘Big Tears Fall’ that isn’t quite right – a possible combination of another detached Nils vocal (whoever told him in the studio to sound less emotional clearly didn’t understand him or his music), more blooming awful synths and booming drums and a saccharine chorus that might have sounded ‘new’ at the time, but sounds so clichéd and obvious nowadays, after 25 years of similar charity singles.
Remember the remix of John Lennon’s ‘Double Fantasy’ that came out last year and made the Beatle’s last and worst album sound so much better? ‘Flip’ is another candidate for that treatment, along with CSN’s ‘Live It Up’ and the first Brian Wilson solo album, because the production sound of the day interferes so badly with the music. Back in 1985 albums like this one sounded perfectly normal, although even by the day’s standards ‘Flip!’ must have sounded slightly OTT, which is a huge tragedy: ‘new’ artists can sound any old way they like, but shoehorning production techniques for a ‘newer’ generation onto the music of an older one is just asking for trouble and pleases no one (chances are it won’t get any newer fans because they’re a ‘bunch of dinosaurs’ to the younger generation and it’ll annoy the old ones something rotten, believe you me). There is a good album, maybe even a great album in here, much more deserving of praise than ‘Flip’ currently gets and arguably deserving of more stars than the paltry six we’re going to give it. But it’s so much hard work trying to listen between the sounds that you do begin to question whether the album is really worth it.
But it is. ‘Flip’ has a great heart, some excellent lyrics and melodies and one of the best guitar players ever born at the top of his game. It’s a real fan favourite this one, as you’ve probably gathered by now, created by perhaps the real fan favourite of all the artists we cover who are only really known by word of mouth: take it from me, Nils really should have been bigger than he was, but the sales of his records back then don’t matter a jot if you curious readers believe in my other reviews here enough to give him a try. Now all we need is for all of Nils’ many record companies to get in on the act and re-release his albums for us to enjoy. Trying your best really doesn’t mean being number one all the time, but its not too late to make this album number one if enough of you agree with me. Flip your expectations, this album matters, so fight for better. Overall rating: ♫♫♫♫♫♫ (6/10).