Foreigner’s new live album is neither all that bad, nor all that good — probably worth the ticket price at the original concert venue, if you don’t pay too much attention, but instantly forgettable as a home listening experience.
Alive and Rockin’ — due May, 29, 2012 from Eagle Rock — attempts to rock a little harder at times than did the initial albums. Still, despite some tasty licks from Mick Jones (the band’s lone remaining original member) and the presence of thumper Jason Bonham at the drums, the results are typically more loud than they are distinctive.
Meanwhile, vocalist Kelly Hansen, former lead singer with Hurricane, is merely adequate — usually not taking it too far, but also not often matching the coiled emotional intensity of Lou Gramm, either. Not that he doesn’t try. At one point, during a faltering crowd sing-along for “Dirty White Boy,” Hansen pleads with the fans at Germany’s Bang Your Head Festival, saying: “I can’t hear shit!”
Me, neither, really: Strip away the furious riffing, and the band’s straight-ahead rockers — “Double Vision,” “Hot Blooded” — move along like a featureless landscape. Foreigner is less a band these days, it seems, than a group of studio musicians. There’s keyboardist Jeff Jacobs, a former touring member of Billy Joel’s band in the Storm Front era; and multi-instrumentalist Tom Gimbel, who has worked on the road with Aerosmith; and bassist Jeff Pilson from Dokken. Each is competent, to be sure, but they work together here without an essential chemistry this band used to have.
The real test for Hansen would be on the mid-tempo or change-of-pace numbers (“Head Games,” “Urgent,” “Jukebox Hero”) that initially showcased Gramm. Again, he does OK. I thought Foreigner’s blending of “Jukebox” with Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” — a nice tip of the hat to the legacy of Bonham’s father — was mildly inspired. But “Urgent” is a disaster: Gimbel transforms Junior Parker’s original sax solo, this percolating blast of sexual bravado, into a messy squall — and, no matter Hansen’s increasingly desperate urgings to the crowd (“are you ready for some saxophone?!?), the song goes nowhere.
Really, none of it does. And it’s not entirely Hansen’s fault. Unlike several of the other dinosaurs of rock who continued without one of their lead singers — Chicago, the Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, Styx — Foreigner had a singular figure as its frontman from its genesis to its zenith. That makes Lou Gramm’s absence so much more difficult to overcome.
It’s certainly Mick Jones’ right to go on, and Hansen’s to give it his best. Unfortunately, though, Alive and Rockin’ left me cold as ice.