- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 8, 2002

THE KNACK
Get the Knack, But the Little Girls Understand, Round Trip, Serious Fun
(Virgin and Capitol Records)
In Charles Cross' recent biography of Kurt Cobain, he describes a scene in which the future grunge icon discovers and falls in love with "Get the Knack" about a decade after its release, much to the chagrin of his friends. In retrospect, it's easy to see what drew Mr. Cobain in the Knack's debut is filled with fast-paced power pop, with the same kind of catchy choruses and pop hooks Nirvana would use to take America by storm in the early 1990s. If only its follow-up albums matched this.
But the Knack's popularity was for a far shorter period than that of Nirvana. Group members refused to do press interviews, their lyrics were seen as sexist, and the backlash against the band started almost immediately. With that kind of history, the Knack's first four albums complete with unreleased bonus tracks, extensive liner notes and rare photos are unlikely to attract many buyers.
The albums have their moments, though, especially the debut. "Get the Knack," released in 1979, has the same kind of manic rock energy as the Beatles' early recordings, starting with the lead single "Let Me Out." It also contains the group's trademark hit "My Sharona," a song which sounds even more gimmicky now than when it first came out, relying on a catchy bass line and basic back-and-forth, tom-to-snare drum beat.
But no one ever said the Knack had art rock aspirations. Doug Fieger's songwriting is simple and direct, lead guitarist Berton Averre never lets a solo go on too long and Bruce Gary and Prescott Niles make up a competent enough rhythm section.
The Knack's musical slide started with its second record, "But the Little Girls Understand," released less than a year after its debut. The trouble begins with the opening song "Baby Talks Dirty," which blatantly rips off the band's own "My Sharona." Reportedly filled with songs that didn't make the first album's cut, this sophomore release seems like a pale, carbon copy of the group's more exciting debut.
The failure of its third album, "Round Trip," to take off in 1981 was what caused the Knack to disband. The release is a more polished effort than the band's sophomore disaster, with the highlights such as the soft funk on "Africa" and the piano-harmonica ballad "Pay the Devil."
The big puzzle is why "Serious Fun" is included as part of this set, since it was released in 1991 after the group's first reunion. Listening to it directly after the three other albums highlights the Knack's sudden, surprising switch to a hard rock/heavy metal sound, with Mr. Fieger howling lyrics and Mr. Averre doing his best Slash imitation. While the early Knack albums are dated by new-wave sounds, this one is drips with heavy-metal cliches.
The best of the extras come on the first two discs, with early demos of songs such as "That's What the Little Girls Do" and "My Sharona," which features Mr. Fieger and Mr. Averre replicating the famous drum beat on acoustic guitar. The second disc has live covers of the Doors' "Soul Kitchen" and "Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar)," which shows the band could at least poke fun at itself. The Knack may not stand the test of time, but it doesn't appear the band wanted anything more than to have a little fun in the first place. Derek Simmonsen

WAYNE SHORTER
Footprints Live
(Verve)
"Footprints Live," Wayne Shorter's first all acoustic album since 1967, is a selection of the saxophonist's compositions, performed by his quartet and recorded during a 2001 tour. The personnel on the recordings is Mr. Shorter (on tenor and soprano sax), Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Brian Blade a lineup that expertly supports these musical explorations.
The tunes include many classics such as "Go," "Footprints" and "JuJu," from Mr. Shorter's Blue Note period in the 1960s. These gems sparkle as brilliantly as when he first recorded them in the studio. The group also performs newer compositions, such as "Aung San Suu Kyi," a piece originally performed as a duet with Herbie Hancock on the 1997 album "1+1." Its beauty is stunning much like this CD. Associated Press

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