No matter who we are in this absurd, brief, and messy life we can all lay claim to a peak, a shining moment where we were the best we could be, where all the stars aligned and we freakin’ delivered the goods.
Welcome to “That’s Their Pet Sounds” our latest semi-regular feature where we will endeavor to spotlight, and celebrate a heretofore uncool, sometimes mocked, occasionally underrated, polarizing, not as acclaimed as they should be, “what the hell?” artist’s grandest artistic achievement i.e. their greatest album.
*“That’s Their Pet Sounds” is named after the Beach Boys landmark 1966 LP which is universally regarded as one of the greatest albums ever made but yeah, you probably knew that.
This couldn’t start with anything else…
Barry Manilow’s BEST ALBUM : 1978’s “Even Now”
Background: Even Now was Barry’s 5th official studio album and went on to sell 3 million freakin’ copies. He remained so fond of it, and of that time in his career, that in 1996 he released an album of his favorite pop songs from 1978 or thereabouts by other artists and called it, wait for it, The Summer of ’78. He even went so far as to write a song with that same title swooning over what a great year it was. Make no mistake, Barry was really, really into 1978. Yup, even Barry knew that Even Now was the one.
It is important to note that all Manilow albums during his seventies heyday were essentially collections of potential singles or at least sounded like them…which means the only cohesive theme tying them together as LP’s were the fact that all the songs were performed by Barry. He was an unabashed pop artist who made singles for the radio. That’s what he did. That was his job.
Why it’s his Pet Sounds: Okay, before we begin have to attach a disclaimer to this : at this stage in life, I absolutely detest “Copacabana”, it’s just, I fuckin’ can’t… but that wasn’t always the case, which is to say as a kid, sigh, I thought it was pretty cool. I did….but reason I bring it up is because many people will write this album off straight away because of “Copacabana’s” presence i.e. it’s the opening damn track. And look, there is a liberal coating of schmaltz on a good portion of the album ( it’ll inevitably get all over your hands…or ears, case in point “Can’t Smile Without You”, that one really oozes) …but cast your cynicism aside, because once you get past those guys and go deep, you’ll discover that Even Now is Barry at his melodic, lovelorn best. Yes, sentimentally over the top but also kind of dark, dazed and lost and, it goes without saying, ridiculously tuneful.
Every track is sung with complete earnestness and nearly always features a dramatic key change around the last chorus or so ( you know those award show performances where all of a sudden a gospel choir or gaggle of harmonizing children rise from beneath the stage to join in on that final chorus and take things completely over the top, well it’s like that except it’s just Barry singing).
Okay, elephant in the room officially acknowledged, onward…
The Songs: Want a song about not appreciating someone until it’s too late ? That’s the lush “A Linda Song”.
How about some loss, loneliness and regret ? Well the whole latter half of the record does a u-turn from corned out “joy” of “Copacabana “ and “Can’t Smile”. “Where Do I Go From Here”, “Even Now”, “I Just Want To Be the One” and “Sunrise” supply plenty of emotional question marks.
And the guitar riff in “Leaving in the Morning” sounds like a slowed down version of the heavenly opening chord of Cheap Trick’s “Surrender” and as such is totally bitchin’.
The defining track on the album is the aforementioned darkly optimistic (really) and mournful “Sunrise”. In fact the cover of the album is literally a photograph of the song. It’s a world weary ballad about resigning yourself to this thing called life and trying to hang in there whilst contemplating your place in the universe and features a pretty gorgeous piano line that perfectly captures “the sad”.
“I can be dark too bitches”
Anything sub-standard ? Well yeah, “Losing Touch” is unpleasant and the kitsch of “I Was a Fool” can grate but those are tiny gripes.
In Conclusion: Even Now is Barry at his most consistent and has more top notch tracks per capita than any of his other 30 (!) studio albums. And for an album of singles really, it hangs together exceptionally well. It’s vintage AM radio gold. It’s perfectly calibrated lush, and melodic pop music. It’s his Pet Sounds.
Hear it here: