Rolling Stone, #198 – By Dave Marsh.
Hotline is J. Geils’s seventh album, but it might as well be their second or their 11th. Its chief distinction is as a chronicle of the further disintegration of a group which once promised to be counted among the finest white soul and rock groups. Hotline contains not a single track which would break the formula the band has mined since the beginning. Its slickly funky jacket holds an album whose best moments derive from soul and blues classics the obscure “Love-Itis,” which gives vocalist Peter Wolf an outlet for his usual ostentatious wino jive, Eddie Burns’s “Orange Driver” and John Brim’s “Be Careful (What You Do).” The originals are equally formularized: straight blues with soul insertions (the piano lead on “Fancy Footwork,” which is perhaps the best new song here, is lifted from the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On,” for instance).
The deterioration is individual as well as collective. Wolf panders with insensate falsity despite the programmed looseness of his stage patter, and his overestimation of his vocal prowess is no great help either; singing Curtis Mayfield’s “Believe in Me” is not just vanity, but hubris. Lead guitarist J. Geils, meanwhile, has become increasingly hackneyed (check “Be Careful”), his excesses bloating the simplest songs to the edge of endurance. And Magic Dick’s harmonica, once abrasively savage, is now only predictably abrasive (as on “Orange Driver”). J. Geils is a group that must transcend its limitations; Hotline emphasizes them. Even keyboardman Seth Justman, who became the dominant instrumental force with Ladies Invited, has retrenched from that album’s hints of pop power back to the same old good-time boogie.
What seems to be plaguing J. Geils most of all is a lack of nerve. Ladies Invited was an honest, surprisingly successful attempt at writing straight pop, nonboogie music; its lack of sales apparently scared the group from continuing on that track. Instead, each of the succeeding albums Nightmares and now Hotline has attempted to regain their identity as the number one party band. This ignores the fact that their get-down jamming was what stalled them at second-level stardom in the first place. And that their old style can’t be re-created without regaining the conviction, the spirit of fun, which is utterly absent here.
“Ain’t gonna hang up my rock and roll shoes,” Wolf sings here. Hotline makes you wonder why not.