Rolling Stone, October 25th, 1984 – By Kurt Loder.
The J.Geils Band bounces back – Minus Peter Wolf, the group finds its identity.
WHEN PETER WOLF LEFT the J.Geils Band late last year (precipitating the first personnel crisis in the group’s sixteen year history), the general speculation seemed to be that he was taking the band’s personality with him – and leaving its future in question. As expected, Wolf landed on his feet with his solo debut, Lights Out, a smart, street-flavored sampling of urban funk & roll. But now comes a real surprise, the J.Geils Band’s first postsplit LP, You’re Gettin’ Even While I’m getting Odd – the surprise being that this is one of the most musically adventurous and sonically ravishing albums the band has ever recorded. That it seems to have a goodly share of radio hits doesn’t hurt, either.
Like Wolf, the Geils group on its-own has veered away from the R&B archivism that defined so much of their work together. But where Wolf immersed himself in up-to-the-minute rap and funk sounds – a logical extension of his longtime devotion to black musical styles – the Geils band has set off in several other directions at once. With keyboardist Seth Justman taking over as principal singer and songwriter (in collaboration with his brother, video director Paul Justman), Geils has dug deep into its own rock & roll roots for such hook conscious tracks as the manic “Californicatin’” and the effervescent premier single, “Concealed Weapons.” Reedman Magic Dick – alternating here between harp and saxophone, and in concert with the band’s sizzling Uptown Horns auxiliary – brings a glorious, jazz-tinged complexity to the group’s ensemble playing, while Justman pumps up one of the fattest and most elaborate multi-keyboard sounds around. All of this – the grabby riffs, the razor-sharp horn charts, the juicy electro-textures – is given a production (by Justman) that on such songs as “The Bite From Inside” and the wild, sax-stoked “Eenie, Meenie, Minie, Moe,” sets each of the many musical elements into an enormous, strictly Geils-style wall of sound. The group may have lost a key personality when Wolf left, but in declining to recruit a new singer and relying instead on their unleashed-at-last musical instincts, they have established here an identity that’s all their own.
Some facets of that identity will be familiar to longtime fans. The tart sexuality that spiked past hits, from “Give It To Me” to “Centerfold,” is as evident as ever in “Concealed Weapons” (guess what they are) and the self-explanatory “Heavy Petting.” And the band’s sociopolitical concerns, previously enunciated by Wolf on such tunes as “Piss On The Wall,”are just as lyrically barbed on “The Bite From Inside,” in which Justman sings,
What kind of soap is used in a bloodbath?/What kind of darkness brings a killer sleep?/What kind of rain will fall in the aftermath?/What kind of harvest shall we reap?
What’s new here, of course – aside from the freshly inspired soloing by Magic Dick and guitarist J.Geils himself (whose thrilling little lead figure on “The Bite From Inside” is a model of clarity and compression) – is the vocal approach. Justman and drummer Stephen Jo Bladd (who takes the lead on two songs and shares one with Seth) prove to be able and animated singers. Justman’s voice has a delicacy that occasionally recalls John Lennon, while Bladd is a powerful shouter in the white-R&B style. Neither attempts to duplicate Wolf’s hipster charisma – a wise move – but instead they tailor their vocals to the best interests of the songs. Thus, a true-life social vignette such as “Tell ‘Em, Jonesy” about a drunk and distracted house-wife in an all night supermarket – is remarkably touching, as sung by Justman, even though it’s embedded in an intricate arrangement with a rather heavy riff. And although one can almost hear Wolf wading into the lyrics of “Heavy Petting” – a very characteristic chant-along rocker in the Geils tradition. Bladd’s vocal is so strong that Wolf isn’t missed.
You’re Gettin’ Even demonstrates that, as crucial Peter Wolf was to the Geils sound, he wasn’t the sole component. Drawing on musical resources the members themselves may have forgotten they had, the J.Geils Band has bounced back to stay – and, on the evidence presented here, to continue growing. The Wolf-Geils split was a sad event for the old band’s fans, but it’s turned out to be a story with two happy endings. In other words, everybody wins. (****)
Magazine Unknown (Maybe Sounds UK) – By Bill Black.
IT MAY seem a contradiction in terms, but it’s been a good year for American AM-orientated rock. Rick Springfield graced us with “The Human Touch,” Billy Idol has given us a highly polished “Rebel Yell” and more recently, both Huey Lewis and Chicago have lent our charts the seamless sound of AOR with “This Is It” and “Hard Habit To Break”.
But I for one hope there’s room for J.Geils and co in the above’s god-like caucus. Because bozos they’re not. Their first album since dispensing with the vocal services of Peter Wolf, You’re Gettin’ shows that if “Centerfold” embalmed the coarseness of the Stones in a fluid, funny and barbed rock-out, then tracks like “Eenie Meenie Minie Mo” (surely a comment on the stress an overtly consumerist society like America puts its poor putz through) display a wider reading on the art of noise. “Eenie” has a brass section bouncing on a razor sharp soul strut before breaking up in a frantic tussle between broadly traced strokes and “Penny Lane” style flourishes. And it’s a similar stringency that stops “The Bite From Inside” expiring on Geils’ long creamy guitar solo.
The J.Geils Band are too firmly entrenched in a faultless r’n’b soul heritage to be dismissed as glib journeymen tilling AOR’s arid topsoil. Rather, words that are too often mutually exclusive – like intuitive and entertaining – can be used to bog down the simple and perfect purpose of You’re Gettin.