Product Review: Foreigner: The Complete Atlantic Studio Albums: 1977-1991

Foreigner: The Complete Atlantic Studio Albums: 1977-1991

This collection is one that lives up to its name, containing the seven studio albums [1] released by Foreigner between 1977 and 1991 that make their strongest case for critical and lasting relevance, including induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame [2]. This collection is missing Foreigner’s first greatest hits collection, Records, which was released the year after 4, and it is missing the new tracks off of their second greatest hits collection, The Very Best…And Beyond, that contained a couple of minor hits. That said, this collection contains a solid amount of music that fans of the album who have only heard their familiar classic radio hits or owned one of their hits compilations that would show a fuller knowledge and appreciation of this band. Anyone looking to acquire a lot of music from the band at a reasonable price might well be tempted to purchase this album, and would likely want to know whether this would be a good idea. Therefore, rather than repeating my track-by-track reviews for the roughly 80 songs that appear here, this particular review will seek to answer two questions: is it worthwhile for someone to get this album if they already have or are looking to get one of their many hits collections, and what kind of story this collection tells about Foreigner.

Let us tackle the easier question first. For a cost between double and triple that of a single-disc compilation, one gets all of the studio tracks that the band released over a fifteen year period, along with eight bonus tracks included on the 2002 rereleases of the band’s first, second, and fourth albums. There are at least two things that someone gains from all of this listening material. For one, they gain a context of Foreigner as a band—they get to see the album cover artwork (even if the liner notes are missing from all of these albums) and listen to the content and flow of each of the band’s albums, which demonstrates a clear three-part narrative that will be explored in more detail below. Second, they get to listen to the obscure but lovely album tracks on the band’s self-titled debut album, their stellar second album, Double Vision, which includes a gorgeous instrumental track, “Tramontane,” along with a few choice album cuts, as well as the band’s unjustly neglected seventh album, Unusual Heat. Besides this, there are a few beautiful album tracks on the rest of the albums, like Agent Provocateur’s “Down On Love,” that are worth listening to and enjoying that are unlikely to ever be included on any compilation from the band. If you like Foreigner as a band, or are a budding music critic who enjoys supporting underdog causes, this is enough to make this a worthwhile experience, although the band’s middle set of albums, from 4 to Inside Information, and especially Agent Provocateur, include a lot of album filler, it must be admitted.

What story does this collection tell? There are really several stories that are told here, and they are worth exploring at least in broad scope. The first narrative is that of the band’s critical and commercial appeal. Seemingly starting off fully formed and with a strong overall collection of tracks, the first two albums Foreigner released are something to behold, with their dazzling array of genres and elegant and beautiful touches. Even the demos and live tracks included on these albums represent considerable and worthwhile achievement that any band would have been proud to attain. After achieving such creative and commercial heights, though, it appears that the band got lazy and comfortable. There was turmoil among membership, and the surviving four musicians of the original sextet released a series of albums that was commercially popular and had some massive radio hits, but that lacked a certain spirit in many of the album cuts, that simply became slots to fill with material that seem to have been created without a lot of craft to improve them. By the time the band felt it necessary to try hard to retain their popularity among changing musical tastes, the results were uneven: Agent Provocateur contains three lovely ballads and about half a dozen subpar attempts at hair band rock. Inside Information is an album chock-full of songs designed to appeal to a female audience, but lacks the sense of balance and proportion of the band’s first four albums, and Unusual Heat is perhaps the most tragic tale of them all, an attempt to reboot the band with a new lead singer and heartfelt passion and conviction that was almost entirely ignored upon its release and since then, but that is an album worth taking seriously. So we see the classic tragic narrative here, with rising popularity reaching a peak with their early 80’s material and then falling into a tragic and undeserved fate of ignominy and critical disapproval because their strength in crafting beautiful love ballads like “I Want To Know What Love Is” and “I Don’t Want To Live Without You” lasted long after the rest of their music was no longer well-regarded in rock circles.

Another narrative of the band, though, is one of continuity, although it too is equally tragic. From the beginning of this collection to the end, for fourteen years and seven studio albums, the band struggled with several interrelated concerns. One of these was communication. Over and over again, regardless of the lead singer, the back catalog of Foreigner is overflowing with songs that lament a lack of communication with a partner. Given the band’s frequent lineup turmoil, this appears to have been symptomatic of larger problems. One would think that songwriters and musicians, especially people as creative and talented as these gentlemen, would be able to communicate matters with others, but it appears not to have been the case. Over and over again, the songs show a sense of frustration and agony over a partner whose communication is dishonest, or someone who has simply stopped communicating as well, where they might as well be a “Girl On The Moon,” as one of 4’s tracks laments, or as “Cold As Ice,” as that song from the band’s self-titled debut proclaims. Yet despite continually agonizing over the same problem, the band members were never able to overcome these problems in miscommunication. This undercurrent of relationship drama born out of poor skills in communication then fed into the band’s continual narrative of achingly beautiful songs of romantic longing, from “I Need You,” to “You’re All I Am” and “I Have Waited So Long” to “Love On The Telephone” to “Waiting For A Girl Like You” to “I Want To Know What Love Is” to “I Don’t Want To Live Without You” to “I’ll Fight For You.” Meanwhile, despite the band’s sad chronicle of epic miscommunication and seemingly eternal longings for a love to help them restore their faith in the future and heal the wounds of lovers’ past, the band also continually wrote songs bragging about their sexual prowess, which only deepends the tragedy.

Yet this tragedy, it should be noted, is not Foreigner’s alone, but is a document of a wider societal tragedy that is worthy of brief mention as we close. Part of the band’s continuing relevance is the fact that in its various strands, in a growing disrespect for the law, in its feeling of atomistic hostility to the wider world, in its cynical casting off of the restraint of marital bonds [3], and in its simultaneous praising of sexual freedom from boundaries (including the boundaries of the age of consent as well as the boundaries of marital exclusivity, it should be noted) and in its lament at the loss of trust and failures in communication, the band’s music detailed the societal collapse that we have seen over the past generation. Among the many contradictions of this talented band is the fact that the longings for lasting love with loyal and communicative partners and the band’s celebration of unbridled and unrestrained heterosexuality are at odds with each other. Before we condemn Foreigner for not getting the point, despite seven albums of agonizing repetition of the same failures, the same longing, and the same lack of restraint, we need to point at least a few fingers at ourselves, for Foreigner was only writing about and singing about the moral collapse our society, and indeed our civilization, saw over the same decades. The reason why the band’s music has endured in popularity on radio, despite their lack of critical respect, is because they were singing about our own behavior, our own contradictions, and the terrible tension between our longing for lasting love and our inability to restrain ourselves or communicate with love, respect, and patience so that relationships may endure. Yet their music endures, and tells us a story not only about the band, but about the world in which it operated, where its varying genres and fortunes revealed a common desire to start again, to know love and to see it last, to overcome the mistakes and hurts of the past, a longing that remains for so many even now.

[1] See the separate album reviews of all seven albums below:


[3] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in History, Love & Marriage, Music History and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Product Review: Foreigner: The Complete Atlantic Studio Albums: 1977-1991

  1. Pingback: Album Review: Night Visions | Edge Induced Cohesion

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  3. Pingback: If You Need To Crash, Then Crash And Burn; You’re Not Alone | Edge Induced Cohesion

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