Shadows And Light, by Wilson Philips
Rarely has a group rocketed out to superstardom in the way that Wilson Philips did, and rarely has the falloff been as dramatic as it was between their self-titled debut and this follow-up. In fact, this album was such a disappointment that it led to the breakup of the group. Even thirty years after this album the entire discography of the group after that consists of a few solo albums that few people listened to, a couple of covers albums after the trio joined together again, and an album by the Wilson sisters that was critically praised but not popular at all. This album generated two top 40 hits and went gold but was widely considered to be an immense disappointment and none of the songs on here would be familiar to a casual music audience. What happened? Let’s see if listening to the album makes it more clear.
The album is bookended by “I Hear You” first as a vocalizing intro and then as a reprise. The first song on the album is “It’s Only Life,” which has a bit of a strident tone even as it celebrates the ups and downs of life, which appears to be a general theme of the album. “You Won’t See Me Cry” is a song with beautiful harmonies about putting on a stiff upper lip and pretending to be strong, a relatable enough approach. “Give It Up” shows the group looking through disguises and seeking for honesty and candor from someone who has been flirting with their eyes but acting shy. “This Doesn’t Have To Be Love” shows a somewhat schizoid approach on the part of the ladies for a relationship that they both want and are reluctant to be involved at the same me. “Where Are You?” offers a somber narrative about struggling with the repercussions of child abuse. “Flesh And Blood” offers another ambivalent discussion about a dysfunctional relationship that is not nearly as good as it should be, without reconciliation with a father even if that would not be difficult. “Don’t Take Me Down” discusses the loss of trust that comes from a broken relationship and the resolution not to be let down and taken down again. “All The Way From New York” gives a tale of an unsatisfying long-distance relationship where someone is clearly not trying as hard as the other person, something that is quite relatable. “Fueled For Houston” is an upbeat pop-rock song that shows a somewhat impulsive trip to see a loved one. “Goodbye Carmen” says goodbye to a housekeeper or someone of that sort who is going home to see her family once again, leaving the singers with their good intentions. “Alone” then looks at the sad case of a woman who doesn’t want to be alone but is too timid and shy to go out, showing once again that schizoid approach, warning off a guy who might attempt to seduce her.
This album is a bit of a jarring listen. The production is very much Adult Contemporary, and the vocal harmonies are sweet, but the songs themselves are rather serious and somewhat unpleasant in terms of their subject material. It is as the group took to heart the criticism that their music was too lightweight and instead decided that we needed AC ballads about child abuse, estrangement from one’s father, ambivalent views of relationships where people want love and intimacy but don’t do a good job at letting others close, and the like. This is an album that is undoubtedly personal to the artists themselves, but it is not an easy album to listen to even when one can relate to unsatisfying long distance relationships, ambivalent flirtations, disastrous childhoods, and lives of pretense. It is little wonder that this was not a massively popular album, but hopefully it made the women themselves feel better to have made it.