18 Til I Die, by Bryan Adams
In 1996, five years after the release of his last studio album, Bryan Adams released 18 Til I Die, an album that marked a crisis of sorts for the Canadian rocker. The album itself was a moderate success in sales, going platinum, and it spawned several minor hits in the United States and around the world. In terms of its contents, the album itself tried to position Bryan Adams as a rock act that was able to appeal to the desires of youth culture to remain young forever. Yet the songs from the album that caught on the most were not the rock songs but were the ballads that appealed to a far different audience. If there is any album that marks the schizophrenic appeal that Bryan Adams had to different audiences–both somewhat meatheated rock and sensitive balladry–this album is certainly a stellar example. But is the album any good, when listened to after all these years?
18 Til I Die begins with its first single, “The Only Thing That Looks Good On Me Is You,” a somewhat immature but also funny song about the narrator’s lack of confidence in sartorial elegance. “Do To You” is an upbeat call for reciprocity in doing to a partner what she does to him. “Let’s Make A Night To Remember” is a lovely but somewhat basic ballad that expresses the narrator’s desire to have a wonderful night of lovemaking with his partner. The title track then expresses the narrator’s desire to act like he is young forever even though he knows he will not live forever, and it’s hard to tell whether this is a threat or a promise or a bit of both in terms of refusing to mature and grow up. “Star,” a song taken from the soundtrack to Jack, is a heartfelt reflection on the tendency of the young to wish upon a star for a better life. “(I Wanna Be) Your Underwear” returns to theme of clothing by pointing how a guy wants to be next to the private parts of his partner. “We’re Gonna Win” is a competitive song that doesn’t last long but is filled with self-aggrandizing athletic cliches about victory. “I Think About You” is another romantic ballad about the narrator’s fond thoughts of his loved one. “I’ll Always Be Right There,” continues the romantic theme about the narrator being constant and faithful to his partner. “It Ain’t A Party – If You Can’t Come ‘Round” is a party-hard anthem about how parties aren’t nearly as much fun if others go beyond their abilities to cope with it. “Black Pearl” is a song that appears to be channeling the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar” in its praise of a black beauty who is the narrator’s type of girl. “You’re Still Beautiful To Me” follows this with another praise of a consistent lover that seeks to give her faith that she is still beautiful after all this time they have been together. The album then ends with “Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman?,” a #1 hit and love ballad from Don Juan Demarco that had been released about a year before the album came out.
This album is a frustrating one to listen to. It is by no means a bad album, and there are a few songs that are very good, but it’s so tonally inconsistent that listening to it in order all at once is not as enjoyable an experience as most Bryan Adams albums are before this. This album really shows Adams in a period of crisis–he wants to retain his popularity, wants to appeal to the young, and wants to maintain his core audience, but doing all of these things in the same albums is just too much to handle. When one sees that this album is thirteen tracks and took five years to make, the problems are all the more obvious. Adams was trying to square the circle, showing that he could rock with the kids of the 1990’s in the same way that he rocked with those a decade younger, but instead he sings a bunch of silly songs about being immature. This rampant immaturity then undercuts the sincerity of the love ballads which are the strongest material here, especially since they are often put back to back with each other. All of this creates an album that is unfortunately very tonally dissonant.