[29 November 2011]
Canadian soft-rock practitioner Craig Ruhnke left behind the Toronto-based Groovin’ Company of the late ‘60s, had a few modest solo hits, launched his own Pinnacle label, and eventually signed with A&M. This trio of releases chronicles Ruhnke’s output between 1979 and 1984. It’s pure soft-rock (sans reverie) with approximations of Barry Manilow, Exile, Firefall, and The Beach Boys on an off night. It’s hard to listen to this material in the contemporary setting as it all sounds horribly dated, covered in the fuzzy haze of late ‘70s FM pop, when the music lost any sense of irony at the very moment that it probably needed it most.
The promotional-only release The Craig Ruhnke Band highlights this problem via “Why Don’t You Come Up and See Me Sometime”, which should have been a novelty cabaret piece but lacks any sense of humor and fails to acknowledge the camp elements inevitable in revisiting older forms. “It’ll Take Time” was perhaps best suited for a career as a 30-second jingle but was instead carried to full term and emerged as a two-minute-plus song. “It’s Time To Fall In Love” is laughable love song treachery that makes Peter Frampton’s “I’m In You” sound like a Shakespearian masterpiece. Three “bonus” tracks augment the original 12: a wan Eagles copy “Daisy May”, a putrid synth-laden “Dancin’ At Midnight”, and more soft rock mind rot (“Somebody To Love”).
1982’s Just Like Old Times is a painfully earnest record that suffers from more dated production and a penchant for mimicking the, er, cream of the era’s soft-rock crop. To his credit, Ruhnke’s songwriting, such as it is, had improved by this release. Although the lyrics still lean on cloying sentimentality and cliché, the material is not as overtly derivative and under-developed as on the 1979 release. Four bonus tracks round out this collection, including the gospel-inflected “Hold Me Now”, a track replete with frosty synthesizers and programmed drums; there’s also “A Lighthouse In The Storm” and two other forgettable afterthoughts—“Love’s A Celebration” and “Put It In A Love Song”.
1984’s Keep The Flame offers more of the same, albeit with softer, more anonymous sounds perhaps created not so much to be listened to as heard in the scant distance of a dentist’s office or while pumping gas. That said, “It’s Been Such A Long Time” features the artist’s best vocal performance across these three reissues, although that’s like trying to choose your favorite diarrhea episode during your last flu bout.
It’s hard to imagine that there’s a legitimate audience for these reissues or that their excavation from the deepest, darkest recesses of time was really necessary. In truth, some records deserve to find their final resting place, to rot in eternity, without having their sleep disturbed. These albums are perfect examples. Avoid by any means necessary.