Good evening and welcome to Lounge-A-Rama night at the luxurious Motel 6 in downtown Dayton, New Jersey. Tonight we’ll be featuring the song stylings of Fred Stein The Experiment (is that correct without a colon?) who will be wowing you with 17 tunes from his new album Between Lost and Found. Feel the chills run down your spine as chanteuse Kari Miles sings Fred’s lyrics, echoing his emotions word for word. Or as Fred himself would put it:
“The concept of this CD is an ambitious attempt to reflect the mirror image of all of us. The lyrics span the spectrum dealing with heroic romanticism, every day life, and novelty songs. There are melodic and catchy tunes that are about money, shopping, Christmas, working, love, and one cool cat. All of us dream and all of us exist in reality. We are all somewhere in between lost and found.”
You probably get the gist of this by now. Lounge rock at its tackiest and most economically produced. This was probably not Stein’s intentions, but all it takes is one look at the back sleeve photo of Fred decked out in a red tiger print shirt, some sunglasses that look like they were hip maybe 16 years ago and Stein giving us the thumbs-up sign with his guitar perched in his lap in front of a backdrop that looks like a Sears photo studio special, and Between Lost and Found becomes increasingly hard to take seriously.
The music is no better than the visuals. The tracks sound like they were recorded at one of those “studios” that you might find at your local amusement park that allow you to come in and sing one of the latest hits or favorite oldie on the radio, and feature absolutely no bottom at all. Anytime the letter S is sung, the songs begin to hiss. So be prepared to adjust your treble controls with this one. Oh yeah, and then there’s Kari Miles who could surely be one of the best cocktail crooners of all time.
“All you do is take, take, take / Givin’ you money is a big mistake / You’re gonna get none, none, none, none-none-none-none / None nuh-nuh-none-none-none (repeat) / Do I look like a bank to you? / Well, I’m broke! / Thanks to you (repeat goofy chorus)”. Yes, these rocking sentiments are all just part of the first song, “You’re Going to Get None” while Fred and band do a version of rock that’s more sterile than a fresh box of Band-Aids. You know, the kind of “rock” that is safe for those who believe it’s all devil infested!
Or something in that vein. In “He Will Never Change”, a soap opera-like piano glides about playing a bittersweet melody as Miles sings “He cheats on you, he mistreats you / Yet you believe him when he says . . . he’ll change / Run away from him and don’t look back / He’s a runaway train headed . . . off the track.” This is the kind of thing that gets written when someone takes those community college songwriter workshop kind of classes. How much was Miles paid to sing stuff so trite? You can feel her faking it in “A New Me” as a flute chirps happily in the background while she decrees “They like to tell me how to live / They always take, I always give / Thought I had to compromise / But no longer do I have to live their lies / There’s gonna be a new me! / Show the world what I can be!” These songs are seriously bad, kids. Although they might do well on the Trinity Broadcast Network or QVC.
Just think, though. There are 17 of them in all to trudge through. Stein offers us more nuggets of genius in “The World is Changing (“The world is changing, people / And it’s not gonna wait . . . it’s not gonna wait!”), “Run” (“Anytime you have a problem / Anytime when things get too tough / Anytime you have a problem / You just . . . run away / You don’t know how to deal with it / You take apart my heart . . . bit by bit”), and then gets as offensive as possible with the nadir of elevator rock, “Summit”. All of these tracks feature a Miami Vice kind of plastic consistency that is eked out on cheap synthesizers and the worst guitar parts this side of Survivor.
Stein himself takes the lead vocals on “She’s the Shopper” and “Working Hard” (“I was hired to work 8:30 to 5 / But I work 60 hours just to survive”), while Miles reclaims the vocal spotlight for the muffled “Working All the Time” and “Love Is the Answer” that sound like they were recorded in a bag of cotton balls. And as for that concept regarding this disc — who cares? If you can stay awake long enough to actually listen to the words, or not stop laughing when you finally do, chances are you won’t even notice that there is a concept.
Between Lost and Found ends as miserably as it began with “Luna Tuna”. “Luna, luna, luna, luna / Come and get your can of tuna / It’s goin’ to send you to the moon-a / Luna, luna, luna, luna / Who’s the coolest cat you ever did see? / Luna! / And who’s the cutest cat you ever did see? / Luna!” sings Stein as cheap electronic drums stumble in the background and Fred’s double tracked vocals waver in and out of tune. So far so bad.
Fred Stein’s music certainly is an “experiment”: one gone horribly awry. Between Lost and Found would be better off being lost altogether. It’s been a while since I’ve heard an album produced so poorly from song to song and lyrics as first grade as these, but Fred Stein certainly takes the cake. Even his jokes on the sleeve notes are bad. There, the fact that the disc was “made in New Jersey” is mentioned, followed by Fred’s “You got a PROBLEM with that?” Ouch. That one hurt my side. But not nearly as bad as Fred Stein The Experiment and Between Lost and Found hurt my ears.