Doug Fieger. Berton Averre. Prescott Niles. Bruce Gary. The four original members of the Knack were certainly one of the goofiest looking bunches in rock's history. Fieger alone had a visage that'd make Pete Townshend look like a Gap model. And the clothes: all wearing matching suits and jackets like rejected Fab Four knockoffs.
Which is, of course, what the Knack was pegged as when it first emerged from Los Angeles' Sunset Strip in the late '70s. Melding hook-laden melodies and shiny guitars with punchy rock, the Knack did, indeed, beg comparisons to that Liverpool foursome. It also, however, had just as much to owe to the tight snap of the Kinks and the minimalist rock bombast of the Who.
It was the sound that would carry the band through their total of five studio albums. More opportune than original, and while entertaining in its own right, it didn't break any new ground -- which is why now, over 25 years since the release of the band's first album, probably isn't the best time to go releasing a "live" album and trying to get hep again.
Their first album, 1979's Get the Knack, was a great commercial success for the band. By many accounts, its unabashed playfulness and pure, rockin' kitsch reawakened a pop scene that had lain dormant 'neath a woolen blanket of stage theatrics and 12-minute rock songs for years. In addition to containing the ubiquitous "My Sharona" and the very-nearly-nauseating "Good Girls Don't", Get the Knack contained a number of pop-connoisseur classics. Rockers such as "Your Number or Your Name" and "Siamese Twins (The Monkey and Me)" proved the band could switch between Cheap Trick-esque abandon and Stones pensiveness with equal facility, while "Oh Tara" was the kind of bouncy love pulp you'd expect to hear on an early Beach Boys album. The album was catchy. People caught on.
But all those people who had "gotten the Knack" backlashed against the band when it released the supremely self-consciously titled ". . . But the Little Girls Understand" less than a year later. The band, unwilling to interview and possessing an unshakable aura of sugary dorkiness, had apparently alienated its fan base in less than one year's time. 1982's Round Trip, though displaying a willingness to experiment with new technologies and complex sounds, fared worse, and the Knack broke up soon after.
In 1991, the band got back together to record Serious Fun, an utter flop which yielded one radio hit, the sappy "One Day at a Time". Then suddenly, "My Sharona" appeared on the film Reality Bites in 1994, and everyone once again wanted to "get the Knack". Or probably more correctly, everyone wanted to get the compilations and greatest hits albums "My Sharona" appeared on. It didn't matter to the Knack. The Knack was swept up in the retro revival of the '90s, and in 1998, they released Zoom, an album now only available as a Japanese import. Then in 2001, they released another, Normal as the Next Guy, that also failed to make an impression on the world. It seemed no one was "getting the Knack" after all.
Which is not to say that the Knack made bad music. Entertaining, yes. Cloying, yes. But bad, no. Unfortunately for the Knack, the band's a bunch of dorks, their name's been irreversibly reduced to a bullet on uncountable "super '70s" compilations, and when you build your career on the fact that you wrote the perfect pop song ("My Sharona") over 25 years ago -- well, you're bound to fail.
So now, in an apparent attempt to cash in on the kitsch the band's so lovingly fostered all these years, Live from the Rock 'n' Roll Fun House is released. Live from the Rock 'n' Roll Fun House the album is really nothing more than a companion piece to Live from the Rock 'n' Roll Fun House the DVD, which in itself is something of a sick self-parody of the band's image and that dorkiness that plays such a vital role in it.
The premise goes like this: The "Rock 'n' Roll Fun House" is a fictional '70s television variety show a la Ed Sullivan, in which the Knack dominates the program to a fault and regales the audience with only its greatest hits (obscurities don't figure here -- this is the "Rock 'n' Roll Fun House", damnit! Obscurities aren't fun!). Filmed in front of a live audience in yada yada yada.
The truth is, the whole concept is a high-falutin' swindle, the type of pablum that corporate-sponsored rock concerts and Bud/Coors/Miller "microbrews" try to pass down the consumer's throat as "the real thing" every day. If a rock fan wants to see a live show, he'll go see it. If he wants to see it on DVD, he'll buy a live show on DVD. And if he wants to see his favorite old band on stage, then he'll either A) go see them live, or B) buy a DVD of them playing live. Legitimately. And not in a put-on set under goofy circumstances playing only the hits people want to hear. Nobody likes to be patronized, and that's what this album is. If you were feeling blue and someone tried to foist a baby blanket onto you and cooing, it would be pretty much the same effect.
Of course, the album version of the DVD acts pretty much as a "greatest hits, live" album. But it still retains that coddling flavor, the band saying, "here, this goes down easy -- take it slow, and relaaaaxxxx." No one wants that, not the fans, and not the casual listener. When you buy a greatest hits album, you know what you're going for, what you're getting yourself into. Not this one. With this one, you get Barney the Dinosaur and the Good Ship Lollipop, to boot. It's still a decent greatest hits album, but it'll never shake that flavor of schmaltz, like melted Popsicle on a vinyl couch on a hot summer's day.
Hmm. A lot like the Knack.
Do you "get the Knack"?