I know what you're thinking: "In a world filled with masterpieces like The White Album, your favorite album is by Joey Lawrence? Whoa!" I also know that in these situations, the benefit of the doubt can go a long way. You probably won't change your mind about the former floppy-haired dreamboat following all this, but I shall press on regardless. If nothing else, it's an excuse for me to talk about my favorite half-decade (the early '90s) -- not to mention dig out my old Blossom tapes. Again, I know what you're thinking, and yes, I have old Blossom tapes.
The early-'90s was a wondrous time, especially on television. Each night our screens were filled with sitcoms featuring lovable, comfortable families. One night we could watch Steve Urkel mess up his chances again with Laura, the next we would wait with baited breath to see what contraption Nick had made for Mallory out of old junk, or to see what was up down at the Lobo. And, if that wasn't good enough, later in the week, we could watch Bob Saget and John Stamos lower their standards for a paycheck, and see Leonardo DiCaprio get locked in a broom closet. There really is nothing like an early-'90s sitcom, is there?
One such show to enchant the world at this time was Blossom, about the trials and tribulations of a teenage girl with questionable fashion sense attempting to make her way in life without her mother, suffering with her musician dad and two brothers instead. The show has endured much public criticism since its cancellation in 1996 (some might say, since its inception), mostly due to the cultural phenomenon it spawned: Joey Lawrence. Say what you will about him, but for a year or two Joey was it. The boy had his own doll, for Chrissakes.
Early in the series, Joey was just the dopey brother, there to make the audience laugh. Later on, however, he became the show's resident beefcake (overnight, it seemed). Suddenly, instead of having him walk into a room, say something funny, followed up with a "whoa!" and then leave, he was being placed in specific situations wearing fewer and fewer clothes. One such instance I can remember involved Joey cleaning car parts in the living room (as you do) so that each time he had to pick up a greasy metal thing, he would flex. It was the studio audience then, who "whoa"-ed. Joey quickly became the ultimate teen dream: a hunky guy with gorgeous Italian features, and the ability to make 15-year-old girls laugh.
Joey Lawrence made his name playing characters in sitcoms called "Joey". In his recent professional life, however, Joey has been credited as "Joseph" in a thinly veiled attempt at gaining a bit of industry cred. Not a good idea. Whether he likes it or not, Joey Lawrence will always be "Joey Lawrence" to fans and, especially, to detractors. We're all so used to it rolling off the tongue that anything else just sounds erroneous, not to mention, pretentious. "Charles" Sheen never took off, and there's no stopping me calling Wahlberg the Younger, anything but Marky Mark. It's just natural is all, no offense intended. If you want audiences to call you by a different name, you gotta get in early. Like Ethan Embry.
But why is Joey Lawrence, The Album, worthy of any praise? Well, the album, released in 1993, was reasonably successful and it did spawn two singles, the jammin' "Nothin' My Love Can't Fix" followed by the obligatory sappy ballad, "Stay Forever". And, the story told on the album is just too good to miss. Beatles fans can have their "Blackbird", I'd rather kick da smoove groove.
What seemed to be, for Joey, the culmination of a life-long dream to record an album, was almost certainly, for his management, a continuation of the marketing storm surrounding the actor and his Blossom cast mates, Mayim Bialik (Blossom) and Jenna Von Oy (her best friend, Six). After all, while the album was in no way directly affiliated Blossom, the video for "Fix" premiered on "a very special episode" of the show, which, incidentally, was also one of the funniest of the series. See, the Russo's (and Six) hold a mini-movie marathon of their own films (Tony's movie, Boy Meets Girl is a classic two minutes of television). At the end of the episode, Joey reclines on the sofa and dreams of his perfect short film, which just happens to be the "Fix" video. Geddit?
"Nothin' My Love Can't Fix" is great example of the bouncy, happy fun that fills up much of Joey's debut release. The album is crammed with tunes all wonderfully innocent and completely danceable. Joey samples a few different genres, mixing hip-hop and rap with your basic pop melody. Every one of these happy songs has a groovy beat and a lively chorus. It all comes together to create a very cool story about a boy's relationship with his summertime girl.
Opening track, "I Can't Help Myself" cements this joyous mood, as Joey sings about his unwillingness to fall in love with the aforementioned lady, but, well, he just can't help himself. Next up on the groove-train is "Justa 'Nother Love Song" in which all those sad, sappy songs on the radio remind Joey just how in love he is with his girl -- but -- it seems she wants to get out. "Girl, why you wanna be free / When everyone's saying we were meant to be." Hmm. Joey refuses to get the hint and "I Like the Way (Kick Da Smoove Groove)" sees him professing his love to the girl by telling her all the things about her that make her special. See, he even made up a dance about her, complete with its own rap, the "smoove groove" of the title. It ends a little something like this:
"Your mama even said it (the dance) was sorta hype But when I showed it to your dad He said, "Boy, you're just too white" And that kinda shocked me 'cause he's actually right".
Witness the album's highlight. Yet, while Joey's self-awareness here in regards to himself is cute, he may just be further damaging his reputation with this girl. The following songs, really, are all dedications to her. "Anything for Love" has Joey telling her he's been acting strange, but that he'd really do anything for her; the deliriously cute "My Girl" is straight-up love-ode to her (wasn't Joey dating Katherine Heigl at this point?); "Night by Night" sees the two getting all sexy and possibly naked, with the line, "Night by night / I get deeper into you"; and lastly, that ballad, "Stay Forever" seals the deal with Joey confessing to her that she's his one and only.
While everything looks rosy, it's not. Soon, Joey finds he and the girl have hit bumpy times. He manages to get all serious on "Where Does That Leave Me" (which is my favourite non-boppin' song on the album, with Joey attempting a more mature ballad, using his sensual vocals with the help of a gorgeous backing sax) when his girl starts question her commitment to him, which seems to be not so good -- "I thought we were strong", he sings, "But now you say you want to be free / But where does that leave me".
It leaves him with the knowledge that she's seeing someone else is where it leaves him. Maybe all his possessive gushing on "My Girl" was too much for her. Or could it be the fact that in the song he likened her, in that song, to a "hot-rod"?
Whatever the problem, Joey pulls her up on her misdeeds on the following track, "The Ways of Love": "First you will and then you won't / You say you need me and then you don't ... you're not in touch with reality". Joey tells her that her leading him on will get them nowhere, that they need to concentrate on "the love that we both can find". He's desperate, and all her manipulation and game playing won't convince him that she's not the one. Poor Joey, let her go! You've given her everything and she still can't stop messin' with you.
By the album's closing track, he's still trying to win her over. On "Read My Eyes", Joey finally sits the girl down and attempts to reason with her. He's just not getting on with life without her. And, you know, being that there are no happy, dance-y tunes after this to let us know the two of them are back in love again, we're left to assume that Joey's romantic side won her back, based on how understanding he is and how willing he is to forgive her shady past: "You've been cold / But I've been blind / I guess the easy love is harder to find ... everything's gonna be all right / If you'll only take my hand" (this being the very sentiment he used to win her in the first place on "Fix").
Or maybe the absence of a happy, dance-y tune following this means that he just gave up on love all together and shot himself in the head.
If neither of these are so, though, and she kept playing him, well, it's Joey's own fault. He should have taken his own advice on the opening song -- this girl was totally a rebound babe and "his mind" did say to "run as fast as [he] can" from her. Can't help yourself, indeed.
You know, I've often said I want to become a big famous Hollywood director so I can cast my favourite old sitcom stars in a big-time movie in an effort to prove to the world how good they really are. Even if "Q." Tarantino already beat me to it. It's not like Joey isn't auditioning his ass off. Consider the following story:
Jeff Anderson (best known as "Randal" from the brilliant Clerks: The Animated Series) was warned against casting "Joey Lawrence" in his directorial debut, Now You Know, even after he nailed both lead roles in his audition. So it seems the only thing Joey is allowed to play now is himself. Or a twisted version of himself as he did in a wildly funny turn in 1999's Desperate But Not Serious.
And that's Joey's problem. Doesn't matter what you change your name to, Joe, Joseph, or Jujubee, you're always going to be "Joey Lawrence: The Whoa Kid" (which is the very reason his appearance in Desperate worked) in yet another case of Hollywood "too-much-too-soon" in which an entire career's worth of dodgy enterprises (read: career choices) are jammed into such a short time. I guess these kids are so blinded by their successes that they can't see the latter-life career damage teen stardom does. They don't seem to know how to learn from the mistakes of others. We no longer see the names "Luke Perry" or "Corey Feldman" (both extraordinary talents when given the right material) on marquees; you'd think somebody would get a clue.
But, I won't hold this against Joey. As I said, the early '90s were such a different time. There were fewer stars back then vying for the hearts of young teenage girls. Making the cover of 16, SuperTeen and The Big Bopper in the same week was considered quite an achievement. Or, at least it impressed me. Nowadays, television isn't what it used to be, and family sitcoms are at an all-time low, or have been substituted entirely for hour-long "innovative" dramas written by David E. Kelley, or featuring New York socialites. Hell, what's left of the sub-genre has undergone radical changes. A lowly Blossom writer would surely have been fired if he'd had Joey licking soot-covered bricks as Malcolm In The Middle's "Reece" did recently.
I may miss the family sitcom, and I may pretend I don't still have every copy of 16 I ever purchased in a box down in my basement, but I happily roll the car windows down and blast a good Joey Lawrence tune into the outside air every now and again. I wouldn't have it any other way. Even if he didn't dump the skanky bitch when he had the chance.