Mr. Mister: Pull

No, it's not a comeback. It's the '80s pop/rock band's 1990 album, finally released after 20 years on the shelf. So does it justify the "Least Essential" award it's already won?

Mr. Mister


Label: RCA
US Release Date: 2010-11-19
UK Release Date: 2010-11-19

Maybe it was the namecheck on Train’s grating hit "Hey Soul Sister". Or maybe it's that major labels, desperate for cash, are emptying the vaults of anything that can possibly be turned into product. Or it's that the 1980s revival has hit a fever pitch, or a perfect storm involving all of the above. Whatever the case, RCA/Legacy has decided to release Mr. Mister's fourth album, Pull, after two decades on the shelf. And less than three months after release, it's already winning awards. Well, at least one award. Pull was named The Onion AV Club's "Least Essential Long-Lost Record by a Band With a Terrible Name". No, this isn't exactly Lifehouse, but don't stop reading here. This is something of a redemption story. Because, against all odds, Pull justifies the belated release, and this without much nostalgia value at all.

If you remember Mr. Mister at all, and few outside a core group of fanatics likely do, it's for the flash-in-the-pan pair of number one hits the band had in the mid-'80s: "Broken Wings" and "Kyrie". Both songs upheld the standard rock production values of the time; that is, synths, big drums, trebly guitars, and more synths. Listen to either today and there's no mistaking which half-decade they were created in. But "Broken Wings" and "Kyrie" also revealed a band that was more thoughtful and atmospheric than many of its contemporaries. All four band members were already accomplished session musicians and singers, and in the handsome, sandy-voiced vocalist/bassist Richard Page, Mr. Mister had an equally-attractive but far less pompous version of Sting.

But Mr. Mister were one of the first of many bands to suffer a phenomenon that was rampant in the music business during the 1990s, as digital technology began to threaten the major labels' stranglehold on the industry. They were victims of the ol' Record Label/A&R Regime Change. In other words, the people who signed them to RCA and supported and promoted them were gone. Some new suits with eyes on the bottom line were in charge. Despite the two smash singles and a number one album, Welcome to the Real World, Mr. Mister never had another major hit. When in 1990 they turned in the less commercial, more sprawling Pull, RCA passed and the band split soon after.

Naturally, Page now describes Pull as a special album, the band's best work. The surprise is he's right. Pull has a few signifiers of its time -- step right up, fretless bass and Yamaha DX-7 and Roland D-50 synth presets! Overall, though, it sounds remarkably contemporary. Mr. Mister ditched most of the sequencers and electronic drums, and indulged their more progressive and jazz fusion tendencies. This may sound like a disaster, but the band kept just enough pop smarts to prevent themselves from going off the rails. Pull abounds with odd time signatures and syncopated rhythms, but it also has tunes. It's almost like a consistent sampler of the prog and jazz-influenced pop sounds of the day.

Imagine Talk Talk's left-field, post-jazz manifesto Spirit of Eden, but done with the intention of creating a million-seller. That's the feeling you get on tracks like "Burning Bridge" and "No Words to Say", with their subtle arrangements and crisply-mixed, kettle-like drums. There are more up-front, energetic moments, too. Opener "Learning to Crawl" is downright powerful, an Eastern-sounding synthesizer leading to a defiant piano arpeggio before the drums and guitars come crashing in. This isn't far from what Yes were doing around that time. Indeed, Yes's Trevor Rabin contributes guitar to Pull. Sure beats Asia, I'll tell you that much. "I Don't Know Why" starts off with a rush of pure Rush, before mellowing out and then picking back up again. "Crazy Boy" has a laid back, Steely Day-type feel, not quite meriting the word "groove" but coming close. The nervous energy of "Close Your Eyes" recalls late-period Police.

As far as pop moments go, "Waiting in My Dreams" and "Lifetime" fit the bill, and the latter is catchy in a good-vibe sort of way. The dramatic "Surrender" gives a nice summary of what Pull is up to, mixing pop, prog, and light world music influences in the way that made Peter Gabriel a superstar. Props to the Procol Harum-style organ, too. Throughout, Price proves to be a capable, easy-on-the-ears vocalist who knows when to just let the music do its thing. The album is sprinkled with some nice harmonies, too.

In a sense, it's not hard to hear why RCA rejected Pull. Any number of tracks would have, and still would, sound good on album-oriented radio, but nothing jumps out and says, "Pop hit!". But the album also suggests Mr. Mister could have had a rich future ahead of them. They had already escaped many of the trappings of the '80s. Ironically, that's why it took another two decades for Pull to see the light of day. It's not essential, but it's far from a laugher. Score it as a pleasant, albeit very late, surprise, then.





Dancing in the Street: Our 25 Favorite Motown Singles

Detroit's Motown Records will forever be important as both a hit factory and an African American-owned label that achieved massive mainstream success and influence. We select our 25 favorite singles from the "Sound of Young America".


The Durutti Column's 'Vini Reilly' Is the Post-Punk's Band's Definitive Statement

Mancunian guitarist/texturalist Vini Reilly parlayed the momentum from his famous Morrissey collaboration into an essential, definitive statement for the Durutti Column.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What Will Come? COVID-19 and the Politics of Economic Depression

The financial crash of 2008-2010 reemphasized that traumatic economic shifts drive political change, so what might we imagine — or fear — will emerge from the COVID-19 depression?


Datura4 Take Us Down the "West Coast Highway Cosmic" (premiere)

Australia's Datura4 deliver a highway anthem for a new generation with "West Coast Highway Cosmic". Take a trip without leaving the couch.


Teddy Thompson Sings About Love on 'Heartbreaker Please'

Teddy Thompson's Heartbreaker Please raises one's spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He's re-joining the world and out looking for love.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Little Protests Everywhere

Wherever you are, let's invite our neighbors not to look away from police violence against African Americans and others. Let's encourage them not to forget about George Floyd and so many before him.


Carey Mercer's New Band Soft Plastics Score Big with Debut '5 Dreams'

Two years after Frog Eyes dissolved, Carey Mercer is back with a new band, Soft Plastics. 5 Dreams and Mercer's surreal sense of incongruity should be welcomed with open arms and open ears.


Sondre Lerche Rewards 'Patience' with Clever and Sophisticated Indie Pop

Patience joins its predecessors, Please and Pleasure, to form a loose trilogy that stands as the finest work of Sondre Lerche's career.


Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom' Has No Bite

Ruben Fleischer's toothless antihero film, Venom is like a blockbuster from 15 years earlier: one-dimensional, loose plot, inconsistent tone, and packaged in the least-offensive, most mass appeal way possible. Sigh.


Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.


Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.


Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.