ALAN PRICE: LIBERTY (1989)
1) Fool's In Love; 2) Everything But Love; 3) Days Like These; 4) Bad Dream; 5) Double Love; 6) Changes; 7) Mania Ureania; 8) Liberty; 9) Say It Isn't True; 10) Free With Me; 11) Man Overboard.
In the 1980s, Alan's musical activity abruptly decreased, which now seems kind of a good thing, given the general inauspiciousness of that decade for veteran rockers. Discographies of that period are vague and contradictory, which probably has to do with the fact that, once his contract with Jet Records had expired, he found himself without a permanent record label, and whenever he did choose to record something, it could only be picked up by some minor team for a very limited release. As far as I can tell, he did manage to put out an album of old folk cover tunes (but also including Dylan's ʽGirl Of (sic!) The North Countryʼ), called Geordie Roots And Branches, in 1982 on a local Newcastle label; and then there's Travellin' Man from 1986, for some reason released on the Jamaica-based Trojan Records and largely consisting of covers of New Orleanian music from Snooks Eaglin to Fats Domino. Good luck finding these in any form — nobody ever thought of properly digitalizing either — but something tells me that you won't miss too much if you never hear Mr. Price digging all the way down to his Geordie roots or confessing his burning love for Louisiana bayous.
The first and only Eighties' album that is available on CD (because that was the way it was originally released) is Liberty. It consists largely of original material (although a re-recording of ʽChangesʼ was still thrown in, probably in the same vain hope of boosting sales a little bit that had already made Alan cheapen his act with the new-and-not-improved ʽHouse Of The Rising Sunʼ at the beginning of the decade), but most of the songs were co-written by Price with guitar player Steve Grant, formerly of the band Top Secret that was managed by Chas Chandler. The band itself only had one LP out in 1981, but apparently, Steve and his brother Pete Grant (on bass) got acquainted with Alan through Chas, and eventually got together as almost equal partners to try and help Alan get back in show business.
The result is pretty much what you'd expect from Price at this point. There seems to be no force in the world that would tear him from his beloved vaudeville and Randy Newmanisms, but just as he was always okay about combining them with contemporary trends in the Seventies (disco etc.), so is he willing to try out some Eighties' clichés here. So get ready for some really plastic and corny electronic keyboards, even cornier electronic echo on the drums, and at least one or two very, very bad songs on the fringe of arena-rock, synth-pop, and hair metal (ʽFree With Meʼ, where Mr. Price confesses that "I really want a woman with me tonight" as if he were Bryan Adams to really awful synths and testosteronic guitar solos).
On the other hand, ten years of relative inactivity have not completely extinguished his songwriting talents, and there's still a nice stack of good taste that cannot be totally hidden from view by corny arrangements. The record is bookmarked by two catchy, fun pop rockers — ʽFool's In Loveʼ is harmless danceable vaudeville, and ʽMan Overboardʼ, despite the grim title, is an upbeat, ʽDon't Stopʼ-like power pop number whose charm largely consists of making you sing "throw me down another line, this man's overboard" as if you were celebrating rather than panicking. In between, there's decent New Orleanian R&B (ʽEverything But Loveʼ), a surprisingly gripping funk rocker with a "girl we gotta get out of this place" message (ʽBad Dreamʼ), and a completely unexpected baroque-pop number about the illusion of liberty (title track) with orchestration straight out of 1967 — probably the only song here that would feel well at home on any of the records from his classic period.
That does not mean that the record should have included boring adult contemporary balladry like ʽDouble Loveʼ, or a completely unnecessary eight-minute long Epic Cover of Jackson Browne's ʽSay It Isn't Trueʼ, or the energy-wasting New Wave rocker ʽMania Ureaniaʼ; nor does it mean that it is, in any way, an improvement over his middle-of-the-road albums from 1976 to 1980, although it does seem to have a higher percentage of «socially conscious» tunes than any of those. But this is by-the-book social consciousness, not really supported by equal feeling within the music, and, as I said, only the title track truly gives away the same sensitive, emotional Alan Price who used to be such an enchanting spokesman for the North. Overall, quite listenable and suffering much less from Eighties' overproduction than it could, and Steve Grant makes a decent songwriting (if not necessarily guitar-playing) partner for the man, but certainly not the kind of «big comeback» that could be hoped for after ten years of near-silence.