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Stephen Bishop

ABC 1082
Released: September 1978
Chart Peak: #35
Weeks Charted: 19
Certified Gold: 12/7/78

Stephen BishopStephen Bishop's second album is so ambitious and self-assured that it's easy to overlook the chances it takes. For a start, there's that swelling snippet, "If I Only Had a Brain" (from The Wizard of Oz), which begins the record. This is the gauntlet -- or kid glove -- Bishop throws down to us: sneer at the sentiment behind such a lovely tune, he seems to be saying, and you're not someone I want to reach anyway.

Stephen Bishop - Bish
Original album advertising art.
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It's just this mixture of sentiment and aggressiveness that pervades Bish and makes it so intriguing a pop disc. Bishop is downright compulsive about this sweet melancholy, and seeks to describe and act out its more evanescent details. As orchestras both real and synthesized swirl around him, the singer reveals his feathery desires ("Looking for the Right One," "Vagabond from Heaven"), swoony reactions ("I've Never Known a Nite like This") and hard-earned, wistful wisdom ("When I Was in Love").

Yet all this romantic self-absorption is rarely wimpy and never tedious or passive, because Stephen Bishop's gooey themes carry the force of obsession, and his music the pull of good, sharp pop. Bishop's voice -- thin, high and meticulous in its phrasing -- serves his sensitive-preppie persona perfectly. If his melodies often start sluggishly, their choruses and bridges just as frequently lift the songs to dreamy peaks, as "Losing Myself in You" and the lush "When I was in Love" prove.

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Bish is much softer and more whimsical than Bishop's debut LP, and it places him in competition with a raft of extravagant singer/songwriters like Barry Manilow, Eric Carmen and Andy Pratt. By virtue of his intensity and sweep, Bishop has already surpassed Manilow, but has yet to infuse his music with the melodic drive and uniform quality of, say, last year's James Taylor record, JT.

Still, Stephen Bishop is well on his way, and he possesses something that all of his exemplars lack: a serenely nutty sense of humor. Check out the title song he's written for the National Lampoon's Animal House soundtrack. You'd never catch Eric Carmen being this funny.

- Ken Tucker, Rolling Stone, 11/2/78.

Bonus Review!

The long-awaited followup to Careless, Bishop's Top 40 debut album, again mixes pretty ballads with uptempo pop tunes that have distinctive humorous touches. The opening cut is a lush string arrangement of "If I Only Had A Brain" from The Wizard Of Oz, while another cut, dedicated to the cowriter of the Oz score, features munchkin-like sounds. Backup musicians include Chaka Khan, Art Garfunkel, Natalie Cole, Mike McDonald and Ray Parker. The punchy, full orchestrations include string arrangements by Artie Butler, Marty Paich and Gene Page. Bishop has developed a strong flair for contemporary pop, with an appeal that extends from adult contemporary to Top 40, and should also include some album-oriented play. Best cuts: "Everybody Needs Love," "Looking For The Right One," "Losing Myself In You," "When I Was In Love."

- Billboard, 1978.

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