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Boats Against The Current
Eric Carmen

Arista AB4124
Released: August 1977
Chart Peak: #45
Weeks Charted: 13

Eric CarmenThis is the sort of album people accuse Paul McCartney of making: syrupy romanticism without bite or backbeat. It is not as overtly classical as Carmen's first solo LP -- which went so far as to use a Rachmaninoff piano concerto as a melodic theme -- but it is utterly without the elements we associate with modern pop: emphasized rhythm sections, not guitars, even brass or reeds.

Eric Carmen - Boats Against The Current
Original album advertising art.
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In other bands, eschewing these conventions might have been turned to advantage. But the ubiquitous wash of strings overwhelms almost everything but Carmen's voice and piano, which are strong but have flaws that can't stand so much exposure. Carmen has a pleasant, melodramatic voice, for instance, but he's also a calculated singer without a hint of naturalness. This is especially obvious the few times the album's pattern is broken: "Take It or Leave It" has all of Rod Stewart's posture, but none of his ease; "She Did It" neatly evokes Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys in form but not in feeling. To be this deep into puppy love you need an innocence that Carmen's mannerisms won't allow him.

The lyrics make things worse. Quoting "Row, row, row your boat" at the beginning of the title track is silly enough. But But the rest of the imagery is as overwrought and manipulative as the furnishings of a Holiday Inn. Time and again, Carmen reaches for a major statement -- "For once in my live, I'm gonna do what I think is right," he sings in "I Think I Found Myself" -- but he simply lacks the resources.

This is tragic. Carmen's sense of rock & roll used to be better than this; on the final Raspberries album it was, for a moment, brilliant. That moment was a song called "Overnight Sensation," and it was about his overwhelming passion to have a hit record. The last album's "All by Myself" brought him that, and he's retrenched, hoping to keep his hard-won success, perhaps. Or, maybe he just lacks enough far-reaching vision to sustain him. Whatever, it's an inadequate tradeoff. If this is really that "once in his life," Carmen ought to think twice.

- Dave Marsh, Rolling Stone, 9-22-77.

Bonus Review

Once upon a time, Eric Carmen was a modest young man who had a knack for crafting catchy little homages to Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, and the Brill Building staffers of the Sixties plus a nice little flair for the pop single. Eric is still a modest young man (who, as Churchill put it, has much to be modest about), but now he is suffering from terminal Neil Diamonditis, a particularly nasty syndrome that transforms talented purveyors of pop fluff into artistes. Boats Against the Current is a ghastly example of the results of the disease, consisting as it does almost solely of overblown, Angst-ridden piano-and-orchestra epics that suggest an unholy marriage between Dmitri Tiomkin's film scores and Elton John's very earliest work when he was still pretending to be "sensitive."

Oh, vestiges of the old Eric linger on. "She Did It," practically the only up-tempo thing here (and the only thing that is even close to palatable), shows a strong Beach Boys influence, both melodically and in the production (Bruce Johnston, an actual ex-Beach Boy, chimes in on the vocals, which may explain it). As for the rest of the album... well, I never thought I'd miss the Raspberries, the group Eric fronted when he was healthy, but that's how it makes me feel. As for Eric... take him away, fellas. He'll never rock again.

- Steve Simels, Stereo Review, 12/77.

 Reader's Comments


GREAT album, with two chart hits. "She Did It" is an awesome song.

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