Book of Dreams
The Steve Miller Band
Released: May 1977
Chart Peak: #2
Weeks Charted: 68
Certified Platinum: 6/10/77
There are so many nice things you could say about the new Steve Miller album. You could say, for instance, that it sounds great turned way up loud, with its full-tilt rhythms propelling you into some kind of bright crystal space. You could talk about how open the sound is, how porous and rich, and how sunny and downright friendly MIller's voice sounds. You could rap endlessly about the skillful use of modern recording technique to achieve exciting textural effects. But the important thing to say, and it ought to be done straightaway, is how dazzlingly appropriate this music would be if it were coupled with some videotape of West Coast hang gliders used for a Pepsi commercial.
To those who have been dismayed by the progress of the Beach Boys' more or less grotesque attempts at a creative comeback, the recent commercial success of such journeymen survivors as Peter Frampton, Fleetwood Mac and Steve Miller is a heartening sign. It means that laid-back rock and no-thought lyrics can still be had in something other than the dude-ranch space-out of such L.A. hustlers as Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles. What is at stake is the future of open-highway rock. The success of Frampton, Mac and Miller -- especially Mac and Miller -- means the genre is not being abandoned to the cosmic cowpokes.
Miller has a strong nesting instinct. His idea of fun is apparently a combination of rural isolation and independence and happy domesticity. As the title of an album that's mostly filled with songs about love, his Book of Dreams is not much different from a hope chest. In "Swingtown," he coos, "Come on and dance/Let's make some romance." In "Jet Airliner" and "My Own Space" (neither of them his own compositions, it's true) he sings about the need for a home and the pain of leaving it. Then there's "True Fine Love," in which he really alters his pitch: "So come on pretty baby," he sings this time, "we're going to raise a family."
This pretty well sums up what Miller has to say. Most of his energies have apparently gone into the sound, and with good results. At its best, Miller's music has always been rich, clipped and characterized by a powerful forward momentum not unlike Fleetwood Mac's. At its worst -- when he was hampered by a schizoid image, a revolving-door band and the all-too-apparent absence of any purpose to his work -- it was sloppy, aimless and dull. But Miller began to pull himself out of his slump with The Joker in 1973, and thereafter he took steps to ensure that things went right.
This is logical. Fly Like an Eagle and Book of Dreams are essentially twin albums, mostly recorded during the three-year period that followed The Joker. Fly Like an Eagle is maybe a little stronger -- several of the songs on Book of Dreams were written by current or former Steve Miller Band members -- but even that is debatable. There's the same steady self-assurance here, the same easy confidence that made Fly Like an Eagle so easy to enjoy. Miller obviously knows exactly what he's doing. Every production decision -- as usual, he's produced himself -- was made to maximize the dramatic impact of the deep, easy roll that powers most of these songs. The producer's touch is light and sure; it brightens the sound and stretches its spatial dimensions. Miller's voice, open and adolescent as ever, comes through fresh and bouncy. All this gives songs like "Swingtown" and "True Fine Love" and "Jet Airliner" the kind of simple-minded but irresistible appeal that's so essential to Miller's style.
What Miller gained during his three-year absence from the music scene was the security to drop his masks. Fly Like an Eagle was the first album on which he did not hide behind the kind of persona he ridiculed and apparently laid to rest with The Joker. What's emerged instead is the image of a "real" Steve Miller -- a jocular outdoorsman who's thinking about giving up his Ferrari (according to People) for a tractor. The real Steve Miller just wants to settle down and raise kids and live in bucolic splendor and have it seem as much fun as hang gliding. So do millions of his peers. It's nice they're getting together.
- Frank Rose, Rolling Stone, 7-14-77.
There are both pleasing and vexing aspects to this album. What is vexing is MIller's habit of tacking "preludes" onto many of the cuts, using such sound-effect gew-gaws as speed warps, echo-chamber stuff, and synthesizer flapdoodle. I suppose these are intended as cues for the faithful -- the folks who consider the Miller outfit Significant, not just a fairly canny rock band.
Once past this claptrap, the songs are occasionally effective. "Sacrifice" and "The Stake" are low-key with jazz-blues arrangements, and "True Fine Love" has a campy arrangement loosely based on a period riff from the halcyon days of commercial rock -- something you might have heard on an Inez Foxx or Gladys Knight single fifteen years ago. Generally the tunes are interestingly constructed, though the lyrics are often puerile, sometimes vulgar.
While the performances are facile -- and sometimes better than that -- the album as a whole is spotty. The band plays as if they have a reputation to protect. Trying not to do anything to imperil it, they don't do anything to justify it either.
- Joel Vance, Stereo Review, 10/77.
Miller is in impeccable and irresistible form as a maker of commercial rock hits in the follow-up album to the platinum Fly Like An Eagle with its three smash singles. Again the cheerful singer and flashy guitarist produces his own immaculate package of variedly hard driving and lushly balladic songs by himself and other top writers. The first single, "Jet Airliner," has all the catchy bustle of his No. 1 "Rockin' Me." Miller is a virtuoso of pleasure-giving accessible rock. He also experiments here with fascinating synthesizer effects and interludes. There are sad songs and humorous songs that reflect the best of every genre he has worked in. Best cuts: "Jet Airliner," "Winter Time," "My Own Space," "The Stake."
- Billboard, 1977.
This one avoids significance as aggressively as a Coca-Cola commercial (unless "My Own Space" counts). And thanks to the sidemen's songs, it isn't as catchy as a Coca-Cola commercial. Not to mention Fly Like an Eagle. B-
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
Recorded at the same time as Fly like an Eagle, this album repeated the same formula, with the same big results. Hits included "Jet Airliner" (a slight reworking of an old R&B tune by Paul Pena), "Jungle Love," and "Swingtown." * * * *
- Rick Clark, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.
Book of Dreams was actually recorded at the same sessions as Fly Like an Eagle and released a year later. * * * *
- Joel Selvin, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.
Miller recorded the bulk of Book Of Dreams at the same sessions that had yielded the previous year's Fly Like An Eagle, at the CBS studios, California. Most of the songs on the albums had been written when Miller took a break from touring and retreated to a remote corner of Marin County, California, where he built a home recording studio. Also like its 1976 predecessor, Book Of Dreams became a multi-platinum seller, peaking at Number Two in the US and providing a Number Eight Hot 100 single in "Jet Airliner." His twelfth album also proved popular in the UK with Book Of Dreams just falling by one position to match the 1976 breakthrough in reaching Number 12.
While it could be argued that Miller was doing nothing particularly new -- the bubbling synthesizer of opener "Threshold" is not especially original, while the "Jet Airliner" single is as standard a track as one could wish to hear -- there is an indefinable magic to his music. Miller deserves his success for his role in introducing his San Francisco blues-rock to a wider progressive audience.
As of 2004, Book Of Dreams was the #75 best-selling album of the 70s.
- Hamish Champ, The 100 Best-Selling Albums of the 70s, 2004.
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