The Hungry Years
Released: September 1975
Chart Peak: #16
Weeks Charted: 32
Certified Gold: 12/18/75
The Hungry Years, an agreeable followup to Sedaka's Back, further demonstrates the vitality of the Brill Building tradition of music making which Sedaka exemplified during the fallow half-decade before Beatlemania. One of the least pretentious exponents of early Sixties Clearasil rock, Sedaka's comeback has helped reassert the idea of the pop album as a collection of thematically unrelated material. Like Elton John, who informally promoted his reemergence, Sedaka is far more concerned that a pop album work as entertainment than as "art." The Hungry Years features 11 songs, most of them collaborations by Sedaka with Phil Cody and Howard Greenfield, whose simple tunes, skillfully coproduced by Sedaka and Robert Appère, add up to an enjoyable collection of possible singles for other artists as well as Sedaka.
The best uptempo cuts, "Tit for Tat" and especially "Bad Blood" (with background vocals by Elton John), engage as Elton John-style rockers with a lighter touch. The ballads -- "New York City Blues," "The Hungry Years" and "Stephen" (an adoring fan letter to Stephen Foster's ghost) -- are plaintively appealing but never maudlin. Sedaka doesn't take their nostalgia any more seriously than it deserves to be taken. If Foster's musical style is barely discernible in "Stephen," so too, Sedaka's application of R&B and gospel elements on "Lonely Night (Angel Face)" and "When You Were Lovin' Me" seems intentionally artificial. Sedaka's singing is perfectly consistent with his material -- dry, energetic and detached, allowing just the right amount of pathos. It is a mark of Sedaka's all-around craftsmanship that the resetting of one of his biggest hits, "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do," as a cabaret torch song should work almost as well as the original.
- Stephen Holden, Rolling Stone, 11/20/75.
During the tumid height of rock, the arbiters of pop culture would, every once in a while, cast a snigger or two back over their shoulders at the then-recent past (the late Fifties and early Sixties) when trying to sum up something as beneath notice and would label it "Neil Sedaka stuff." They, of course, had a copy or two of the Berkeley Barb or Stone around and knew that at last Lumpenproletariat had found their real means of musical expression, and that most of what had gone on before was, au fond, only a commercial rip-off of these little people's little hopes and dreams and fears (meanwhile grandly ignoring in their midst such prole-pleasers as the Monkees). It was during this period of Heavy Thinking -- and even weightier prose -- that Sedaka's reputation and record sales began to resemble those of Kate Smith's.
But lo! The last couple of years have seen Sedaka not only bounce back but almost shazam back to the top of the charts with one hit song after another. (Well, things aren't quite the same at Berkeley as they were a few years ago, either. It's interesting to note that whereas psychology was the most sought-after degree for almost a decade, economics has now replaced it. Hmm.) Sedaka's new album is almost a textbook exercise in the art of the really popular song. His viewpoint has toughened a little ("Tit for Tat"), in one song ("Bad Blood"), chillingly so, and he skitters lightly over some social issues ("New York City Blues"), but he still remains a vastly gifted pop entertainer. Even his wistful, sad-sweet "The Hungry Years," a song about the closeness that hard times can bring to a couple and the regret of success ("With everything and nothing too/ It wasn't worth the price we had to pay"), has the universal appeal of a soap-opera situation. Corny as hell, but also damned true. He finishes up here with his golden oldie from 1962, "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do," and he sounds exactly the same as he did all those years ago -- when I couldn't stand him. (Yes, dear reader, I too went through a Meaningful Phase.) The voice -- well, let's just say that it's unique, couldn't be anyone else but Sedaka, and seems to suit his communicative purposes, and let it go at that. But don't let this album go by -- it's worth several listens, if only to hear Sedaka's self-effacing mastery of his own material.
- Peter Reilly, Stereo Review, 2/76.
Last year's comeback of the year was no fluke, for this set of fresh material is really quite an improvement over the blend of three British LPs that made up Sedaka's Back, The artist is and has been for years one of the finest and perhaps most overlooked pop writers as well as one of its most dynamic performers. With this grouping of rockers and ballads, some of his in-person dynamics come across on record for the first time. "Bad Blood" is a truly classic rock song, while the ballads, backed up by the lush string arrangements of Richard Carpenter and the production of Sedaka and Robert Appere are love songs in the best tradition of pop. Another plus here: We get the best of the new Sedaka but we also find some of the sounds as well as one of the songs that made him such a major star in the '50s and '60s. A child of rock, Sedaka is one of the few who have grown up with the music. Best cuts: "Lonely Night (Angel Face)," "Stephen," "Bad Blood," "Tit For Tat," "When You Were Lovin' Me," "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do" (a completely revamped version), "The Hungry Years" (a beautiful song).
- Billboard, 1975.
Modes of integrity: Sedaka's Back, compiled from two-plus English albums, sounded organic, while this star-time El Lay session sounds homogenized. Neil's voice has changed -- the light girl-groupy moments have turned bitchy and the sentimentality is thick with incipient sobs. Figure best-ofs are his natural element and remember that only, if he goes away can he come back again. C+
- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.
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