There are some bands that have long and fabled careers. Artists who consistently top themselves or, at the very least, continually put out good work. We spend a lot of time talking about the greatness of these bands without putting much thought into the other guys, the guys who seemingly use their lifetime’s worth of creative force just to create one memorable song and then were banished into the void after a few weeks on the charts. Sometimes these bands go on to write 6(!) more albums; sometimes those bands are called The Outfield, and sometimes I listen to them to see where it all went horribly wrong.
The 80’s seemed to produce a lot of one hit wonders. Perhaps it was the cocaine, the neon, or the terrible hair that kept distracting people, but the 80’s ran through bands like Donald Trump goes through spray tan. In recent years some of those bands have been given a second look by a younger generation and heralded as more than just their hit single (Duran Duran did more than “Hungry Like the Wolf” and people will kill you if you talk shit, apparently). One band that has yet to receive that kind of second chance is The Outfield. You know them for writing possibly the greatest 80’s song of all time “Your Love” and probably not much else. Today I will investigate their, uh…seminal debut album Play Deep to see if these gentlemen were really pop rock luminaries who were unfairly buried by the sands of time.
As opener “Say it Isn’t So” kicks on I’m immediately impressed. “How was this not a hit!?” I say to myself, but google quickly tells me that it actually kind of was and reached #18 on the US Mainstream Rock chart. I choose not to believe it though because the internet is bullshit and those kinds of facts don’t fit my worldview or the narrative I’m trying to create here, so I continue listening to the anthemic chorus of “Say It Isn’t So” and refrain from making a Weezer joke. Up next is the classic “Your Love.” I will give all one hit wonder bands this: Their sequencing on albums is brilliant. One pretty catchy song, the hit, then all of the rest that nobody will listen to. They lull you in, give you what you want, then run away screaming with your cash as you try to figure out who poured this molten fire garbage in noise receptacles.
As I arrive at song 3 I am shocked to discover that I’m actually enjoying this a lot more than I thought I would. Am I still just riding high from the righteousness of “Your Love”? Or is this the point in my life where I realize that I am a legitimate garbage person? ARE THE OUTFIELD CHANGING MY LIFE RIGHT NOW? I’m shaking, partially from fear and partially from rage. I silently hope that this album turns into trash soon because there is simply no way I can live my life non-ironically defending an album by The Outfield. It’s just no way to live. Luckily the next song answers my prayers.
“Everytime You Cry” is a massive step down in quality akin to falling off of a plateau and managing to land in the only pile of wildebeest dung in your immediate vicinity. This is telegraphed from the start as the song opens with the standard issue reverb laden, jangly guitars and synth backing. The drums roll in just before the rest of the band and you know exactly what to expect. This is every 80’s ballad you’ve ever heard, but made so much more formulaic and boring. Imagine if Night Ranger let a group of soulless replicants who weren’t any good at music write “Sister Christian” and you’re on the right track.
If I’m being honest, I completely forgot what the next two tracks were. I must have spaced out due to boredom or an overdose of generic 80s pap, but I was confused for a few minutes as to why I had skipped from track 4 to track 7. The key to time travel is not a flux capacitor, but the deep cuts of The Outfield. “All the Love” picks up a little momentum with a decent chorus and not much else. It’s the following track, “Talk to Me,” where they bring out another infectious jam that makes me question if I’m really just a sentient pile of turds.
I can’t help but wonder if The Outfield really has my best interest in mind, as right after making me feel horrible about myself they unleash the worst song on the album. “Taking My Chances” sounds like the blueprint for Simple Plan. It’s the unholiest matrimony of vintage pop rock and pop punk vocals, almost as if someone had tossed them in a blender after misunderstanding that you wanted the bands themselves thrown into the blender. The grand finale, “Nervous Alibi,” opens with what could easily pass for the intro riff to any thrash song of the same era. Luckily for me and the 13 other people who have managed to make it this far into this album, this riff is roughly 80% of the song. There is one brief moment of respite from this funeral dirge where it feels like things might finally go off the rails into some gnarly Steve Vai wankery, but that hope is extinguished in record time as the song returns to its natural form of slowly rotting apple and fades away into oblivion.
In the end, it may be a little unfair to label The Outfield as a “one hit wonder.” They clearly had at least 2 hits with a third waiting in the wings where it eventually died. They do offer exactly what you expect though: A few memorable sing-along numbers peppered in quite a bit of unremarkable dreck. Is it any surprise then that their legacy boils down to the popularity of “Your Love”? Not really. As long as we continue to make raunchy 80’s comedies and like our girls a little bit older, “Your Love” will continue to thrive at the expense of the rest of their catalog. If Play Deep is their high watermark album, then that fate is for the best.
Are there any other one-hit wonders you’d like to see here? Joe was adamant about doing one for Baha Men. Hound him about it and fight that one guy who loves Duran Duran in the comments!