Thursday, May 28, 2020

The album that should have made Graham Parker a household name

Graham Parker : No Holding Back

In May of 1980 Graham Parker released The Up Escalator,  his follow-up to the critical smash Squeezing Out Sparks.  With Jimmy Iovine producing, shortly after helming Tom Petty's Damn The Torpedoes and a guest appearance by Bruce Springsteen, this should have been the album that made Parker a household name.  That's not what happened. The album peaked in the US at #40 and Parker ended his relationship with The Rumour, reportedly claiming that the band members were butchering his songs.

The album sounds like a watered down version of Squeezing Out Sparks. More like Squeezing Out the Last Cinders. Rolling Stone's Debra Rae Cohen was among the critics who voiced their disappointment with the muddy mix, the lack of spontaneity and cliched playing by studio musicians like Nicky Hopkins.

In addition to sabotaging songs. The Up Escalator‘s lackluster sound brutally exposes failures of performance, composition and nerve. This LP has an odd, slapdash feel. It’s as if, in belatedly attempting to reconstruct (rather than capture) Parker’s rough attack, Jimmy Iovine mistook sloppiness for soul and recorded an album of reference vocals.

Cohen says the Springsteen duet, "Endless Night", is one of the few things that works:

Springsteen enters the track — basically an uninteresting throwaway — in the middle of the second verse as though he’d suddenly wandered into the studio. But that demystifying haphazardness — and the just-singing-along irrelevance of Springsteen’s harmonies — give the song a heady vulgarity and spontaneous exuberance that the rest of the record totally lacks.

Some critics like the album, including David Hepworth of Smash Hits:

The Up Escalator, which finished #26 in the Village Voice Pazz and Jop Poll a year after Sparks at topped the list, wouldn't be Parker's only release of 1980. He also published his first novel, The Great Trouser Mystery

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