It's a story that's been done to death: band releases hit album, changes direction ambitiously for follow-up, is met with critical or commercial indifference - or worse, the disapproval of a label leads to said ambitious follow-up never happening. Sometimes, though, there's a post-script, Eddie and The Cruisers-style, where the music is freed from captivity to the delight of adoring fans.
In some ways, this is the story of Pull, the mythical fourth album by Mr. Mister, one of the more notable rock hitmakers of the 1980s. Thanks to a little luck (and a hit song that name-checks the band), this long-lost album is finally available for the public to enjoy. While it's not an album top-loaded with pop radio-ready hits, it's a stand-out affair that employs some of the tactics of other '80s bands with better results.
But first, a little more backstory on the band that came to record Pull. Mr. Mister were riding high in 1985 and 1986; their sophomore album, Welcome to the Real World, was a chart-topper, as were its first two singles, "Broken Wings" and "Kyrie." (The latter song was actually No. 1 alongside the album in the same week, further pushing the band to rarefied heights.) But follow-up album Go On..., released in 1987, focused less on hooks and more on textures - think an album full of non-single tracks from Genesis' Invisible Touch - and it stalled in the lower half of the charts with only a Top 30 hit ("Something Real (Inside Me/Inside You)") to speak of. Undeterred by the setback - and the departure of guitarist Steve Farris from the group - the Misters (Richard Page on vocals and bass, Steve George on keyboards and drummer Pat Mastelotto, along with songwriter John Lang) soldiered on.
Pull was recorded with producer Paul De Villiers (who'd helmed Real World) and two noted session guitarists, Buzz Feiten and Trevor Rabin of Yes (whose Big Generator in 1987 was also produced by De Villiers). The songs were again rich in texture, heavier on guitars but cleanly produced and free of most of the entrapments of '80s production. But once the album was finished in 1990, RCA seemed unsure of what to make of the music - a sentiment typical of seemingly every major label at the time, particularly in the year before the grunge explosion - and shelved the album. The group unceremoniously went their separate ways - Page became a noted songwriter and session singer, George worked with Kenny Loggins and Jewel and Mastelotto joined King Crimson - but then Train's chart-topping "Hey, Soul Sister," an inescapable song from the past year, had a Mr. Mister reference smack in the middle of the chorus. Sensing something in the air, Legacy finally dusts off Pull, now available as a digital download or direct-order physical package.
As an album, Pull is very much a product of its time, which is more to its credit than one might think. As many of the biggest pop-rock bands of the '80s started reaching then end of the decade or the start of the new one, they started experimenting, discarding their sequencers, adding new sidemen, stretching the length, meaning and genre of their songs. Sometimes it worked (Tears for Fears' The Seeds of Love, an underappreciated classic); other times, not so much (Genesis' We Can't Dance is not as victorious as its poppy predecessor). Pull works because it stays focused without entirely abandoning what made them notable in the first place.
There's not a potential single with the magnitude of "Broken Wings" or "Kyrie" on the album, although "Waiting in My Dreams" (the only previously released track from the album, included on a 2001 compilation) comes close, with a similar tempo and texture to "Broken Wings." But there are quite a few standout tracks, including the densely harmonic "Learning to Crawl" and "I Don't Know Why" and slow-burning tunes like "Surrender" and "No Words to Say" (written about Page's experiences growing up in Montgomery, Alabama when it was still segregated). Altogether, the tracks are tastefully done - they're deep without being needlessly complex, lengthy but not terribly so and boasting some strong vocal work from Page and the rich guitars of Feiten and Rabin.
Thanks to a little record company strength and a devoted fan base, Pull may finally get the due it strangely never earned. It's a solid reminder that the early '90s - commonly thought of as a messy transitory period for pop-rock - weren't as disjointed as one might think.
And a special surprise for fans of Mr. Mister and readers of The Second Disc - we will soon post for you an interview with Richard Page of Mr. Mister! He'll talk about Pull, changes in the music industry and thoughts on reissues in general! Watch this space!