So proclaimed The Knack in the acerbic lyric to the opening track of 1998’s “comeback” album Zoom. Of course, the song proved otherwise, as the years between 1991’s Serious Fun and Zoom had been kind to the band, a.k.a. Doug Fieger (lead vocals/rhythm guitar), Prescott Niles (bass) and Berton Averre (lead guitar/keyboards/vocals). Omnivore Recordings has recently reissued Zoom and its follow-up, Normal as the Next Guy, along with 2001’s Live from the Rock ‘n’ Roll Funhouse.
For Zoom (OVCD-124), Fieger, Niles and Averre were joined on drums by Frank Zappa veteran Terry Bozzio who replaced original member Bruce Gary after a short-lived reunion fizzled out. On the album originally released on the Rhino label, The Knack didn’t reinvent the wheel. Zoom would have felt comfortable to fans of their past releases with its bright, crisp and vigorous power pop style. “We talked about the basic theme of the album, the glory of the music we grew up with, the tragic lack of same in the modern era…”, comments Averre in his new (and very welcome) selected track-by-track liner notes.
The opening notes of “Pop is Dead” wouldn’t have turned any longtime Knack fans off, passing for a sped-up, amped-up version of The Beatles’ “And Your Bird Can Sing.” And the term “pop,” of course, was invented for songs like “Can I Borrow a Kiss” and “Love is All There Is” with their killer AM radio choruses, not to mention the mid-tempo rock and roll of “Mister Magazine” with its dreamy harmonies and British Invasion beat. The latter is frankly, happily Beatle-esque, which is no knock on The Knack. Catchy riffs naturally abound, as on “In Blue Tonight.”
The group also varied its trademark sound a bit on tracks like the swooning “Everything I Do” and the Terence Stamp and Julie Christie-inspired, Kinks-evoking “Terry and Julie Step Out.” Looking back to the band’s own heritage, the latter’s brisk track recycles a guitar riff previously heard on the band’s “Soul Kissing” from 1981’s Round Trip. The pretty, intimate ballad “You Gotta Be There” sounds like nothing else on the album, providing an attractive respite from the rock and roll. “Tomorrow” is another one of Zoom‘s most adventurous tracks, intricately built on a rockabilly base with unexpected stylistic turns, incorporating piano and searing guitar flourishes. Bozzio shines brightest on the driving, rhythmic “Good Enough” one of the album’s tougher tracks. Best of all might be the album’s closer, “(All in the) All in All,” a slice of retro psychedelia from Fieger and co-writer Oliver Leiber (son of Jerry).
Five bonus tracks have been appended to Zoom: session outtake “She Says” which first appeared on Rhino’s 1998 Proof: The Very Best of the Knack, and four previously unreleased cuts – unvarnished but still strong and energetic demos of “Mister Magazine,” “Harder on You” and “(All in the) All in All” plus a version of “My Sharona” with Bozzio on drums. Note that the bonus tracks from the 2003 reissue Re-Zoom are not included here.
Normal as the Next Guy (OVCD-125) followed Zoom in 2001 for Smile Records/Image Entertainment, by which time Terry Bozzio had left the band’s ranks. A slightly more relaxed groove opens the LP, accurately acknowledged in the liner notes as the group’s “least ‘band-like’ project” due to its patchwork quilt assembly of songs old and new from band members and numerous outside co-writers. There’s less overall urgency than on past albums, but Normal is not without its share of pure pop treats. As perhaps The Knack’s most stylistically diverse record, it’s well worth this reappraisal from Omnivore.
The sneeringly sardonic title track was written by Fieger and Averre for the 1988 film Plain Clothes and resurrected for Normal; with its name-checks of famous folks from Idi Amin to Eydie Gorme, it showed that the band hadn’t lost its attitude. Fieger and Averre, in tandem, also penned “One Day at a Time,” first recorded for Serious Fun as a contender for radio airplay. Indeed, it’s a straightforward, pretty track that clearly fell between the cracks. (Fieger and John Bossman’s “Reason to Live” is another attractive romantic ballad.) Last of the three Fieger/Averre co-writes is the darkly comical (and ironically-titled!) “Dance of Romance” which glides on a slinky, almost Steely Dan-esque vibe.
The twangy country-and-western of Fieger’s “Spiritual Pursuit” offers a new Knack sound of which they, well, had the knack! Fieger and Bossman’s “It’s Not Me” is among the most “Knack-esque” tracks on the album, with Prescott Niles pointing out its Byrds/Beatles mélange of influences in his notes; the same can be said of the catchy (read: repetitive, per Niles!) “Seven Days of Heaven” penned by Fieger with Hannah Mancini and Sergij Pobegajlo. Averre’s lone solo composition is perhaps the most striking on the LP. His Brian Wilson homage “The Man on the Beach” is replete with sleigh bells, muted horns and a beautifully melancholy mood, marrying a late-sixties-styled musical arrangement and Sunflower-era vocal sound. Co-producers Fieger and Richard Daniel “Bumps” Bosworth doubtless deserve credit, too, for bringing Averre’s pastiche to impressive life. Three previously unissued demos round out the reissue, including a spare, embryonic “Seven Days of Heaven,” “Spiritual Pursuit” and “Reason to Live.” Once again, track-by-track notes are present for a handful of selections.
Rounding out Omnivore’s series is an expanded version of The Knack’s final album, Live from the Rock ‘n’ Roll Funhouse (OVCD-124). The concept of this 2002 release was simple – to stage a mock TV show/concert for a small audience of friends, family and fans, and record the shows for video and audio release. Fieger, Averre and Niles were joined for the show by drummer David “Holmes Jones” Henderson. All of the band’s favorites are here: “Good Girls Don’t,” “Baby Talks Dirty,” “That’s What the Little Girls Do,” and of course, “My Sharona” among them. Though two songs from Normal as the Next Guy didn’t make the final cut (“It’s Not Me” and “Seven Days of Heaven”), they have been happily reinstated by Omnivore. One unusual cover medley concludes the energetic, loose and vibrant set: instrumental classic “Tequila” with The Doors’ “Break On Through.” Niles and Averre have penned new recollections of their time in the Funhouse for this reissue.
Producer and liner notes scribe Lee Lodyga has curated three strong packages as handsomely designed by Greg Allen and remastered by Gavin Lurssen and Reuben Cohen. Surely these splendid slices of pure pop will go a long way in rehabilitating The Knack’s reputation as just the band behind “My Sharona.”