Posted by: Johnny Loftus on August 31, 2007 at 9:29 am

kennyrogers.jpg
As a genre, adult contemporary just doesn’t mean that much anymore. Plenty of contemporary artists would fit the mold, Goo Goo Dolls and Carrie Underwood among them, but most can’t get their arms all the way around the amount of cheeze required to be a lite FM powerhouse. The demands of marketing and the music industry mean that their music has to emanate from their prime genre (AAA for the Goos, country for Carrie), even if their individual songs often indulge in the sentiment and melodic sweep of classic adult contemporary. Put it another way, if you remove the pedal steel, Rascall Flatts are the Sheriff (or, to keep it Canadian, the Glass Tiger) of the 21st century. As for Kenny Rogers, he was always just Kenny.

Sure, he had his own share of ups and downs and genre flips; by his star turn as the bearded fireside crooner to suburban would-be Carly Simons nationwide, he’d played folk with the New Christy Minstrels, one-off crazed psychedelic pop hits with the First Edition, and straightforward country and western with Dolly Parton. But by 1983 and Eyes That See in the Dark, he’d fully embraced his stature as the foggy-voiced king of adult contemporary. With co-writing from Barry, Maurice, and Robin Gibb (check out the ultra-slick, elastic groove of “This Woman,” which features the dueling beards of Kenny and Barry), the record revels in the production, mixing, and lyrical direction of adult contemporary at the time. It’s soft pop, as well as some country here and there as a nod to Kenny’s past. But wherever it draws from it doesn’t play footsie with what it is. Rogers didn’t make pop and then sell it something else; he didn’t have to, because adult contemporary was huge at that time. Its audience existed on shag carpets across the country, sipping Franzia out of fluted glasses and coo-cooing the back and forth of the incredible, durable, totally awesome even without the bad memories of Pras “Islands in the Stream.” Back that up with “I Will Always Love You” (Kenny’s fluttering open is all played-on vulnerability) and “Hold Me” with its weirdly creepy backing vocals (the voices: “You are inside of me…” Kenny: “One more time”), and you have an album of jams that did the backstroke in cheeze sauce, and loved every single minute of it. Pass the silver mylar bag of sweet, sweet merlot.

Johnny Loftus

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