Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Foreigner - Agent Provocateur

Happy sixty-seventh birthday today (December 27th) to English guitarist, songwriter and producer Mick Jones of Foreigner.

After their hugely successful album 4 in 1981 and before their appearance on the 1985 Vision Quest soundtrack (click here and here for my reviews of each of those), Foreigner put out their fifth studio album Agent Provocateur on December 7th of 1984. This concept album, which tells the story of a spy who sees life from many sides, went to number 1 in the UK, Germany and Switzerland; in the US it reached number 4 on the Billboard Album chart. Sales-wise, the record achieved multi-platinum status.

Side one opens with the grinding rhythm of “Tooth and Nail”. The story starts out with the lead spy character that has been riled up and forced to take action. The song points out that this isn’t someone who takes things lying down; he’ll fight to the end.

“That Was Yesterday”, the album’s second single, went to number 12 on the US Billboard charts and number 28 in the UK. This mid-tempo track has a strong piano and keyboard line that supports the musical structure of the piece. The spy has encountered something unexpected as things are not going the way that had been just days before.

Most of the songs on the album were collaborative efforts between Jones and Lou Gramm. “I Want to Know What Love Is”, however, was one of two written solely by Jones. This first single from the album reached the number 1 spot in the US in February of 1985 after dethroning Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” and held that place for two weeks before being knocked off by Wham! and “Careless Whisper”. It also went to number 1 in the UK in mid-January of 1985. The song is a powerful ballad, featuring the New Jersey Mass Choir and Jennifer Holliday on backing vocals. I remember how this was a big slow-dance favorite in late 1984 and most of 1985; it has a perfect, slow sway to its rhythm.

“Growing Up the Hard Way” was released as the fourth single of the album but only in Europe. The opening gives the song an exotic feel which builds with the guitars and drums at a tense pace. The lyrics give background information on the lead character of the album, of how he grew up running in and out of trouble.

“Reaction to Action” was released as the third single from the album but only in the US where it reached number 54. I think this is definitely one of those lost-hits of the 80’s; a strong song that just didn’t catch on enough to break into the Top 40. It is a solid rocker.

Side two starts with “Stranger in My House”, the other Jones only written track. I really like the clipped rhythm between the guitars and drums on this one; it is a down-and-dirty rock groove.

“A Love in Vain” features some trippy synthesizers and a solid drumbeat. It continues lyrically from the last song as the spy realized his woman is someone he no longer knows. However, he is not yet ready to turn his back on their love as she means so much to him.

Time for another slower ballad with “Down on Love”. The lyrics tell of one who has turned their back on the possibility of love either due to heartbreak or just loneliness. However, the message is that love is still out there if you’re open to it.

Gramm wrote “Two Different Worlds”, the B-side to the second single. Gramm delivers a heartfelt vocal performance on this ballad; lyrically the spy realizes that despite everything that has happened that he still loves his woman and wants to try and make it work.

The album closes with “She’s Too Tough”, an up-tempo rocker with plenty of power and energy. The spy comes to a realization that his woman might be even more than he can handle yet he loves her any way.

Agent Provocateur came out during the first half of my sophomore year of college. I can remember well hearing these songs all over the radio, at parties on campus, out in the bars and, of course, playing on MTV. I have half of this album currently in my music library, thanks to a greatest hits collection; the rest I had not heard in a few decades. Overall, the album is a solid one and is definitely worth a revisit now and again. I’m thinking I’ll pick up the remaining tracks for download later in the week.


Anonymous said...

What kind of crap is this "spy" business anyway? This album has NOTHING to do with spies whatsoever. This is an amazing Foreigner album that's got pop songs, ballads and rockers. Anyone trying to read anything into this album being some sort of concept album is an idiot, a moron and a full-blown jackass!

Martin Maenza said...

That's the thing about music - people can pick up different things from it. I am not the only one who picked up that theme. But you can see it as you want to see it.