An American group Foreigner is one of the most successful rock acts of the 1970s and 1980s. Even though Foreigner is today remembered mainly from a radio friendly love song “I Wanna Know What Love is” it is a true rock band. Its unique sound combines gritty hard rock riffs with beautiful pop melodies spiced up with smooth production values.
Founded in New York in 1976 the band debuted back in 1977 with its self-titled multi-platinum album which included such hits as “Feels Like the First Time” and “Cold As Ice”. The group had even more success with its second album “Double Vision” making it one of the hottest bands in both USA and Canada. After “Head Games”, the band’s heaviest album up-to-date, Ian McDonald and Al Greenwood were fired in 1980 due to creative differences. The same year Foreigner went to the legendary Electric Lady Studios in New York City to record its fourth album “4”. Released in 1981 the album will celebrate its 40th birthday 2 July.
The album features new four-piece line-up with a small army of distinguished musicians such as Thomas Dolby, Junior Walker and Hugh McCracken. It took ten months to complete and cost over one million dollars to make including pre-production. In addition, the album was produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange who managed to create one of the greatest AOR albums of the ’80s. It is a tasty mixture of killer classic rock riffs with modern pop aesthetics. Even though there is a strong emphasis on synthesizers the guitar is the most essential ingredient. You can hear it while listening to the opening track “Night Life” in which Dolby’s synth blends in smoothly with Jones’ guitar riffs and lead parts. In “Jukebox Hero”, which is based on a true story, the producer Lange pushed Gramm’s vocal range to its limits making it one of his best performances on the album. Gramm did struggle to deliver the vocals live because of it.
One of the album’s most memorable song “Waiting for a Girl Like You” follows almost symphonic arena rock anthem “Break It Up”. The mellow keyboard driven ballad is a true pop masterpiece with catchy chorus and wonderful early ’80s synth sounds. Gramm delivers one of his finest vocals which can easily put you in to tears. The Buddy Holly style vintage rock influenced “Luanne” is one my personal favorites thanks to its catchy melodies and Jones’ delicious guitar solo. The same goes with “Urgent” containing an electrifying sax solo by Walker.
The group hits the high note with the albums heaviest guitar riff driven track “I’m Gonna Win”. Jones is, once again, in his element on his aggressive riffs and lead parts. After melodic and rocking “Woman In Black” the band moves on to a mellower ground with a ballad “Girl On The Moon”. McCracken ties this serene pop ballad together with his slide guitar gently weeping in the background. “Don’t Let Go”, a gritty riff driven track polished with a smooth chorus ends the album with a bang.
You can call “4” a classic album with no doubt. It moves away from the heavy sound of the band’s previous album “Head games” towards more polished pop style. Yet, it is among the best Foreigner studio albums as a whole. Not many bands have succeeded in combining gritty hard rock with radio friendly sound and modern aesthetics as well as Foreigner did with their fourth album.
Apart from the band’s next album “Agent Provocateur” the band did not reach the same hype with its later albums and, finally, Gramm left the group in 1990. Gramm was replaced by a veteran singer Johnny Edwards from Wild Horses. Gramm returned in the band in 1992 but left for good in 2003 due to some friction between him and Jones. Foreigner did record its latest album “Can’t Slow Down” with a new singer Kelly Hansen in 2009. The group has been active since then and is still going strong. According to bassist Jeff Pilson the band is even working on new material by the time of writing this review keeping the classic rock alive.