Can't Slow Down

Foreigner

For the first time in 15 years, Foreigner has a new studio album. Led by sole original member Mick Jones, Foreigner is a young outfit these days, steadily making the rounds on the concert trail for five years. They’re winning over audiences, young and old, likes its 1977 all over again. Demand for new Foreigner music is apparently strong enough to stir Walmart’s interest in exclusively releasing the Can’t Slow Down album. Bundled with a second CD of remixes and a DVD with live and studio footage, this set is priced and packaged to move.

Without original singer Lou Gramm on board, longtime Foreigner fans may be dubious of a so-called “new” album. And yes there are similarities between Gramm and current vocalist Kelly Hansen. But make no mistake about it — Hansen is no fly-by-night tribute singer plucked from the gallows of YouTube. He paid his dues dearly during the 80s and 90s as a hard-working musician with tons of L.A. bands, notably Hurricane. Stepping into the role as frontman with Foreigner has been a natural progression for the singer, and his role of helping to take Can’t Slow Down to new, unrealized places cannot be underestimated. He even has a sizable hand in the songwriting.

Actually, the songs and the production feature a lot of names. Next to Jones and Hansen, the one that pops up the most is Marti Frederiksen, another musician from the 80s whose work with Aerosmith has won him accolades o’plenty. In addition to writing and producing the new album, Frederiksen co-remixed the 10 Foreigner classics for the second CD. We’ll touch on that momentarily, but for now, with all the preliminaries out of the way, let’s get to what’s sizzling between the bit rates (that’s music for you commoners).

The title track was written as a tribute to NASCAR in celebration of Foreigner's Samsung 500appearance at the Texas Motor Speedway. No doubt, this one pops out of the gate like the top qualifier in a chase for the championship. Hansen’s voice has that Lou Gramm flavor no doubt, which pulls you in immediately. Jones gets plenty of mileage from bassist Jeff Pilson (formerly of Dokken), keyboardist Michael Bluestein, drummer Brian Tichy and multi-instrumentalist Tom Gimbel. Frederiksen also contributes a bit of guitar work, especially on the heavier numbers, and undoubtedly steps it up on the ripping open number.

Hansen comes into his own on the sedatively haunting “In Pieces,” a definite hit in the making. Gimbel frosts the lenses with some sassy sax work on “When It Comes To Love,” which, along with “I Can’t Give Up,” offers little else in pushing things forward. Fortunately, “Ready” comes along to rescue the record from drowning in a glut of syrupy subterfuge. Quite frankly, the lack of muscle at this point is a bit disconcerting, but the momentum picks up as the tracks flip by. “I’ll Be Home Tonight” is a melodic tearjerker, cast in the classic Foreigner mold.

“Too Late,” which appeared on the 2008 release No End In Sight: The Very Best Of Foreigner, features Jason Bonham on drums and duly rocks the house. It’s gotta have a spot on the set list. “Lonely” and “As Long As I Live” add measurable breadth and style to the proceedings, while “Angel Tonight” is another infectious rocker meant for the stage. The old-school, borderline R&B feel behind “Fool For You Anyway” is nothing more if not a beatific cherry on top. The primary disc of Can’t Slow Down has a few weak spots, but a majority of the 13 new tracks are on the mark and possibly on their way to sidling up next to the rest of the vintage Foreigner catalog.

The second disc of remixes includes “Feels Like The First Time,” “Cold As Ice,” “Urgent,” “Hot Blooded” and “I Want To Know What Love Is.” Packed with more rockers than the first disc, there’s definitely a new sheen and punch on these tunes. But with so many compilations already on the market from Foreigner, it’s hard to understand the appeal…at first. Listen closely, and you realize there’s a strong argument for why these selections have stood the test of time. Fans picking up this moderately priced collection for the new material certainly won’t have anything to complain about after spinning the second disc.

The same applies to the DVD, a hodge-podge of live, in-studio and interview footage. With the recent release of two Foreigner DVDs, faithful followers may not be all that excited about the concert performances — which isn’t to say the uninitiated won’t enjoy the live stuff. However, there’s more to it than just a straightforward concert.

The in-between-song cutaways provide their own source of entertainment whereas anyone with the slightest interest in the group’s progression will be more drawn to the Behind The Scenes portion of the disc, which adds interviews, recording sessions and other bits and pieces to the madness of the road in Europe. Jones talks about re-establishing the band when he isn’t playing tour guide with the film crew. The band’s junior members, on the other hand, talk about growing up with Foreigner and their songs. Now, they are living their dreams, recording and touring the world.

As a triple-disc set, Can’t Slow Down is a lot of Foreigner for the household, maybe all the Foreigner you’ll ever need. You get the new, the old and something to watch on the tube. Any Walmart shopper worth his or her weight in gluten, nitrates and synthetic preservatives will scoop this baby up without hesitation. The fact that the new music has merit with loads of potential merely sweetens the deal.

~ Shawn Perry

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