REO Speedwagon | Hi Infidelity (30th Anniversary Edition)


Only the most powerful pop could jostle John Lennon and Yoko Ono from their Number One spot on the Billboard charts, stay there for an unprecedented 101 weeks, then go on to become the biggest selling rock LP of 1981. REO Speedwagon’s Hi Infidelity 30th Anniversary Edition celebrates the record’s pop culture conquest with some sleekly remastered tracks amid the lineup from the original album and a bonus disc of previously unreleased ‘Crystal Demos’ of nine of the album’s 10 songs.

The box containing the demos had been the band’s Holy Grail, searched for in vaults on both coasts and virtually given up on when they discovered, in their manager’s garage, an item simply labeled ‘REO’, according to frontman Kevin Cronin. “It was mostly old photographs, but he dropped it off at my house and when I went through it there it was, a tape from Crystal Recording Studios, July 1980. No one knew where they were.”

There are rumors that disc jockeys would occasionally play side one of Hi Infidelity in its entirety because it was such a solid set. Four out of the five tracks placed on the Billboard Mainstream Rock and/or Pop Singles charts (“Follow My Heart” was the only exception). Indeed, the original A-side, those first five songs, is a triumph for the album.

“Don’t Let Him Go” opens the disc, pleading on behalf of a paramour with a lot of swag but not much substance. “He just needs a chance to grow,” we’re assured over a jaunty kind of hand-jive peppered with power chords. “I’m gonna keep on loving you, cause it’s the only thing I want to do” is the sophomoric yet sincere declaration we all want to make when we’re head-over-heels in love. It’s reckless and silly to not want to sleep to stay engaged in conversation and kisses with this person you can’t get enough of. It’s pop lyricism at its finest on “Keep On Loving You.”

“Follow My Heart” is fun but Cronin’s counter-tenor vocals lose something defining about them, it could just as easily be Lindsay Buckingham or Grace Slick (Jefferson Starship-era) singing. It’s easy to see that “there was something missing” that kept this song from the top spots though it’s lovable in its clumsiness.

“In Your Letter” has a dizzying doo-wop feel musically, but delivers cutting accusations with cruel alliteration like “But you hid behind your poison pen and his pride” and “You could have left him only for an evening let him be lonely”. Cronin practically hisses the words.

“Take It On the Run” was the ninth music video ever to be played on MTV and another original chart-topper from the album. Rumors and speculation surge alongside soaring vocals and guitars as REO explores another frustrating facet of relationships.

The second half of the album only scored with “Tough Guys” (which reached its pinnacle at #25) but “Someone Tonight” is the real standout, written by bass player Bruce Hall. Like an answer to Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me,” it’s a sexy rock romp begging for surrender and saying all the right things while staying sublimely detached.

The critical pop elements of longing, lust, love and loss are thoroughly covered on Hi Infidelity without glaring contrast of too much saccharine or sadness that jolts a listener out of the flow or brings you too down. The progression through the songs has an ideal flow and there is a strong cohesiveness. It’s easy to see why, if you were lounging in the backseat of your parents’ Lincoln Town Car in 1981, “Calvin’s in a ball on the front seat, past eleven on a school night,” you were probably glad you had Hi Infidelity.

~ Casandra Armour

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