Not since the glory days of Booker T. and the MGs has a group more assuredly suited to back others tried so hard to be an autonomous hit machine. Hard on the heels of Amore, Philadelphia’s Hooters — led by singer/guitarist/mandolinist Eric Bazilian and singer/keyboardist Rob Hyman, neither of whom is the kind of strong frontman required by a band hoping not to be Toto — embarked on what has proven to be a commercially fruitful sideline as creative midwives, most effectively for Cyndi Lauper and Joan Osborne, especially when produced by Rick Chertoff, whose involvement with them dates back to the Hooters’ ’70s precursor, Baby Grand.
The Hooters’ easy facility in many stylistic genres (reggae, the main impulse on Amore, remains in the repertoire, along with glossed-up heartland rock versed in folk traditionalism) matches an inability to pin down any clear-cut personality; intelligent, effective songwriting (sometimes topical and recently displaying a spiritual bent) is accompanied by unstable and often dubious artistic discretion. Knowing when to tone it down or let it go are not among the band’s most reliable assets.
The three Columbia albums are hit-and-miss grab-bags. Nervous Night sounds like the work of an overly enthusiastic John Mellencamp cover band: “And We Danced” and “Blood From a Stone” (later given a real dose of energy by Red Rockers) are alright, but the residual reggae groove of “All You Zombies” leads the band into absurd melodrama. One Way Home adds a Gaelic dance-band inflection and nudges the electricity up a few notches; the anthemic presentation of songs like “Satellite,” “Karla With a K” and “Fightin’ on the Same Side” overstates their arguable cases. The title track is an even worse insult to reggae than “All You Zombies.” While Zig Zag gets its musical character from restrained performances and largely acoustic instrumentation, the clumsy protest lyrics come from newspaper headlines: the campfire classic “500 Miles” (with guest credibility provided by Peter, Paul and Mary) gets a noxiously slick reggaefied arrangement and an update to cover events in Tiananmen Square, while John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” becomes (without credit) something about Russia entitled “Mr. Big Baboon.” Pushing the sentimentality arrow deep into the red, “Beat Up Guitar” is a mushy ode to the band’s hometown.
Even more than the previous albums, Out of Body is an everywhere-at-once hodgepodge that truly reflects the band’s lack of a reliable personality. “Twenty-Five Hours a Day” is overzealous kitchen-sink bombast that sounds like Simple Minds; Cyndi Lauper adds her voice to “Boys Will Be Boys,” an ebullient number that could have gone on her first album; chamber strings inflect the religious rock of “Shadow of Jesus”; sitar kicks off the middle-aged nostalgia of “Great Big American Car.” Typical of the Hooters’ habitual sly borrowing, they introduce “Boys Will Be Boys” with an irrelevant chorus from the old Irish folk song “Wild Mountain Thyme” as a red herring and then base their song’s melody on the doo-wop chestnut “Glory of Love.” Likewise, they touch on the beginning of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” in the rocking “Dancing on the Edge” and then scamper away, purloined cookie crumbs trailing behind them. As usual, it takes somebody outside the group to get the Hooters’ juices flowing.