Despite his unbeatable songwriting talents, pop stardom has proven elusive for Jules Shear. His two songs are the highlights of the Funky Kings album, but the rest of the LP is forgettable laid-back California rock.
The two Polar Bears albums are gems; Shear’s breathless vocals and the cascading lyrics are perfectly matched with the rollicking playing of his three bandmates (including future star-producer/keyboardist Stephen Hague). Both albums were commercial duds, however, and a third album (Bad for Business) was rejected by the group’s label and was never released.
Shear’s first two solo LPs contain some of his finest songs, including “All Through the Night” and “If She Knew What She Wants” (Top 40 hits for, respectively, Cyndi Lauper and the Bangles). Watch Dog suffers from a smothering Todd Rundgren production job, but The Eternal Return — co-produced by Shear and Bill Drescher — is a complete delight. (The Jules EP contains two mixes of the non-LP “When Love Surges” and a four-song condensation of Watch Dog.)
As the name implies, Demo-itis is a collection of song demos, half recorded by Shear at home on 8-track and the rest recorded with various musicians in a full-fledged studio situation. Despite the rough edges, it’s fascinating to hear these familiar songs in their early stages. Demo-itis has spontaneity and enthusiasm not heard on any of Shear’s other albums.
Reckless Sleepers brought a collaboration with three new bandmates on the music (Shear still writes all the lyrics), but it’s hard to discern any substantial creative change as a result. The Third Party is an interesting experiment with solo vocals by Shear and guitar accompaniment by Marty Willson-Piper of the Church. The songs are as well-crafted as ever, but a certain monotony results from Shear’s unmelodic singing style (never his strongest asset) and the unvarying guitar arrangements. Providing the guitar chords along with the lyrics is a nice touch, though.