Once upon a time, Detroit’s Romantics were the band the Knack always wanted to be, hammering out a few essential chords while the singer wailed out inconsequential lyrics about girls. They played fast, loose and tough but, unlike the Knack, weren’t obnoxious. This is the kind of band that would have been happy jamming to “Louie, Louie” or “La Bamba” all night if they hadn’t been able to devise their own alternatives.
The Romantics’ 1980 debut and National Breakout capture that era beautifully. Silly red leather suits notwithstanding, The Romantics shows the boys at their most raucous, crashing through “What I Like About You” (their best-ever track, sung by drummer Jimmy Marinos) and other dance-floor pips. The optimistically titled second LP continues in the “Twist and Shout” vein, highlighted by “Tomboy” and “Stone Pony.” (Besides tracks by Stiv Bators, Nikki & the Corvettes and the Singles, Midwest Pop Explosion! contains both sides of the Romantics’ 1978 Bomp! single and two other pre-’80 efforts.)
Strictly Personal, the panicky response to disappointing sales, finds the Romantics switching from powerful pop to soulless arena-rock. All broad, exaggerated gestures and no charm. Sad. In Heat wiped away the tears, elevating the band into the Top 10 with the execrable “Talking in Your Sleep” and the far more likable “One in a Million.” Having hit the heights, Marinos left the group; the others hung in to make Rhythm Romance, another likably dumb batch of pop songs culminating in a credibly rootsy version of “Poison Ivy.”
The 1990 compilation brings together the quartet’s two hits, the title track and seven additional album selections, paying special attention to In Heat. Adding a deeply weird commercial postscript to the Romantics’ career, “What I Like About You” wound up being used in a Bud Light TV spot. Is that post-punk or what?