Today’s formative-album replay: Little River Band, First Under the Wire. An objectively terrible record, but damned if my 11-year-old self didn't curl up under the covers with a little cassette player and headphones past my bedtime to parse the lyrics and arrangements of this modest but at the time mildly transfixing slab of late '70s soft rock. I had yet to encounter my first true Beatles earthquake and subsequent Wings aftershock, let alone anything harder than what was on AM and FM radio in that disco-saturated era (Kiss doesn't count, does it?), so I didn’t have the taste or the background to recognize the cliches this Aussie Styx knockoff was cycling through like so many Kool-Aid packets: the tasteful faux-blues guitar licks, the lyrical pabulum about quasi-outlaws (“Man on the Run”) and life lessons (“Middle Man”), the oily fern-bar sax, and worst of all the foursquare Oak Ridge Boys vocal harmonies that pop up like exposed male chest hair through a lot of late-’70s/early ’80s “album rock” (Kansas, I’m looking at you).
Of course, it’s hard to actively hate a record so neutrally intentioned and uncynically bad, whose biggest liability is that it doesn’t include LRB’s two best (only good?) songs, the breezy “Reminiscing” and the swaggering “Lady.” As on those hits, Glenn Shorrock’s lightly raspy lead vocals always have a certain smiling warmth, shown to most advantage on the album’s only passably listenable song (and the only one I’ve left checked for future listening in iTunes), the yacht-rock anthem “Cool Change.” As the song has it, it’s kind of a special feeling.