The Knack: Normal as The Beatles by Don_Krider
There was a huge backlash against The Knack after the incredible success of their first album, "Get The Knack," in the summer of 1979. On Capitol Records, home of The Beatles, the album found the group in matching shirts and ties in a Beatles-inspired pose, which led to the usual "next big thing" tag by the media, the kiss of death for any band trying to live up to such an expectation.
That album sold six million copies. It produced a million-selling, # 1 single with the classic "My Sharona," written by band members Doug Fieger and Berton Averre, and the follow-up single, Fieger's wild, Beatles-inspired "Good Girls Don't" went to # 11 by year's end. The band garnered two Grammy nominations. It made a fortune for Capitol Records (the band recorded it in 11 days for only $17,000, when most acts were spending a half-million dollars on studio time on album's that didn't sell six million copies). The album sold the 500,000 copies needed to earn a Gold Record in just 13 days!
A year later, "...But The Little Girls Understand," their second album, managed to sell the 500,000 copies needed to win a Gold Record Award, but the decline in sales was stunning. The album's lone Top 40 single, the Fieger-Averre composed "Baby Talks Dirty," with a sound a bit too close to "My Sharona," peaked at # 38.
Sadly, The Knack's songwriting and rocking edge, which improved considerably on the "Round Trip" album in 1981, was missed by the public and the band seemed destined to be a footnote in rock history.
Talent, however, is a hard thing to bury, and The Knack has talent erupting from every guitar chord they play these days.
Their musical chair personnel changes with drummers continues, but the three main musicians in the band, lead singer/guitarist Fieger, lead guitarist Averre and bassist Prescott Niles, are still in the band.
The band had split for a time when "My Sharona" started turning up in films in the '80s and '90s, which regenerated interest in the band, and even gained them a Top 10 AOR hit with the power pop rocker "Rocket O' Love" (produced by Don Was) at the dawn of the '90s.
In 1997, the band's album "Zoom" made virtually every pop music critic's Top 10 list. It received poor promotion from Rhino Records, however, and sales fell below expectations.
On their album "Retrospective" in 1992, Doug had written in the liner notes: "My original dream was to be a WORKING ARTIST and that dream is still very much alive."
With The Knack, Doug proved that statement with "Zoom." He offered further evidence with his solo album, "First Things First," in 2000 (a must-have for any power pop fan), an album that proved Doug's great worth as an artist.
With the 2001 release of The Knack's latest album, "Normal As The Next Guy," one is confronted with an amazing fact: this band is so good, and so underrated, that we almost don't deserve them. In pleasing themselves, they also succeed in pleasing their audience (that sounds almost disgusting, doesn't it?).
What The Knack are about is having fun, writing tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek lyrics and playing with some of the best musicianship you'll hear these days. The band is expected to tour in 2002, so catch them if you can. Capitol is also reportedly planning on reissuing their back catalog with bonus tracks.
On "Normal As The Next Guy," the album opens with Fieger's catchy "Les Girls" (with the band singing the title as "lay girls" and featuring sax work by John Amato). The track has an "ooo la la la" chorus and Doug singing about the women on the beach of St. Tropez: "Summer sun and streaks of blonde / shimmer in their shining hair / sipping wine with such elan / so sweet, so soft, so fine, so fair..."
The Fieger-Averre team then offer "Disillusion Town," with John Lennon-esque lyrics: "...lift up your desolate eyes / tear off your devil disguise / lay down your need to despise all love / my love, it's a brand new world..."
On "Girl I Never Lied To You" (written by John Corey and Monty Byrom), The Knack are truly stunning. It's a sweet, melody-driven pop tune. Fieger sings the from-the-heart lyrics with a depth of feeling that is commendable. Think of Brian Wilson's "In My Room" or The Raspberries "Let's Pretend" and you'll have an idea of the sadness the song conveys. A lesser singer would fail here, but the lead vocal here wraps itself around the melody and interprets every word perfectly to capture the song's emotion:
"Picking up the pieces / they're shattered all around me / I'm looking at a photograph / and it hurts so bad / girl, I never lied to you / but I wish I had / ... / sitting in this lonely room / sometimes I wonder why / to think that I could hold you now / all I had to do was lie / ..."
Fieger is hilariously tongue-in-cheek on "Spiritual Pursuit," played mega-country style (think The Lovin' Spoonful's "Nashville Cats" for songwriting style) with slide guitar and all the country music trappings. Fieger writes some great lyrics here:
"...gonna squeeze this life 'til the juice is gone / gonna find the answers that you can't refute / gonna live my life in a spiritual pursuit / ... / as the days grow shorter and the lights grow dim / will I see St. Peter wave a welcome in / will I go to heaven, only time will tell / but from now 'til then I'm gonna raise some hell / and I'll keep rolling on / no, I'm never gonna stop until they carry me home / from here to heaven is a long commute / gonna take my time in this spiritual pursuit..."
"It's Not Me" (written by Fieger and John Bossman) is an all-out, slashing guitar attack ala The Who. If this doesn't get you out of your seat, you may be dead:
"...if you spy me in a crowd / smiling broadly, laughing loud / that's only thunder from a cloud / it's not me..."
Fieger and Averre's "One Day At A Time" (an alternate version appears on their "Retrospective" album, which is worth picking up for a complete collection of their past hits, 1979-92, with demos and a previously unreleased version of Bruce Springsteen's "Don't Look Back") is played acoustic with great effect. In this version, the lyrics are more out front than in the previous version, with some lovely slide guitar accenting the melody:
"...you're chasing down the street / just like a drunken dancer / the taste is bittersweet but / love is the answer..."
Doug seems to be in a "spiritual" mood on this album, with references to religion and heaven a regular topic. On "Seven Days In Heaven" (written by Doug with Hannah Mancini and Sergej Pobegajlo) is a great little rocker with a George Harrison feel:
"...to get the things you want / just start by praying / it sounds so simple but it's true - it's true / I said a simple prayer / then saw you standing there..."
Fieger (again with John Bossman) offers "A World Of My Own," a powerhouse rocker (searing lead guitar, a well-bashed drum kit, throbbing bass guitar):
"...meanwhile we're livin' a lie / meanwhile I leave it alone / meanwhile another dream dies / meanwhile so safe and secure in my home / I live in a world of my own..."
Berton Averre's solo composition, "The Man On The Beach," blows me away. Fans of The Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds" will love this (I'd love to hear Brian Wilson or Eric Carmen sing this). Berton's lyrics are great:
"White sails unfurl, rocking on the water / safe from the ghosts watching from the harbor / now raise the ancient anchor / begin the voyage home / somewhere out on the ocean - somewhere alone..."
Pop music doesn't get any prettier than this song and rock music has never sounded better than this album. This is the ultimate Knack triumph that their die-hard fans have waited for and I hope the general public will rediscover this very worthy of attention band.
A very nice, illustrated 8-page CD booklet with lyrics to all the songs. The CD has 12 tracks: "Les Girls," "Disillusion Town," "Girl I Never Lied To You," "Normal As The Next Guy," "Spiritual Pursuit," "It's Not Me," "One Day At A Time," "Seven Days In Heaven," "Dance Of Romance," "Reason To Live," "A World Of My Own" and "The Man On The Beach."
The album is available through several sources, including CDNow.Com (the listing for the album includes sound bites to each song if you're interested).
Autographed copies (by Doug Fieger), for an unspecified "limited time," are also listed as available at the band's official website at http://www.knack.com (also listed in the "CD Store" section are Doug-autographed copies of Doug's solo CD and The Knack's "Round Trip" CD).
Blitz Magazine - The Rock And Roll Magazine For Thinking People
NORMAL AS THE NEXT GUY - The Knack (Smile Records)
For those who lived in the Southern California area in 1979, the memories of the backlash against the Knack remain strong. In the midst of a burgeoning so-called New Wave movement with seemingly dozens of other more worthy contenders, the Knack nonetheless landed a recording deal with the Hollywood-based Capitol Records.
In the aftermath of that signing, Capitol announced its latest acquisition with no small amount of fanfare, promoting the band's debut "Get The Knack" album with posters and billboards whose theme smacked of a campaign launched in early 1964 to announce the arrival of another infamous Capitol label band from Liverpool, England.
That this was also done with blatant disregard by both label and artist for the fact that another unrelated band also called the Knack recorded for Capitol in the mid to late 1960s (with the collector classic, "Time Waits For No One" to their credit) was enough to alienate the new Knack from their core audience.
Undaunted, the Knack went on to score tremendous chart success with the number one single, "My Sharona" that year, followed by "Good Girls Don't" in late 1979 and "Baby Talks Dirty" in 1980.
Although unable to duplicate those early successes in the interim, the Knack persevered, having released a series of increasingly high quality CDs in recent years. And with "Normal As The Next Guy", it appears that the Knack will have the last laugh.
The 2001 version of the Knack still features cofounders Doug Fieger (lead vocals/rhythm guitar/keyboards), Berton Averre (lead guitar) and Prescott Niles (bass), with only original drummer Bruce Gary absent from the proceedings (and succeeded here by David Henderson). And in "Normal As The Next Guy", the Knack proves beyond doubt that they live up to their (borrowed) name in terms of solid musicianship, songwriting and personality.
"Les Girls" opens this twelve-song collection of originals, a not-so-subtle spoof of the one band that was probably their biggest competition in New Wave's "Go For The Gold" sweepstakes in the late 1970s, the Cars; indeed bearing more than a passing resemblance to that band's "My Best Friend's Girl" single. Their playful persona continues on "Spiritual Pursuit", chronicling the time worn dilemma of choosing between materialism and the afterlife (and hopefully the Knack will soon realize that the latter is by far the better choice).
However, the Knack has also perfected garage band-inspired, straight-ahead rock, as evidenced in the Creation/Yardbirds-flavored "It's Not Me". "Seven Days Of Heaven" reworks the same formula with a more positive twist; a concept that was consistently successful for the Raspberries in the 1970s. The Knack even pays subtle tribute to the creative genius of Beach Boys bassist Brian Wilson in "The Man On The Beach"; lyrically as abstract as the subject of its affection.
In short, the Knack has fought their detractors with talent, conviction and credibility, and has won the respect that often eluded them in 1979. Indeed, perhaps "Normal As The Next Guy" is the Knack album most worthy of the title, "Get The Knack". Don't miss it.
Mike Bennett - Fufkin.com
This is the best even-numbered Knack album yet. Discs 1, 3 and 5 have been the high water marks so far. Get The Knack (#1) was a swell debut chock full of terrific power pop songs, that still gets unfairly dismissed in some circles. …But The Little Girls Understand (#2) is not as bad as its rep, but certainly was a sophomore slump, lacking enough top drawer tuneage. Round Trip (#3) showed The Knack surveying territory beyond Teensville, with forays into psychedelia and jazz, and a perfect song ("Just Wait and See"). By this point, the anti-Knack backlash was so strong, the album could have been a superhuman combo of Blonde on Blonde, Abbey Road, What's Going On and London Calling and it would have been slammed. The band's first comeback effort, Serious Fun (#4) had a great single ("Rocket of Love") and managed to sound both tentative and forced, as if the band was unsure how to tailor their songs to a changing marketplace. 1998's Zoom (#5) was simply The Knack at its best, just writing great '60s style pop songs and singing 'em real good.
This effort follows in its predecessor's footsteps, but with some more idiosyncratic moments. The resulting product is less consistent and flows unevenly at times, but on the balance this is a good record.
Though more known for their uptempo tunes, The Knack may even be better at slow and mid-tempo love songs - while the brash side of Doug Fieger is more prominent, he has a way with a tender tune. "Girl I Never Lied To You", "One Day At A Time", and particularly "Reason to Live", where Fieger really lays his heart out on the line (i.e. maximum vulnerability) are all fine additions to the Knack collection, displayed in the heartfelt wing. The pure powerpop motor is running smoothly too - "It's Not Me" jangles neatly, "Seven Days of Heaven" features splendid George Harrison-ish lead guitar work from Berton Averre, and "Disillusion Town" has a slight psychedelic tinge to it.
But it's the less typical tunes that grab your attention - this is their most experimental record since Round Trip. "Spiritual Pursuit" is a goofy country romp that works, but "Les Girls" is an annoying cutesy trifle, based on a '60s R & B chord progression with Fieger trying way too hard to sell a tune that should have been given away. Fieger's efforts are not wasted on the charging title cut, a clever romp ("I'm as normal as Betty Crocker/I'm as normal as Jarvis Cocker" - who says these guys don't listen to new records?). For a normal guy, Fieger sounds pretty nuts. And "Dance Of Romance" is so Steely Dan.
The best experiment is a solo Averre composition "The Man on the Beach". If you're a sucker for a good Pet Sounds inspired tune, then you'll fall for this song instantly. A great closing tune that, like most of the album, shows The Knack still has the knack.
Another review from fufkin.com
The Knack - Normal As The Next Guy
The Knack forever will be known as the good-humored band that delivered “My Sharona” to a receptive world back in 1979. Back then there was an aggressive adolescent know-it-all spirit driving the music, and the follow-up success of “Good Girls Don’t (But I Do)” reflects that musical leering grin that became stock-in-trade for The Knack.
But now some two decades and counting later, there is evidence of much more on the recently released Normal As The Next Guy. Sure, there still exists hints of the overgrown teen boy in songs like “Les Girls” and a song
like the title track is played for a certain expected novelty value, and that’s all fine and good. Yet, somewhere along the line these gents have matured musically, and that’s perhaps the nicest surprise here. Along with the standard catchy pop tunes comes new evidence of musical diversity and solid growth.
After so many overproduced late seventies albums, their first CD Get The Knack and its brand of straightforward guitar-driven fun was a popular success, selling millions to a global audience and breathing new life into a then dormant power pop scene. However, unfavorable comparisons to The Fab Four along with a refusal to do interviews contributed to a career downturn that was already underway by the release of their second CD …But The Little Girls Understand. By 1981 and the release of Round Trip, Doug Fieger, Berton Averre, Prescott Niles and Bruce Gary decided to call it a career, despite generally favorable reviews.
But never underestimate the power of the music fan. The Knack remained a cult favorite, and with “My Sharona” appearing on soundtracks and compilations (e.g., Ben Stiller’s Reality Bites), the group members began to get together and do an occasional show in Los Angeles. This prompted the first of what would become a steady stream of reunion albums, 1991’s Serious Fun. They rocked a little harder here, but the public did not
find it fun and preferred Knack memories to current Knack reality. The group disbanded yet again.
Another seven years passed before 1998’s reunion effort Zoom, this time with Terry Bozzio on the drums (who did lots of work with Frank Zappa). Many felt this was The Knack’s best studio outing since their long-ago debut, but this critically acclaimed outing didn’t sell much. If you missed it, the good news is that you get a second chance. This CD will be reissued with new tracks added in 2002 as Rezoom.
Now, for 2001, The Knack are back (again with a new drummer - this time David Henderson takes the majority of the drums, with Pat Torpey also contributing). Doug Fieger remains in fine vocal form, Berton Averre
is often wickedly sharp with his guitar leads, and both men take on a variety of keyboards from time to time while Prescott Niles helms the bass backbeat. However, both Averre and Fieger are better than ever at the songwriting, together and separately. While the usual lyrical fare of girls, love (more girls) and um, relationships (yet more girls) isn’t entirely replaced, there’s now a hearty sampling of other issues, including salvation and spiritual pursuits. It’s hard to make adolescence last a lifetime and The Knack have grown up some, which should suit adults in the listening audience well.
A new variety of styles is evident here. Fieger’s “Spiritual Pursuit” offers up a country-tinged track with twanging guitars that recall Poco and others. You’ll swear that “Dance Of Romance” could be a Steely Dan song, as The Knack take on fusion pop successfully from the jazzy keyboards to the horns to the impressively Skunk axter-type guitar lead. And the Averre composition “The Man On The Beach” takes on the world of Brian Wilson/The Beach Boys, circa Smile, and manages to do it justice. Each of these stylistic forays is a success of sorts, and points to a very bright tomorrow for this latest incarnation of The Knack.
There’s still the familiar clean sound of great vocals and guitar-driven pop on songs like “It’s Not Me” and “Disillusion Town”, and songs like “Seven Days Of Heaven”, “Les Girls”, “A World Of My Own” and “One Day
At A Time” are testament to the fact that they still can write pleasantly infectious tracks. These guys aren’t strangers to well-written melodic riffs. Listen to the impressive musical build on “Reason To Live” and you appreciate the experience they bring to their music.
Their humor remains intact, as lyrics from “Normal As The Next Guy” prove: “I’m as normal as Betty Crocker / I’m as normal as Jarvis Cocker / I’m as normal as Chris Rock / I’m as normal as Jacques Chirac.” However, the
real fun begins beyond the novelty.
The Knack have retained a fine clean power pop sensibility regardless of prevailing musical fashions. In the new millennium, The Knack build on their own distinctive sound and stretch musically in new directions. “My Sharona” will be with them always, a classic song for the ages; but the future now seems promising as well.
Amplifier magazine, Nov./Dec. 2001
The Knack - Normal as the Next Guys
The Knack is back-again. In case you missed it, the band reformed and in 1998 released Zoom, an unmitigated delight of a pop record that would have sold millions in a more just world. Sadly, however, Zoom failed to obtain the commercial success it deserved, and-adding insult to injury-the band's triumphant comeback tour supporting the record was abruptly halted due to illness. Seemingly undaunted, the Knack has returned with Normal as the Next Guy, an intelligent, quirky collection of well-crafted songs that deserves the broader audience that eluded its predecessor. While Zoom was all pop, all the time, Normal as the Next Guy is considerably more diverse.
Fear not, Knack fans--the band has hardly forsaken its power pop roots: "A World of My Own," "It's Not Me" and "Normal as the Next Guy" are as hook-laden and wickedly clever as anything in the band's catalog. Elsewhere, however, the band delights in taking chances and crossing musical genres. While "Spiritual Pursuit" is pure country corn, complete with Telecaster twang, lead singer Doug Fieger can't quite mask his wicked sense of humor ("sometimes temptation is blonde and cute.") The jazzy "Days of Romance" is a sly tip of the hat to vintage Steely Dan. The album closes with the Berton Averre-penned "The Man on the Beach," arguably the best Beach Boys homage since Eric Carmen's "She Did It." An amalgamation of "God Only Knows" and "Surf's Up," the song's shimmering vocal harmonies, French horns and sleigh bells simultaneously acknowledge the past and hint at good things to come from Fieger and company.
Amplifier Magazine Online: "50,000 Watts of Non-stop Pop!"
The City Paper, Nashville Tenn. - Nov. 2001Return to Doug Fieger News
The Knack - Normal as the Next Guy
Ever wish someone just made good pop-rock records with the clean, crisp sound of guitars, straightforward vocals and great background harmony? How about something that isn't grunge, rap or whiny alternative and, for goodness sakes, not a boy band with more emphasis on looks and dancing than singing? Well, The Knack is doing just that with a brand-new release, Normal as the Next Guy.
And, before you ask, yes it is the same Knack that soared to the top of the charts in 1979 with "My Sharona" and the accompanying debut album Get The Knack. While some might have thought the band disappeared in the early '80s, their new release is their sixth LP/CD of new material, amassing six total chart hits to its credit.
What The Knack has done over the years is keep alive their spirit and sound rooted in the style of the Beatles and other staple bands of the '60s while adding their own distinct flavor to it. Their latest release crosses The Knack's traditional melodic sounds with just enough variations both style-wise and lyrically to suggest the band isn't afraid to take chances and occasionally change directions with its music.
"Every song is pretty much different from the other one," Knack lead singer and chief songwriter Doug Fieger said. "Now, they're all Knack songs obviously. To me, our style really consists of writing songs in a melodic and well-constructed way."
Across Normal as the Next Guy The Knack's catchy pop-rock sound is prevalent, but not all these tunes carry the usual themes found in the bands music. Fieger takes the opportunity to reflect more on deeper topics, even touching on spirituality and hope.
"In this album, I didn't really want to limit the lyric content to the traditional themes of fun and girls and relationships, although there's some of that in it," Fieger said. "I thought that we would be able to stretch out on this as we have a couple of times in the past."
A prime example occurs on "Disillusion Town," where the lyrics include the almost prayer-like "Grant me the presence to give, teach me the lessons to live, find me a way to forgive all fear." "Dance of Romance" is reminiscent of some of the classic sound of Steely Dan from the mid-70s. "Spiritual Pursuit" finds the band dabbling into a country sound, while lead guitarist Berton Averre's "Man on the Beach" harkens back to the sounds of the Beach Boys during their psychedelic experimentations.
Of course it wouldn't be The Knack if it didnt contain some songs of the sly, bouncy and infectious variety” those tunes that get in your head after a couple of listens and you wind up humming them for an hour. "Les Girls" and "Seven Days of Heaven" fall squarely into that category.
The band also has a live CD/DVD called Live at the Rock and Roll Fun House set to release in March, along with a national tour in the spring and a re-release of their 1998 gem CD Zoom in fall 2002. So for those craving that driving power-pop sound not found often enough these days, here's your chance to get The Knack again.