Certainly NOT Their Best, But I Bought It Anyway
T. R. Rak | 07/09/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It's difficult to reconcile an Ambrosia album like "One Eighty" with their previous, predominantly progressive, hard-rock extravaganzas including their debut masterpiece effort (self titled), followed by an arguably even LOFTIER orchestral, rock-opera creation called "Somewhere I've Never Travelled" (which, if you own the LP, is unique, creative and imaginative [and a definite collector's gem] in that the album cover actually opens out and up into the shape [suitable for a table centerpiece] of a perfect pyramid!). Wow! And then Ambrosia's third offering, "Life Beyond L.A.," is worth the price of purchase alone with its eponymously-titled opening track, a progressive-rock "quo vadis" that even received respectable-enough airplay on selective radio stations in 1978.
But by then however, Ambrosia fans were beginning to notice a rather disconcerting change in their beloved, "intelligent-rocker-audiophile" quartet's musical direction. To put it mildly, Ambrosia was beginning to show signs of "mellowing out." Worse yet, they seemed to be "selling out." You could say that the worry began to settle in with 1978's adult-contemporary hit single, "How Much I Feel." With this song, Ambrosia started to gain a whole new audience, while undermining their faithful base of progressive-rock worshippers.
That loyal base could have forgiven Ambrosia their 1978 commercially-driven faux pas, were it not for their fourth offering and the album reviewed here, "One Eighty" (released, not coincidentally enough, in 1980). Two more hit singles reminiscent of "How Much I Feel," namely "You're the Only Woman" and "Biggest Part of Me," nailed the coffin lid shut on Ambrosia (as rock-and-roll pioneers) forever, typecasting them as "easy listening" to the masses of listeners right up until the present day.
Tragically enough, being typecast as easy-listening was never what band members and erstwhile audial imagineers David Pack, Joe Puerta or Christopher North ever had in mind. But something happened between "Somewhere I've Never Travelled" and "One Eighty." Perhaps it was the fact that David Pack was (literally) losing his hearing in both ears. Or maybe the reality was best summed up in the lyrics to the outstanding, progressive-rock swan song "Life Beyond L.A." (from the album released 2 years before "One Eighty"): "Living out here you soon come to know that it ain't how good you are as much as who you know ... now you fake it."
They did. And they made a lot of money doing just that.
But surprisingly (or perhaps not, at least to the legions of "true" Ambrosia aficionados), just as Ambrosia began to be recognized in a rather major fashion by the Billboard Pop Chart, rather than "ride the success wave" to further pop popularity, "One Eighty" marked both the apex (commercially) and the collapse (artistically) of Ambrosia's career. Their followup album, "Road Island," sank into the ocean of oblivion like Krakatoa. And along with "Road Island," Ambrosia itself disappeared beneath the waves.
I recall vividly in 1980, leafing through an issue of Billboard Magazine shortly after "One Eighty" and its attendant, light-on-the-ears, soft-on-the-brain hits dolloped onto the scene like so much hospital-vanilla pudding, amazingly and amusingly enough (and ostensibly as a kind of "sop to Cerberus" to their "hard core" audience): Ambrosia posted a full-page, full-color, heavy-text "disclaimer" in the industry-standard rag, defending their new album and insisting vehemently that "Ambrosia still rocks!" All humor aside, most implicit in this defense was, "please, please don't judge us by our hit songs; buy our new album and you'll hear for yourself - all the REALLY GOOD HEAVY stuff WHICH YOU LOVE and which the radio ISN'T playing! It's in here TOO!!" So I bought "One Eighty."
And I kind of had to agree with the guys. I love the thickly-layered, power-rock opening track, "Ready" (reminiscent of their equally power-driven "Can't Let a Woman" off "Somewhere I've Never Travelled"), and I also thought "Kamikaze" jammed effectively enough. But the rest of the album?
In any case, I had purchased the LP. And when the CD of "One Eighty" finally made it to market, yup - I bought that as well. So, like it or not, if I was upset with the way Ambrosia had declined artistically, I still feel, even to this day, that the band's definitive oeuvre just isn't complete unless all four of their albums (up until "Rock Island" which, although I do own it, confessedly, I couldn't tell you any of the names, let alone hum any of the tunes, of a single one of the songs from this album off the top of my head).
Thus, "four" seems to be a kind of "magic number" for Ambrosia, which is why, albeit semi-reluctantly, I give "One Eighty" four stars, even though (intellectually) I might wish to assign it merely two, or two-and-a-half. Maybe I give "One Eighty" 4 stars because their opening song "Ready" redeems the rest of the album. That and "Kamikaze." Or perhaps because ... ummmm ... "je ne sais quoi" (*sigh*) as the French say - I just don't know why.
Call it a "lifetime achievement award" to a band I once loved to pieces, and still do - for their aboriginal, brilliant work early on. Fortunately, you can still hear vestiges of that work here on "One Eighty.""