BGO's 2013 two-fer pairs Marty Balin's two early-'80s solo albums for EMI: 1981's Balin and its 1983 sequel, Lucky. Marty Balin left Jefferson Starship in 1978, not long after "Miracles" gave the group a Top Ten soft rock hit in 1975, thereby providing a window into the world the singer inhabited when he went solo in 1981 with Balin. He largely abandoned songwriting -- he collaborated on one song on each of these records -- in the pursuit of being an AOR superstar. The 1981 eponymous album was indeed a hit thanks to the gorgeous soft rock staple "Hearts," written by longtime friend Jesse Barish, as was a good chunk of the rest of the album. Some of Balin follows the direction of "Hearts" -- "Atlanta Lady" and "Music Is the Light" both softly shimmer -- but the album overall plays like a sampler of the mainstream rock sounds of 1981. On "Spotlight" and "I Do Believe in You," guitars are cranked up to 11 so they can fill an arena, "Tell Me More" cops some of Michael McDonald's Doobie Brothers disco-soul, "You Left Your Mark on Me" and "Elvis and Marilyn" flirt with new wave while "Lydia!" outright embraces it, sounding a bit like Donnie Iris. Maybe this hodgepodge didn't do much to establish Balin as a recording star at the time -- certainly it didn't please some Jefferson Starship fans -- but as an artifact of early-'80s rock, it's wildly fun and somewhat compelling.
Lucky plays almost like a reaction to the scattershot nature of Balin, streamlining its sampler nature in favor of a sleek hard rock sound, one that is so big it often echoes. Strangely, given the hit "Hearts," there isn't much of an attempt to mimic it on Lucky. Instead, the album opens with the rampaging "Born to Be a Winner," whose keyboards suggest a West Coast Springsteen, a sound Balin returns to occasionally elsewhere on the LP ("Just Like That," with its punchy horns, also has a Boss beat), and there are reprisals of the Doobie Brothers and new wave flirtations (the breezy, beachy "Will You Forever" and "What Do People Like," respectively), but very little of the soft satin croon of either "Hearts" or "Atlanta Lady." This deficit is reflected in Lucky's position on the charts: it didn't crack the Top 100 and didn't have a major hit, with one of its lone ballads, "Do It for Love," wandering onto the adult contemporary charts and one of its arena rockers, "What Love Is," going no further than 63 on the charts. The problem is, despite appealing AOR sounds scattered throughout Lucky, there just aren't many memorable tunes, something that hurt the record in 1983 and something that is all the more apparent years later, after all these styles have faded into the history books.