Holly Near

Don't Hold Back

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One of the ruling assumptions behind Holly Near's career, at least on the part of her supporters, has been that she could have been a pop star if she had wanted to, but instead decided to write and sing political material and thus was forced to make her own way with her own record label and limited commercial success. Don't Hold Back, her eighth album of new material, offered her listeners a taste of what it might have been like if she had taken the pop route instead. Icy keyboard patterns, big drums, soaring electric guitar solos, heavily echoed vocals, romantic lyrics, a guest appearance by Kenny Loggins -- it's 1980s adult contemporary heaven! It's also pretty awful, but that's not because of the choice to go commercial, it's because of the failed execution. Gifted artists often believe they could be more popular if they just did trash instead, but they're almost always wrong. Successful trash is actually made by mediocre artists who are trying their best. You don't succeed -- at art or trash -- by slumming, only by striving. Loggins sounds more impassioned in his few moments of backup singing on "The Promise (How Can Anyone Know)" than Near does on the whole record, and for an album of love songs, that's a big problem.

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