Steve Harley

Hobo with a Grin/The Candidate

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Record companies are not generally renowned for their sense of ironic humor, but whoever pieced together the 2000 CD reissue of Hobo With a Grin obviously wasn't short of a funny bone or two. Either that, or a very cruel sense of irony. For why else would one of the worst of Steve Harley's late-'70s albums be appended with one of the best of his early decade B-sides? A masterful piece of violin-fluffy ferocity, "Spaced Out" was originally released as the B-side of his maiden hit, 1974's "Judy Teen," and, it is true, subsequent CD reissues of his catalog had inexplicably, pointedly, ignored it. But five years and several complete changes of his band separated that single from this album, not to mention the utter desecration of everything which Harley once stood for. Two new songs peep out of Hobo with anything remotely resembling pride -- "Riding the Waves (For Virginia Woolf)" has sufficient art house pretension to remind us of "Mr. Soft" and his friends; and "Living in a Rhapsody" shares a vague familial resemblance to "Make Me Smile." There's also a smartly stylized cover of the Temptations' "I Wish It Would Rain," which, while not a patch on the Faces' then-recent revision, possesses a heartfelt joyousness all the same. But "Amerika the Brave," "God Is an Anarchist," and "Roll the Dice" are Harley wordplay-by-numbers: clever on paper, but too clever-clever by half. We already know he's a brilliant wordsmith; does he have to keep trying to show us how brilliant? And does there come a point when he'll stop, and try his hand at tunes as well? At its best, the bulk of Hobo is almost completely devoid of memorable melody. At its worst, it doesn't even pretend to care. And so we sadly replace the record in its sleeve, shed a tear for so much talent down the pan, then turn again to ponder that 2000 reissue. Discovering "Spaced Out" on the end of Hobo is akin to finding the Mona Lisa at the end of Paul McCartney's sketch book. They're all paintings, but surely art, class, taste, and vision still count for something?

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