By 1985, Mink DeVille had long run its course as any sort of collaborative band and was merely a convenient name for a loose amalgam of musicians hired as either studio or touring outfits to back vocalist and songwriter Willy DeVille. The Sportin' Life was the final album to bear the Mink DeVille moniker, and its final outing for Atlantic. Produced by Willy, who wrote seven of the album's ten songs and co-wrote two others with the late Doc Pomus, its sound is steeped in mid-'80s studio gloss and compression that often overwhelms quality material. The opener, "In the Heart of the City," is a prime example. Here DeVille's brilliant dramatic meld of Pomus' doo wop and R&B-inflected rock & roll romanticism and Bruce Springsteen's sense of urban drama pours forth from lyrics, melody, and DeVille's amazing vocal. But the overblown keyboards, compressed guitars, and drum machines blunt the song's considerable power. The same goes for "I Must Be Dreaming" with what sounds like a vocoder-processed backing chorus. "Italian Shoes" is a just plain embarrassing exercise in new wave synth-driven funk about five years too late. Here, the lyrics are as dumb as the mix. "When You Walk My Way," written with Pomus, a beautifully composed tune with DeVille's greatest killer falsetto performance on record is laid waste by sequencers and phased shifted drums and saxophones. The Sportin' Life is for the hardcore fan only, one who can appreciate DeVille's canny and soulful songwriting that almost gets through this abortion of a production job.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek