When Graham Parker issued the Jack Nitzsche-produced Squeezing out Sparks in 1979, many inside the music industry -- from execs to critics -- figured that his next one would be it, since Squeezing just missed, though it was celebrated by nearly everyone who heard it. Two of Parker's first three albums -- Howlin' Wind and Heat Treatment -- were top-notch, hard hitting rock & roll albums full of great songs and mud-slinging pub rock production that connected in England. It felt like only a matter of time. Arista in its infinite wisdom paired Parker with Jimmy Iovine for The Up Escalator in 1980, and for some reason, Iovine decided to slicken up the singer/songwriter and his band rather than the hard-edged production that clicked when he worked with Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. While the songs were there, the sound wasn't, and it must have been discouraging for Parker. His moment had come and gone. Parker wasn't about to let fate cheat him, though, and for 1982's Another Grey Area, he teamed with veteran producer Jack Douglas, and placed his band on recording hiatus in favor of a slew of studio musicians including Nicky Hopkins, Hugh McCracken (!), David Brown and George Small among others. Things start well enough with the mid-tempo rocker "Temporary Beauty"; with its Springsteen-esque piano and ondioline courtesy of Hopkins, the rounded lead guitar lines fall into place, wrapping themselves around Parker's voice on the refrains, and it works. Parker nearly spits out his words, full of irony, empathy, piss and vinegar. They even hold up on the title track, which cooks along with a bitter edge, a brisk tempo set by a snare/hi-hat combination and six strings upfront pushing the singer. Female backing vocals to fill it in and the bassline nearly percolates. But Douglas' production begins to wear thin by "Big Fat Zero," despite Parker's fine writing. He doesn't seem to be able to capture the knife edge the band tries to counter the vocals with. It's all swirl and twirl without resolution or warmth. Ironically, it's the rawness on Parker's earlier records that made them warm. The reliance on "new wave" sounding electric keyboards also mars the tunes. The ballad "Dark Side of the Bright Lights," works well, as does the horn-driven, funky "You Hit the Spot." But the sameness of some of the rockers such as "Can't Waste a Minute" and the poignant "Crying for Attention" suffer. "It's All Worth Nothing Alone" is punched up a bit, but there still seems to be this glassfloor sheen on everything, which is entirely at odds with the biting humor and scathing social observations Parker makes in both his lyrics and his delivery. Ultimately, Another Grey Area is another "might have been if" set for Parker, and about the last time he believed a word of what anyone from a record company ever said to him.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek