Russ Ballard

Barnet Dogs/Into the Fire

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BGO's 2014 two-fer contains Barnet Dogs and Into the Fire, dating from 1980 and 1981, respectively. Both records are produced by Ballard and John Stanley, a team dedicated to bringing the rocker into arenas with these massive, thumping records. Even when Ballard feigns a move into new wave -- "Bad Boy" opens up with some angelicized reggae, "On the Rebound" has a bit of disco borrowed from Queen -- this winds up firmly in Loverboy territory: all crunching guitars and over-defined rhythms. Ballard is so dedicated to this sound he even turns Larry Williams' "She Said Yeah" -- a callback to Russ' garage-rocking '60s -- into a plodding big-beat rocker, and this single-minded dedication either charms or repels: it's commercial hard rock that lacked a hit, so it captures the sound of its time perhaps better than hits that transcended its year, but its lack of grace is still apparent all these years later. Into the Fire is cut from the same cloth as Barnet Dogs and is perhaps even slicker, thanks to the introduction of synthesizers. It is, however, a bit more varied than the single-minded Barnet Dogs, finding space for the power ballad "Where Do We Go from Here" and the soft rock "Strangers," which suggests the hits he'd soon have writing for America. This alone brings some welcome variety to Into the Fire, but Ballard also dabbles with arena power-pop on "Here Comes the Hurt" -- by some measure the best, radio-friendly cut here -- a piano-pumping New Wave rocker called "I Will Be There," and the gonzo mock-disco of "Don't Go to Soho," which is genuinely bizarre. Elsewhere, the record sounds like a genetically engineered hybrid of Loverboy, Aldo Nova, and Billy Joel -- a blast of 1981 that's a garish and occasionally fun time capsule.

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