Rock singer/songwriter/guitarist Michael Stanley's 1996 album Coming Up for Air was his first solo release in more than 20 years. The Cleveland native released two solo albums in the early 1970s before forming the Michael Stanley Band -- regional superstars, but moderately successful in the rest of the country -- and the Ghost Poets with MSB alumni. Coming Up for Air features 13 songs, a reliable balance of hearty rockers and tender ballads that Stanley and other Midwestern rockers like Bob Seger are known for. Former MSB members, like keyboardist/co-producer Bob Pelander, guitarist Danny Powers, and drummer Tommy Dobeck, assist Stanley on the album. "After Hollywood" has a light, irresistible melody and chorus. "Coming Up for Air" is a major surprise because it's an atmospheric blend of haunting new age and progressive rock; Stanley was inspired to write the song after suffering a premature heart attack. Stanley's canon includes songs attacking the music industry, and "Poison Pen" is a bitter, somewhat funky rebuke of music critics. Humor and innuendo abound in "Sendaway Underwear," an organ- and horns-driven tribute to mail-order lingerie. "Everybody" is a tough, gritty examination of social problems; Stanley and Sasha push each other vocally with terrific results. Smooth, saxophone-laced R&B is a major influence on "Complicated," one of the catchiest tunes on the album. Stanley's sense of humor rises again on the terrifically cheeky rocker "Horizontal Mambo," a self-explanatory ode to you-know-what. At times, Stanley exercises too much self-restraint when it comes to his vocals, but Coming Up for Air still helps him maintain a consistent level of career-long quality that most other musicians can only dream about. The enhanced, multimedia CD includes many extras that highlight Stanley's career.
AllMusic Review by Bret Adams