Free the Fire was a profound disappointment for admirers of the Imperials' daring 1987 effort, This Year's Model. Producer Bill Schnee retained a few elements of the big electronic sound developed by his predecessor, Brown Bannister. But most of the power and texture of the production, as well as the dark, mysterious tone that had generated so much excitement about the so-called "new" Imperials the previous year, were discarded completely. Only two songs on Free the Fire, "Higher Things" and "City in the Sky," mustered anything approximating the energy and catchiness of This Year's Model. The rest of the record alternated between two divergent but equally questionable strategies. The first was a return to the bland, conservative inspirational pop that constituted most of the old Imperials records. The second (infinitely more embarrassing) strategy was to turn the Imperials into a middle-aged boy band, a sort of religious Old Fogies on the Block. High tenor Jimmie Lee, the only member who looked like he might be able to remember what it was like to be a teenager, co-wrote and sang some of the most preposterous teen pop ditties. Particularly awful was "The Boss," a grotesque power ballad about an abandoned teenager that actually included the line "love, you're just a hug away." Only one year after their inception, the "new" Imperials were history. This Year's Model already seemed a distant, abandoned golden age.
Free the Fire Review
by Evan Cater