REO Speedwagon

Hi Infidelity

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Many albums have scaled to the top of the American charts, many of them not so good, but few have been as widely forgotten and spurned as REO Speedwagon's Hi Infidelity. In a way, the group deserved this kind of success. They had been slogging it out in the arenas of the U.S., building up a sizeable audience because they could deliver live. And then, in 1980, they delivered a record that not just summarized their strengths, but captured everything that was good about arena rock. This is the sound of the stadiums in that netherworld between giants like Zeppelin and MTV's slick, video-ready anthems. This is unabashedly mainstream rock, but there's a real urgency to the songs and the performances that gives it a real emotional core, even if the production keeps it tied to the early, previsual '80s. And so what if it does, because this is great arena rock, filled with hooks as expansive as Three Rivers Stadium and as catchy as the flu. That, of course, applies to the record's two biggest hits -- the power ballad "Keep on Loving You" and the surging "Take It on the Run" -- which define their era, but what gives the album real staying power is that the rest of the record works equally well. That's most apparent on the Bo Diddley-inspired opener, "Don't Let Him Go," whose insistent beat sent it to the album rock charts, but also such great album tracks as "Follow My Heart," the sun-kissed '60s homage "In Your Letter," and "Tough Guys." What's really great about these songs is not just the sheen of professionalism that makes them addictive to listen to, but there's a real strain of pathos that runs through these songs -- the album's title isn't just a clever pun, but a description of the tortured romantic relationships that populate this record's songs. This is really arena rock's Blood on the Tracks, albeit by a group of guys instead of a singular vision, but that makes it more affecting, as well as a killer slice of ear candy. It's easy to dismiss REO Speedwagon, since they weren't hip at the time, and no amount of historical revisionism will make them cool kitsch. And, let's face it, their records were usually hit-and-miss affairs. But they did get it right once, and it's on this glorious record -- if you need proof why arena rock was giant, this is it.

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