The fall-off in the quality of Kris Kristofferson's albums after his initial success is sometimes ascribed to his moonlighting as a film actor, dividing his time and attention between two careers. A better reason is probably a country music-style recording contract that called for him to turn in an album a year consisting of his own all-new compositions, a pace that did not allow him enough time to write songs of the caliber of the standards he produced in the late 1960s and early '70s. 1976's Surreal Thing, his seventh album since 1970 (not counting two duet LPs with his wife, Rita Coolidge), is a good case in point. It was released only eight months after its predecessor, 1975's Who's to Bless and Who's to Blame, and while Kristofferson had come up with a few good songs in the interim, he simply didn't have ten new keepers. As a result, he reached back nine years and re-cut both sides of the long-lost single he had made for Epic Records in 1967, "The Golden Idol" and "Killing Time," songs written in a more verbose style than his current one. "The Golden Idol" sounded heavily influenced by Bob Dylan's mid-'60s poetic approach, while "Killing Time" was a put-down of unimaginative average people. Its tone of criticism was picked up in two new songs, both of which lashed out at Kristofferson's detractors. "Eddie the Eunuch" was his portrait of a rock & roll critic who attacked his subjects "'cause he wasn't Jackson Browne," and "If You Don't Like Hank Williams" was a roll call of the artist's favorite rock and country artists that criticized people who lacked his broad taste (and who, by implication, wanted to categorize him as either rock or country). When he wasn't venting his spleen, the songwriter brought in a couple of good country ballads, "It's Never Gonna Be the Same Again" and "Bad Love Story," though his more philosophical efforts, such as "I Got a Life of My Own," for which he adopted a Gospel sound complete with a choral backing, were ponderous and seemed underwritten. Not helping the spotty quality of the songwriting were arrangements and performances that sometimes seemed like run-throughs and, particularly, Kristofferson's rough vocals, which were often inept. Surreal Thing sounded like an album made by a man who was rushed, both as a songwriter and as a performer. Though it rose into the country Top Ten, it barely made the pop charts, and with the single "It's Never Gonna Be the Same Again" a flop, it quickly disappeared.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann