The Knack

Normal as the Next Guy

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For those keeping track, Normal as the Next Guy marks comeback attempt number four from the Knack after ...But the Little Girls Understand put paid to the band's initial 15 minutes of fame, and from the sound of things Doug Fieger is a much more mature and contentious man than he was in 1979. Which is part of the problem; while Normal as the Next Guy shows he can come up with an okay pop tune when he puts his mind to it, the album lacks the cheerfully mean-spirited adolescent sneer that was practically the Knack's reason for being back in the day, and while on one level it's good that he seems to have resolved most of his issues with women ("Dance of Romance" suggests he's still bothered by a few past breakups), the trouble is he hasn't found a subject that appears to compel him nearly as much as the treacheries of girls once did. His new songs may be more pleasant, but they're not as interesting. Just as importantly, Normal as the Next Guy lacks the tight snap of the Knack's best-known work, and while the album's easygoing mid-tempo pop perhaps befits the group's more adult perspective, it lacks a certain enthusiasm. And when the band does try to call up a harder sound on the mock-eccentric title track, it just doesn't wash (and Doug Fieger sounds a lot more menacing when he isn't trying to convince listeners he's crazy). Significantly, Normal as the Next Guy succeeds best when the Knack strays farthest from their formula; the twangy undertow of "Spiritual Pursuit" shows these guys listened to some James Burton licks somewhere down the line, and the closer, "The Man on the Beach," is a tribute to Sunflower-era Beach Boys tunes (written by guitarist Berton Averre) that's all but faultless in both concept and execution. Normal as the Next Guy suggests the Knack's days as a cheerfully snotty pop band are over, but they could still have some pleasant surprises up their sleeves if they keep trying to expand their boundaries.

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