Dwight Twilley was one of the best and most influential figures on the Southern power pop scene, and unlike Big Star, the Scruffs, or the Sneakers, he achieved that most cherished pop music accolade, a hit single, and not once but twice ("I'm on Fire" rose to number 16 in 1975, and "Girls" managed the same feat in 1984). However, Twilley was just successful enough to end up having record company problems, and his best work has been scattered over several albums for different labels. The fine Australian reissue label Raven Records has pulled together the highlights from his albums for Shelter, Arista, and EMI-America, and On Fire! The Best of 1975-84 is a superb collection of his beautifully crafted Beatlesque pop tunes. Unlike many Southern power poppers, Twilley clearly loved the British Invasion style while revealing equal comfort with the sounds of his home territories, and the rockabilly accents of "TV," the subtle but swaggering "I'm on Fire," and the funky beats of "Feeling in the Dark" made clear out of the box that this wasn't another guy aping the Fab Four, and when he did write straightforward pop tunes, he did so with smarts and imagination, and he was a very impressive rock & roll singer, too. The first 13 tracks of On Fire! are drawn from Twilley's recordings with early collaborator Phil Seymour, with plenty of representative cuts from their albums Sincerely and Twilley Don't Mind, as well as the long-unreleased track "Shark (In the Dark)" and the single "Somebody to Love," drawn from sessions for an unreleased album with Jack Nitzsche. The rest of the album is taken from Twilley's first three solo efforts (Twilley, Scuba Divers, and Jungle), and if his occasional reliance on synthesizers and drum machines dates the production (Roger Linn, who invented the Linn Drum Computer, played in Twilley's band), the songs are as savvy and satisfying as ever, and while "Girls" was a hit single, by all rights "I'm Back Again," "Alone in My Room," and "Don't You Love Her" should have enjoyed the same success. With the fine career overview XXI out of print, On Fire! is arguably the best introduction to Dwight Twilley's classic pop music you can buy, and it's 77 minutes of pop and rock bliss that anyone with a taste for a great hook and a good lyric will love.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming