By his third album, Steve Harley had developed a strong grasp of how to combine his artistic ambitions with strongly crafted pop tunes that win the casual listener over to his artsy cause. The result was The Best Years of Our Lives, the most successful album of his mid-'70s heyday. This album was a big hit in his native England, thanks to the fact that it spawned two major hit singles. The first was "Mr. Raffles," a surreal yet romanticized portrait of a convention-flaunting outlaw. The odd lyrics work thanks to the phenomenal tune backing them up, which contrasts gentle verses built on piano and acoustic guitar with choruses that work in a surprising but slickly integrated reggae beat. The second and even more impressive hit was "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)," a romantic pop tune that pairs Harley's clever wordplay with a clever pop tune that boasts an inventive stop-start arrangement and a lovely flamenco-styled acoustic guitar solo. Although the rest of the songs on the album aren't as strong as these singles ("It Wasn't Me" has an atmospheric synthesizer-dominated soundscape, but lacks any memorable hooks or surprising twists in its arrangement), there are plenty of highlights for the Harley fan. Some of the standouts include "The Mad, Mad Moonlight," a driving rocker with humorous lyrics about a romantic encounter with an unlikely female suitor, and the title track, a touching acoustic ballad that highlights some of Harley's most direct and emotional lyrics. All in all, The Best Years of Our Lives is a fine, slickly crafted album that will delight Steve Harley enthusiasts and will also appeal to fans of glam-oriented 1970s English rock.
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AllMusic Review by Donald A. Guarisco